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Don’t call me Guidebook: Local area planning policy will return to Calgary committee

Sixty-two amendments have been added, along with a sustainment plan, to the document formerly known as the Guidebook for Great Communities.

It’s now the Guide for Local Area Planning. That was one of the big changes.

The revised document will return to the city’s planning and urban development (PUD) committee on May 5.  The document returns after 138 citizens participated in a three-day public hearing that covered 38 hours of submissions.

The city also conducted citizen engagement session in April. More than 115 people participated, and they collected 190 pages of feedback to recraft the contentious planning document.  

But, there’s still opposition to the timing and contents from city community groups.

Lisa Kahn with the Guide for Local Area Planning team said they took the document back after listening to Calgarians and tried to find a balance.

“Over the past month, we’ve been trying to look at what are the real issues that folks are having with the guidebook,” Kahn told LiveWire Calgary on Friday.

“How can we address them in a way that still holds true to the integrity of the guidebook, but still gives people a little bit more assurance that we’re listening and responding to their needs.”

The changes were put into five areas:

  • Clarity, Predictability and Certainty
  • Complete Communities
  • Heritage
  • Engagement
  • Neighbourhood stability and character

‘Stumbling block’ on the previous Guidebook

The name change was one of a handful of things done to make the document’s purpose clear. They also changed it to a non-statutory document.

What that does is give the document less authority, Kahn said. The Local Area Plans (LAPs), however, will still be statutory documents.

This change to the Guide makes it literal. It’s now a policy guide to construct the statutory LAP.

“It’ll give communities a little bit more flexibility, especially in those first few local area plans where there’s probably a little bit more anxiety about what these local area plans will look like,” Kahn said.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek, chair of the city’s PUD committee said that change simplifies things. Making it statutory, when the planning documents before (Municipal Development Plan (MDP)) and after (LAP) were binding, was a bit redundant.

“I think it was a stumbling block that many people couldn’t get past,” Gondek said.

“By making it non-statutory we’re actually keeping the spirit of the fact it’s a guidebook.”

The document is also stripped of the storytelling journey of Maria and David. Kahn said the intent of the original document was to make it about people. It was designed to incorporate a feeling that the buildings could be representative of any of Calgary’s citizens.

“What we heard through the public hearing was that this is a planning document. It needs to be a bit more, I don’t want to say technical, but a bit more on that planning side rather than the jargon-y, relationship-y side,” Kahn said.

The city said they’ve also cleaned up and simplified the ladder from the MDP to the LAP.

Complete communities and heritage

The amended Guide now includes a land acknowledgement to start. It was a theme heard during the public hearings that we should be including all of Calgary’s peoples: Past present and future, Kahn said.

There were modifications made to include language around year-round mobility and vehicle-oriented planning uses on Main Streets and Activity Centres.

Kahn said they’ve also ensured that tree canopies and their preservation are a part of the scope of the new Guide.

“What the amendments to the guidebook do is add that ability for local area plans to identify where those tree canopies are important, and to create those ways to preserve them, or to talk about them in whatever way that local context wants,” she said.

The revised document provides the same latitude for conversation on streetscapes, historic blocks, diverse and inclusive homes and unique aspects of communities. Kahn said the prior Guidebook also had these tools, but they may not have been as apparent.

“We wanted to make sure that we put it into the guide to make sure that folks saw that, and knew that it was part of that.”

The same goes for heritage. Though Kahn said the tools were there already, they wanted to spell it out in specifics. Most of the heritage amendments were quite textual, she said.

“We wanted to make sure that we added more of those criteria so that people understood that heritage could look at all of those things, it wasn’t just limited to three, or whatever ideas. It’s now a more robust list that we have there.”

Hot button: Public Engagement

The guide stakes out plans for ongoing public engagement. Kahn said they stand by their engagement on the document over the past three years.  What the public hearings forced them to do was take a step back to look at what they were engaging on.

She said they saw that different people were heavily invested in different areas of the Guide. They recognized that they needed to engage on the parts of the guide that were important to them, as opposed to engaging on the document as a policy.

“I think that is something that as the city we need to do more of as we keep progressing through all of the work that we have lined up,” said Kahn.

