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A Campus Suites unit in their Montreal building. // Photo courtesy Campus Suites

City council approves privately owned, 28-storey residence-style building in Motel Village

By Sean Willett, August 4 2017 —

Starting in 2020, Calgary post-secondary students who want a dormitory-style experience will have an option other than their schools’ residence buildings.

Calgary city council approved plans for a privately owned 28-storey residential tower, located in Motel Village near the Banff Trail LRT station, on Aug. 1. The rent-only tower will be aimed at students attending the University of Calgary and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. It will sport small rooms with large common areas and in-building amenities.

While this building will be the first of its kind in Calgary, Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell said she is confident it will attract tenants. Farrell voted in favour of the development.

“It’s my impression that there’s a great need for this type of housing, and it’s so close to the university and public transit,” Farrell said. “It’s a great location for it. But it’s really up to the developer to determine if this is a good location.”

The tower will be built by Campus Suites, a Toronto-based development company that has built similar residences in Ottawa, Montreal and various American cities. Campus Suites president Henry Morgan said that their other Canadian properties are either at or near full occupancy and expects the same for the Calgary building.

“There is a market for this type of product, where students are realizing that they want to have newer, fully amenitized living with modern life safety, full access control throughout the building, in a proximity to campus, in a fully considered live, work and play environment,” Morgan said. “That’s been shown in every market in the country at this point where this type of product has been developed.”

The tower will have 328 units available to rent in both one- and two-bedroom configurations.  These units will be 350-square-feet on average, will come fully furnished and will include in-suite bathrooms and kitchenettes. In-building amenities will include a fitness centre, public lounges and a medical clinic.

Rent will likely be around $1,000 a month per tenant, which is comparable to the cost of rent at the U of C’s residence buildings. However, Morgan said that Campus Suites is not competing with universities for student renters.

“We would much prefer to work hand-in-hand with the universities and see their students when they transition out of on-campus housing to off-campus housing,” Morgan said. “We see that as our most valuable relationship. We tend to be large sponsors of events and athletics on campus. We tend to do whatever we can to have a good relationship with the schools, and that’s worked out. The schools that grasp that, we’ve had extraordinary relationships and transitions with their students.”

Morgan said the company has spoken with SAIT but has yet to get in contact with the U of C.

“This time of year is a very busy time for our industry so I expect and I hope to hear back from them soon,” Morgan said. “We love to have a great relationship with the schools. I really have no interest in competition. I do think we can help each other completely — period, full stop, end of sentence.”

According to Morgan, the Campus Suites tower will also benefit nearby neighbourhoods by helping to eliminate “student ghettos” — communities where students rent space in single-family houses, often illegally. Morgan cited Banff Trail as an example of this kind of neighbourhood.

“[Student ghettos] are oftentimes where landlords, in an effort to maximize profits, will put more kids in a home than the zoning bylaws permit,” he said. “The houses tend to get run-down quicker, they tend to have a few more issues with the surrounding community. What often happens is that as students move into modern buildings proximate to campus, they empty out those student ghettos and housing returns to single-family dwellings again.”

Noise complaints and safety issues were cited by Morgan as examples of problems characterizing neighbourhoods with a high student population.

“Very often in many of these houses, when a resident needs a battery, for example, the first thing they do is go to the smoke detector and pull the batteries out of the smoke detectors,” he said. “One of the issues with these houses is that there isn’t modern life safety. The preponderance of fires around North America in these kinds of houses is actually quite high as well.”

Calgary has seen several fires occur in illegal secondary suites over the past decade, including a 2009 fire in a Parkdale home that killed three tenants. This fire occurred in Farrell’s ward and the councillor agrees that safety is a major issue in communities with a high number of illegal suites.

“What we were seeing in Banff Trail was a lot of illegal suites,” Farrell said. “Many of them were in very poor quality and I doubt they met the fire code. I’m very concerned about the safety of anyone living in a basement suite, that their basic safety needs are met. And in illegal suites that’s often not the case.”

Farrell hopes that new developments like the Campus Suites tower will give students a safe alternative to illegal suites. However, the councillor disagreed with the idea that student tenants are a problem for Calgary’s residential neighbourhoods.

“When you get a house full of young people living in cramped quarters you can often see street parties,” Farrell said. “But that isn’t isolated to students. We have students who are great neighbours and people who are bad neighbours and aren’t students. So we don’t like to judge.”


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