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Guidebook for Great Communities sent back to admin until May

After three days of public hearings on the Guidebook for Great Communities, councillors opted to send the 131-page document back to administration.

A robust 139 people participated in the virtual public hearing – the highest number in at least the last 10 years, according to Mayor Nenshi.

Both sides – including the middle – spoke about the plan. Those who opposed the current plan suggested it needed more engagement and massaging. They said that there needed to be preservation of heritage areas and neighbourhoods with protection for single-family detached homes.

Those in favour of the current plan suggested that the plan created complete communities, opening the door to an equitable way to reach municipal development targets and make Calgary a more compact city.

(We captured the sentiment of both Day 1 and Day 2).

Through the discussion several amendments surfaced from councillors. Coun. Jyoti Gondek made public a single-family special policy area that could be applied. Coun. Jeromy Farkas put forth an amendment, dubbed Elboya 2.8, that redefines the density variances in the Neighbourhood Local category in the Guidebook.

Ultimately, it was a set of amendments from a quartet of councillors that asked administration to take feedback from the three days and bring it back in June.

Couns. Jeff Davison, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward Sutherland and Peter Demong asked that council receive the report and the public submissions. They want a “What we heard” report to be generated for the June 2 Planning and Urban Development committee meeting.

For that meeting, they wanted a plan for city-wide public engagement on it.

Debate on the alternative Guidebook plan

Coun. Davison presented the alternative motion for councillors to consider.

He said he agrees with the majority of the Guidebook for Great Communities content.

“Fundamentally, this is the right step at the wrong time. The misinformation and assumptions on this project has taken hold and painted an image based in fear and confusion,” he said.

“For me, the overwhelming question in the public still remains. What exactly are we trying to solve by implementing the Guidebook?”

He said more effort is needed to help Calgarians understand what’s being done. Most people don’t have planning PhDs, he said.

Davison said he was saddened the conversation became centered around two different communities.

Co-sponsor Coun. Sutherland said he’s listened closely for the past three days – and he imagines his fellow councillors did, too.

“But the more important question is, ‘did we actually hear what citizens said?’ Did we filter the extreme views on both sides of the support and against?”

He said people in his communities, didn’t know what was happening with the Guidebook. While no one wanted to kill the Guidebook, Sutherland said, there are significant concerns.

“We need to come back with solutions for the concerns,” he said.

Coun. Keating later amended this motion to have it come back to May’s Planning and Urban Development meeting. He also wanted to examine if it should come back as a policy document instead of a statutory one.

Item 7 asking for the city wide public engagement failed at council.

Those against the referral

Coun. Gian Carlo Carra said that for many reasons the city needs to make the changes prescribed in the Guidebook. He didn’t support the motion.

“We need to make changes, and the Guidebook guides us through deep community consultation. The motion before us is straight up political cowardice. I will not be supportive.”

Coun. Jyoti Gondek questioned why members who put forward this motion supported it – and spoke favourably to it – during the earlier Planning and Urban Development meeting when it was approved.

“I guess I’m just a little bit surprised that some members of committee who had wholeheartedly endorsed this Guidebook now suddenly having cold feet,” Gondek said.

“I don’t understand what it’s about, particularly when those same members of committee said that if we want to drive more investment into our city, if we want to make sure that people have complete communities to live in, and if we want to bring down our budget by tackling infrastructure maintenance issues, that we should approve the guidebook. I’m very surprised that they’re not in support.”

Gondek did ultimately support the extra work.

The close of debate

Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong referred to comments made by Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra about this being a “huge transformation” in city planning. He said Calgarians, many of them without an inkling of planning, want to understand what the Guidebook means to them.

He understood that the city has been engaging people involved in the planning process in their communities. But, thousands of others haven’t been involved and don’t understand.

“Is it wrong to ask for maybe a year to try to explain it a little to the rest of Calgary?” Demong asked.

“Why is it so horrifying to actually simply ask for some time to explain it?”

Coun. Evan Woolley said he supports the amendments, but thinks the Guidebook should have been approved. He said it’s discouraging that the debate was sidetracked by the feelings of a couple of communities.

“To vote no to the Guidebook just to appease a couple of neighbourhoods who came over the last couple of days, I think is a great disservice and a great risk,” he said.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said that she wanted councillors to give the city-wide public debate a “sober second thought.” While the city had undertaken engagement with those communities undergoing local area plans, she said communities impacted by it in the future had a right to participate in this process as well.

“I think that we owe it to them to invest in the sort of consultation that has taken place over the last three to four years that has been well described during this public hearing,” she said.

“We really want to continue this conversation.”

Now the matter will return with the information from the public hearing and potential changes to the Guidebook on May 5. The public will be able to once again participate in that meeting.