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Guidebook for Great Communities – Day 1 public hearing

The public hearing on the Guidebook for Great Communities began Monday, with residents describing fear over loss of heritage, lack of engagement and calls to delay the document.

The Guidebook has come under intense scrutiny and been the subject of media campaigns over the past two weeks.

The 131-page document was presented by administration at Monday’s combined meeting of council. They went through tour of how the document would be applied, including its application in the North Hill Local Area Plan.

Stuart Dalgleish, GM for Planning and Development with the City of Calgary, said after five years they were ready to provide a document with “leading guidance.”

“The recipe card, one could say, that Calgary needs for us to, first, continue advancing toward a vision,” he began.

“Second, in doing so, placing the citizen and community at the center of how we grow and progress our communities and city.”

City administrators went through why the document was brought forward and its place in the city’s planning process.

Lisa Kahn with the Guidebook for Great Communities said the document can change the city’s approach to investment and supporting community growth in a strategic way.

“The guidebook is the vehicle to drive the discussion about public investment needs, and it relies on communities to be part of identifying the needs of an area through a local area plan,” she said.

The public hearing will continue through Tuesday.

The nay side

Most people speaking on day one of the public hearing spoke against the document.

They were concerned about the engagement process, confusion around the housing choices and concern over the preservation of single-family homes. Other raised issues with heritage preservation in the process.

Terry Wong, president of the Hounsfield Heights – Briar Hill and the Chinatown District Business Improvement Area Executive director said the feelings express today are genuine concerns.

“There’s misinformation is because the engagement process has failed to enlighten the public with the facts,” he said.

Like many of the speakers that followed, they agreed that the city needed to grow in a different way, and were not against higher density growth.

“What we do wish to express is that we wish to safeguard the community and residents concern, relative to building scale heritage character site coverage and parking in your neighborhoods,” he said.  

“We support the rights of property owners and the tenants to live in comfort and security in safety and in preservation of their assets.”

Jane Virtue, president of the Elbow Park Residents Association used earlier comparisons to it being a recipe for a cake – the Guidebook as the list of ingredients and the cake is the end product – to make her point.

“Firstly, the Guidebook doesn’t include an urban form category that our community wants; you’re unable to choose our flavor of cake, because our flavor just doesn’t exist. It’s not on the menu,” she said.

Many of the participants felt the city hadn’t done an adequate job of consulting with residents, and ensuring that citizens were clear on how it would be applied. They also felt if concerns were raised, they got standard responses or ignored because it opposed the work the city had done.

The pro side

Rachel Timmermans said she was excited for the Guidebook for Great Communities. She said it represented the kind of city she, and other young people, want to live in.

She said it fills the gap in the missing middle housing in many of Calgary’s communities and provide flexibility to anyone can live in any of the city’s neighbourhoods.

“I’m very excited that we’re finally going to start planning and laying the groundwork for great communities, instead of building some houses on the edge of the city and hoping a sense of community comes with it,” Timmermans said.

Phil McQueen, who is a planning professional, and director of development for the Killarney and Glengarry communities, said a lack of plans in some areas have led to uncertainty, affecting the success of some neighbourhoods.

He said uncertainty had created neighbour conflict, discouragement of business and community investment and growth potential.

“These policy plans provide communities with the opportunity to restore certainty, create complete communities, spur economic growth, and restore competence to the business community,” he said.

The Federation of Calgary Communities, the organization that represents Community Associations, had both pros and cons in their presentation. Planner Edward Spink said the Guidebook provide a holistic approach to planning, clear language and complete communities.

“Overall, there was an acknowledgement that the Guidebook will help us combat sprawl and create a more compact city,” he said.

The primary gap they found was in the lack of a single-family detached designation.

Toun Osuntogun, also a planner with the Federation, said that an infrastructure investment plan is sorely needed.

“It is important that communities receive certainty that not only will the amenities and public realm improvements be funded to support and match the population growth proposed, but that their services will improve as well,” she said.