“We really need to kind of take a step back and talk to Calgarians about what’s important to them before we leap to that decision about how that happens.”

During the April session, Kahn said they specifically sought out opponents to the Guidebook during the public hearings. They wanted to hear what those citizens had to say.

“We had a good mix between folks who’ve been engaged with us over the past three years, and folks who came out to the public hearing,” she said.

Coun. Gondek said the city focused its resources on those Calgarians who would be most immediately impacts by the Guidebook changes.

“The people that now are saying, ‘well, when is this coming to me? What does it mean, and this is freaking me out, I didn’t know.’ We could have done a broader public campaign,” she said.

Part of a long-term engagement, Gondek said, is it transforms and evolves to be specific and technical because the participants have spent so much time acquainting themselves with the document.

There’s also more content on a sustainment program. It ensures ongoing work and changes are made on the Guide as the city evolves.

Preserving single-detached homes, neighbourhood stability

While it became somewhat of a meme during the public hearings, the idea of preserving single-family homes was consistent.

The new document does embed a single-detached special policy area. Citizens working on a local area plan can include it in their neighbourhoods.

But does it conflict with the intent of the Guide, which is to translate the MDP goals? Kahn said it’s all about balance.  The single-detached use was always available, this just makes it uber specific.

“It’s definitely a tool in the guidebook that has to be used thoughtfully and strategically and can be done through that local area plan,” Kahn said.

Kahn said the different building typologies will be used in various ways in each local area plan process. No plan will be the same and will take into account the neighbourhood nuances.

“I think a lot of the hurdles with the guidebook is some community folks didn’t see themselves in the guidebook. They didn’t see their life in the guidebook,” she said.

When asked, Kahn did say this couldn’t be used as insurance that neighbourhoods could be blanket single-detached.

“We still believe in the value of the guidebook that says housing choices important in all communities,” she said.

There are also measures in the new guide that address scale modifiers for multi-unit buildings and where those building types can go in relation to the neighbourhood context. Kahn did say many of these items are more clearly addressed in the city’s land use bylaw.

Yes, engagement, but no time to review changes

A group of 27 community associations representing 47 communities continues their opposition, citing lack of time to review the proposed changes.

They want city-wide engagement on it, rather than four days with a completed document, done two days after public submissions are closed.

“Calgarians deserve to be heard, involved and represented effectively by our elected City Council,” said Andre Chabot, former city councillor and current candidate for Ward 10, in a prepared statement by the group.

“The proposed Guidebook amendments and the recommendations have not been shared with the public for full consultation. No action should be taken to approve the Guidebook, in any form, until there has been City-wide public engagement on this transformational planning guidebook.”

Philip Dack, a former city planner from the West Hillhurst neighbourhood agreed that more time is needed. In talking with other communities, Dack said he’s heard that there’s far too many changes to be digested in such a short time.

“With all of these changes that just came out an hour or two ago, for us to review them, consider them and respond to them in that time is impossible,” Dack told LiveWire Calgary.

Issues still remain with the particulars of the document, too, Dack said. Problems around R2 (duplex allowed) neighbourhoods being converted to RCG (townhouse or row house) is worrying.

Dack said the city has tried to respond to the concerns from citizens.

“However, they’ve kept their hands firmly controlling the processs. What that means is it’s one thing when it’s written and another thing with how it actually take form on the ground when you are writing community plan,” he said.

Watered down?

With the changes, the Guide does have a different feel to it.

We asked if this version acquiesced to a small but vocal group of Calgarians. Kahn said no. They’ve had to step back a bit to realize there are a lot of forward-thinking policies for Calgarians to adapt to.

“I would say we’ve kind of taken a step back a bit, but we’re still making baby steps forward,” Kahn said.

“We’re still progressing and we’re still making those changes we want to make. There’s nothing in this document as planners we sat back and said, ‘oh, we shouldn’t do that.’”

She said they haven’t acquiesced. They’ve listened.

“We’re responding in a way that we’re OK with and I think we’ll give communities a lot of reassurance.”

Coun. Gondek concurred.

“I believe this should be enough to clarify the questions people had,” she said.

“We didn’t water anything down and we didn’t dramatically change anything. What we offered was more transparency in what it is we’re trying to accomplish.”