Calgarians concerned over community planning document as deadline approaches to pass it
By Noel Harper, News Editor
On the morning of March 15, a political-themed advertisement was splashed across the front cover of the Calgary Herald, warning of how an upcoming City of Calgary planning document “will change your neighbourhood forever.”
The document in question is the Guidebook for Great Communities, which is intended to be used as a resource for future development across the city and is set to be debated before city council on March 22. The ad leads viewers to CalgaryGuidebook.ca, a non-City of Calgary affiliated website that lists concerns about the guidebook, including high-density development and a “lack of meaningful consultation.”
City Councillor Jeromy Farkas shared the ad online, claiming that “almost nobody knew what the Guidebook was” before it helped to spread the word, adding, “a change this big should be an election issue where candidates must run on their position and explain it fully.” If there is a lack of awareness regarding this plan amongst Calgarians, they certainly had ample time to find out more.
The Guidebook for Great Communities has been in the works for the past five years, and was first presented for feedback in September 2019. It is regarded as a living document, one that is subject to change and adapt within each unique area of the city.
“As a community ages and changes, there will always be a need for a range of housing types at different levels of affordability and close to amenities, services and places of employment. Flexibility and choice helps to address climate change and improve economic resilience in the city,” reads a City of Calgary fact page on the guidebook.
Three Calgary communities — North Hill, Westbrook and Heritage — are currently pilot projects for the development policies outlined in the guidebook. These neighbourhoods are being used to test the “multi-community” planning process; the guidebook plans for approximately 40 multi-communities, grouping together more than 150 neighbourhoods.
One of the principal concerns regarding the document is the prospect of greater community density, particularly in areas of the city that are marked by single-family homes, with critics saying these dwellings could be bought by developers. The land could then be used to build multi-suite structures like fourplexes, meaning a greater number of residents will be living in the space.
The guidebook represents the realization of the city’s Municipal Development Plan — a 60-year vision for community planning that was approved in 2009 — which “indicates that a variety of low-density housing forms … are appropriate everywhere low-density housing is desired,” according to a report from Calgary’s Planning and Urban Development committee. These housing forms include single-detached and semi-detached dwellings.
“These policies do not eliminate the ability to have single detached dwellings … this policy does not intend to exclude housing choice[s] through Calgary’s communities,” the report continues, saying that the guidebook will enable communities to have a say in their growth and development.
Dozens of community associations across Calgary, under the name: Concerned Calgary Communities, came together to publish the Herald advertisement, as well as a posting in Avenue Magazine. The groups are asking city council for more public consultation regarding the guidebook ahead of the March 22 vote, saying that communities will be subject to “free-range” development.
“Out-of-town developers often don’t even visit the neighbourhoods where they build new housing. They don’t understand what makes each neighbourhood special the way people who live there do. City council need to start listening to residents,” the posting reads.
Brent Toderian, a Vancouver-based urban planner, is quoted by the group as saying that the “personality” of a neighbourhood is critical. Toderian took to Twitter shortly after to clarify his remarks about community character.
“In the … interview where I discuss great neighbourhoods having their own personality, that’s after talking about neighbourhoods needing to be complete, mixed, accessible, diverse, equitable, healthy, sustainable and multi-modal in order to be great,” Toderian wrote.
The Planning and Urban Development committee ultimately voted 7-1 in favour of the guidebook — Farkas was the only councillor who opposed the plan.