Following four and a half hours of public deliberations on Monday night, Airdrie City council voted to defeat a proposed bylaw that would amend the future land use of the property where the historic Airdrie United Church currently stands, effectively halting the demolition and redevelopment of the property.
During the regular council meeting on March 20, Airdrie residents and stakeholders gathered in council chambers to provide arguments both for and against the proposed amendment to the land use bylaws that currently govern the First Avenue NE site.
According to Joel DenHaan, coordinating consultant for the property council of Airdrie United Church, the existing 100-year-old heritage building has some “fundamental issues” with its foundation, structure, and the existing hall, and fixing those issues would cost more than can be expected for the congregation to finance.
Additionally, the City’s existing bylaws would have to be altered by council before allowing any substantial changes to be made to the existing church site and secondary properties.
“We see some opportunities there and we want to engage in dialogue and work with the City on planning for this, because we recognize this is a unique and historic property and therefore is going to require a different sort of conversation around what to do on the site,” DenHaan told the Airdrie City View last fall.
“We are looking at housing as one of the possible options, but we also have to work with the City in a way that fits that into the context around us.”
Previously, three focus groups were conducted in 2022 to gauge the community’s hope for the property’s future. Thereafter, conversations were held regarding the future of the church. A redevelopment application was submitted to the City and reviewed at this month’s Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) meeting on March 2.
According to Coun. Tina Petrow, who is chair of the MPC, there was some “extensive discussion” around the application during the March 2 meeting, including topics such as parking, traffic safety, and site logistics.
And while the application was ultimately defeated on Monday night, council voted to provide the applicant with an opportunity to return with changes to the application, waiving the six-month waiting period.
On her social media page after the meeting, Coun. Heather Spearman stated this delay will allow for more conversation around the potential heritage status of the building and the desires of the community. She said the historical significance of the church site and importance to longtime Airdrie residents is not lost on her.
“The church itself represents a lot of people’s stories in this community. Airdrie does not have many historical landmarks, and [the church] holds value for many who have grown up here,” she explained in a statement on her Facebook page.
“I recognize that this neighbourhood has a very unique spirit, and I appreciate the desire to uphold that.”
Spearman added she wanted to thank those who wrote to council or came out to the meeting on March 20 to have their voices heard. More than 85 people packed into council chambers and the lobby of City Hall for the most recent public hearing.
“My gratitude to you for your engagement and voice,” she continued. “Thank you for bringing your hearts and passion forward.”
One Airdrie resident, Gillian Bell, who lives behind the Airdrie United Church in the Village, voiced her concerns about the proposed redevelopment of the site during the meeting.
Bell also started a change.org petition against the construction of an apartment building in the church lot, which as of press time had garnered over 1,100 online signatures.
“It is not lost on me that my opinion is most biased, but I stand up for so much more than how it directly affects me,” she shared. “I would love to save the church. I believe Airdrie has almost no history [left]… we have one protected heritage site for a town that’s been around for over 120 years.
“I believe that is honestly quite sad, so we are trying our best to save it.”
According to an excerpt in Pioneers of Faith: North of the Bow River, a book that chronicles the building's history and included clippings from the Airdrie Recorders newspaper, the church's first services were held on Jan. 8 and 15, 1922. Members of the church celebrated the centennial of those services last winter.
The book outlines how the first services followed the official laying of the cornerstone at the Airdrie church site in September 1921.
“In planning the new church, the building committee kept in mind, not only the building of a larger church, but to provide accommodation for the rapidly increasing Sunday School enrolment, which now numbers 125 pupils, and to have erected a substantial building, warmly constructed, well lighted, with adequate heating equipment and good ventilation,” the excerpt reads.
Bell said she would be remiss to see Airdrie lose another of its historical sites and hopes the building can be restored to its original glory and given a special heritage status, though current additions to the building prevent it from receiving this status.
She said she has been in discussions with an architect firm in Calgary that believes it is feasible to restore the building, adding there are government grants to this end.
“Ideally, I would love for this church to be a Heritage site, as Airdrie has been quick to remove all other Heritage buildings,” Bell shared. “However, if there is no possible way for them to do this, I realize something must be done.”
The application submitted on behalf of the Church and its Land Trust proposes the current building be torn down and a four-storey residential complex with a parkade-style parking lot be built in its stead. The building will have approximately 45 rental units and parking stalls, with no visitor parking.
Across the street, on a vacant lot currently used for church parking, is the proposed new church site and community centre. It would facilitate music lessons upstairs, and a pregnancy outreach centre on the main floor, while also hosting community events and gatherings. This location features 11 parking stalls, with two stalls reserved for church staff.
According to Bell, the proposed changes would only further aggravate the existing parking and traffic concerns in Airdrie’s downtown. She feels the added population density would increase parking and traffic in the area with no infrastructure to sustain it.
“This will absolutely further bottleneck the situation,” she argued. “Currently, with one lane in each direction, we already have reduced to almost no ability to exit our street during rush hour, and school pick-ups.
“I believe this will deter people like me from wanting to live and invest in this area. I also believe it will deter others from wanting to bring young kids to the community.”