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Decision on 11 new community business cases forwarded to Calgary city council

Eleven proposed community business cases will move to council, after a day-long meeting that saw input from all stakeholders – including citizens.

The discussion took place at a special meeting of the city’s Priorities and Finance committee geared toward Calgary’s growth management strategy.  

After hearing from all parties and asking questions, the city collected potential amendments to the admin recommendations and forwarded them to Nov. 2/3 meeting of council.

Administration started by presenting their reasons for recommending the business cases be deferred to the 2023-2026 budget cycle.

In many cases the developments met the city’s Municipal Development Plan (MDP) goals. In some cases, they met the criteria to not have city funding – capital or operational – put into the projects.

What it boiled down to for the city was a question of market demand.

They said a “healthy, competitive market already exists,” and additional capacity “is not required at this time to maintain housing affordability.”

Administration acknowledged that there were some infrastructure efficiencies to be had in specific cases, but city wide they said this wouldn’t be the case.

They did say that of the 11 business cases, only three brand new communities would be added. The others were part of the 14 prior approved (2018) areas.

Later in the discussion, Kathy Davies Murphy, the city’s manager of growth and strategic services, said that if all 11 new business cases were approved, it would add $23 million in operating costs to the city for the 2023-2026 business cycle.  They’ve already included future property tax generation in their budget and this would be over and above that.

That would mean a 1.5 per cent tax increase to cover that cost, she said.

Developers detail business cases in council

Most developers, and/or their development consultants, presented 10 of the 11 business cases to council Monday.

They took a very detailed approach to explaining the intricacies of each development and how it met many of the city’s transportation network plans, and how it would tie into existing developments.

One thing that came back was the developers’ perspective on the market demand.

Michael Brown with Trico Homes said that with COVID-19 in mind, homebuyers needs have changed. They’re looking to fill different needs.

“What we’ve seen this in terms of our buyers as they just went through a period of time at their homes where they discovered that their homes don’t necessarily work for them,” he said.

“We’ve seen more and more people looking at buying new homes based on this, looking for homes that, if you think about going from being in your house maybe four or five hours a day to 24 hours a day… it changes what you expect.”

Brown said people are more interested in single family homes right now than they are in multi-family. He said they’re looking for yards in during COVID.

“There’s a real movement in the market of people looking at a different kind of product,” he said.

Councillors also heard from developers that their land supply projections and the city’s didn’t necessarily jive. Nor did the idea of segment market demand – which is the demand of a certain product in a certain area.

Part of the city and development industry partnership is based around ensuring market choice in these new areas of growth.

Other business cases were smaller and involved niche products. There was one project for a seniors facility in north Calgary.

Citizen input around growth, climate and taxpayer cost

Greg Miller, a resident in north Calgary, said the administration recommendations are aligned with Calgarians’ feelings on this.

“Administration is telling you what Calgarians already know,” he said.

“Calgary already has more land ready for new developments than it needs.”

Rev. Anna Greenwood Lee, chair of the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good, said their groups represent more than 35,000 members across various ethnicities and community and religious groups and they’re unanimous in their opposition to the new growth.

“We’re not too far away from some November budget deliberations. And we know that the city is looking for across the board cuts to deal with these challenging financial times,” she said.

“So, at a time when you’re looking at service cuts, it makes no sense to be investing in new communities.”

Others, including Dr. Noel Keough, who represented Sustainable Calgary, talked about the environmental impact of continued outward growth. Dr. Keough also touched on the idea of affordable housing versus affordable living.

He said the two things are very different. While living in the suburban communities might make the property affordable, the actual cost to live overall is likely much higher.

Former Calgary MP Kent Hehr also voiced his opposition to the proposed developments.

Questions from councillors

Councillor Peter Demong questioned the city’s definition of a completed community.

Administration said that it’s a neighbourhood with fewer than 50 single-family residential lots available. He named off several that were in the 50-to-100 lot range that would likely be completed soon – yet they were in a category that showed a longer term build out.

He suggested that was making the land supply data biased against the development proposals. Demong asked for updated maps and with a clear understanding of where these communities were at in terms of build out.

Coun. Joe Magliocca talked at length about the communities that weren’t going to cost the city anything extra. He said they were going to create thousands of much-needed jobs right now in Calgary’s economy.

Magliocca proposed an opposite set of amendments to administration. He asked that all 11 of the new business cases be approved.

Amendments will go to council

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart led the amendments, keeping them somewhat like administration’s initial recommendations. She asked for more clarity around housing supply and census data.

Coun. Gian Carlo Carra tacked on amendments related to the build out of the East Calgary business cases on the border with neighbouring Chestermere.

Amendments from Coun. Jyoti Gondek asked that the city review its portion of proposed capital infrastructure projects that wouldn’t be started prior to 2026, tied to the off-site levy bylaw.  She’d like to see that money diverted in the interim to a fund for the city’s established areas.

Councillors approved the city’s growth management report and the forwarding of all amendments to the Nov. 2/3 council agenda.

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