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Guidebook for Great Communities approved at Calgary planning committee

The city’s Guidebook for Great Communities faced stiff opposition at a public hearing Wednesday, but councillors still approved the document.

The Guidebook is a planning document that is intended to help shape the future development of established Calgary communities that undergo local area planning work.

In Wednesday’s Planning and Urban Development meeting Wednesday, councillors heard from the public, and of the 59 people who contributed, roughly two-thirds were against the document.

After relatively short debate, councillors approved the document 7-1 at committee, with Coun. Jeromy Farkas being the lone dissenter.  Coun. Farkas had tried to delay the approval until after the Oct. 18 municipal election. That failed.

The document will now go to the March 22 meeting of Calgary city council.

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he was elected to council 10 years ago with the mandate to transform how the city develops. He believes this document is a culmination of that effort.

“I think this is a really important moment in Calgary’s planning history,” Coun. Carra said.

“It’s a watershed moment where we’re making a significant commitment to operationalize the significant commitments we made 11 years ago, when we passed a municipal development plan that acknowledged that we could not continue building the city, the way we had for the last many decades.”

The opposition

Opposition to the public came on both the Guidebook and the North Hill Local Area Plan (Guidebook used to form this plan). As mentioned, more than two-thirds of those who presented were opposed to the documents.

The concerns centred around four primary areas: loss of single-family homes, loss of heritage value, lack of climate plan alignment and public engagement.

Ward 11 resident Julie Punt said her family chose the southwest Calgary community of Mayfair specifically because it was a single-family home area.

“There is a place for high density living and a place for single family homes. By rezoning all neighbourhoods, it greatly reduces the chance of maintaining that diversity in our city,” she said.

“One of the many treasures of Calgary are the quaint, older single family home neighbourhoods located in the inner city. This is something we must protect, not erase.”

Elbow Park resident Hugoline Morton raised the issue of restrictive covenants on homes, particularly in relation to heritage properties. She said they include setback guidance, one house per lot and restricted commercial activity.

“They are a legal cornerstone of the heritage of the neighbourhoods to which they apply, and they ensure contextually sensitive development,” she said.

The public, city admin and councillors debated the merit of restrictive covenants, their legality and their relevance to development today.

Others raised the notion that climate wasn’t a big part of the Guidebook creation.

One speaker brought up the point that climate was only referred to a handful of times in the document.

The support

Those who spoke in support of the plan said that it creates a system that can be applied fairly to all parts of the city, but still respect a community individuality.

Jeanne Kimber, who lives in Highland Park, said she’d listened to speakers for most of the day and had read many of the public submissions.

“I understand the anxiety that somehow the guidebook sets the stage for precipitous and unwanted change in the community,” she said.

“I would contend that much of that fear is unfounded.”

Others, like Calgary Economic Development’s Court Ellingson, said this could be an economic catalyst. Ellingson said that when they look at the principles of the Guidebook and those of Calgary in the new economy, they’re aligned.

“Our understanding is that your talent, innovation, and business environment are intrinsically tied together with placemaking,” he said.

“It provides the opportunity for engagement and for citizens to be building that city which is the best city for them, and that is going to help us drive our economy in the future.”

City rebuttal to concerns

After hearing from the public, the city provided a strong response to the concerns raised by citizens.

Lisa Kahn with the City of Calgary first addressed heritage. She said the document contained some of the “most forward-thinking heritage tools,” particularly around areas where there was a concentration of heritage properties.

In the North Hill Plan in particular, Kahn said they’ve identified heritage assets for protection. That’s what the documents are supposed to do.

“The plan includes policy to discourage re-designations in these areas, thereby acknowledging that those areas are where the future heritage tools will help incentivize the retention of heritage assets,” she said.

That’s when perhaps the city’s most pointed comment was delivered. With respect to maintaining heritage and “character” in communities, Kahn said it refers to more than just buildings – it includes the people, too.

“It’s about the parks, pathways, trees and amenities and more importantly, community character is mostly about people,” she said.

“We often use character attention as an argument for why change shouldn’t happen. It’s a euphemism for exclusion.”

Loss of single-family homes, climate concerns

Kahn also addressed concerns about supposed elimination of single-family homes. She said Calgary’s single-family home stock is about 56 per cent – 20 per cent more than other Canadian cities. Kahn said they would continue to be the dominant form of housing in Calgary.

“I’ve said this many times, but the guidebook will not eliminate single detached dwellings. Nor does it eliminate the opportunity for new single detached dwellings to be built,” she said.

On climate, Kahn said that the principles themselves are built around the goals of sustainability and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Later, in his close, Coun. Gian Carlo Carra said this, in itself, was a climate document.

“The reality is, this entire document is a climate document. It’s a financial risk management document, it is a economy diversifying document. It is a socially just, inclusive, anti-racist document, he said.

“It hits, everything that we’ve been trying to do.”