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Calgary’s Guide turns into an information document to aid local area planning

After years of work and dozens of hours of debate, Calgary’s planning committee accepted the Guide for Local Area Planning (GLAP) as information.

The Guide (formerly known as the Guidebook) underwent 62 amendments and a name change prior to a return to Calgary’s Planning and Urban Development (PUD) committee Wednesday. It also came back as a non-statutory document.  

Wednesday’s public hearing was somewhat of a replay of the March edition, this time with a lack of public engagement playing an emphatic role. More than 90 people were signed up to speak.

Before councillors debated it, Coun. Jeromy Farkas attempted to refer it to the first PUD meeting after the Oct. 18 municipal election. That measure failed.

Then Mayor Nenshi, who sat in on the committee, tested councillors’ will on the motion to file for information.

He launched into it by asking Lisa Kahn with the Guide team if the city uses best practices in planning. She said yes, of course.  So, what’s the point of being here, the mayor asked. If we use best practices already, the guide isn’t really needed for Local Area Plans because those rules would already come down from the city’s Municipal Development Plan.  

“I’ve been hearing over and over again that the guidebook is just a list of best practices. And in fact council shouldn’t be voting on best practices. What do we know?” Nenshi said.

The interesting turn of events ultimately had Coun. Farkas voting against the shelving of the document as information, though he’d attempted a prior referral.

“This correction to me is very disturbing. It’s shortcutting a, I would say a democratically required mechanism of council to vote on matters like this, that affects every single Calgarian,” he said.

Ultimately, Mayor Nenshi’s motion, as amended, passed 7-5.

Political maneuvering

Early in the proceedings, the issue of a recent door hanger related to the Guide came up at city council. There was concern raised that it was funded to act as a political tool to create a wedge for the upcoming civic election.

Several times the idea of the Guide being a civic election issue came up during the public hearing. Many of the panelists suggested this should be something Calgarians get to ask respective candidates about on the door step.

In some cases, the committee chair, Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who is a candidate for mayor, was singled out in the meeting for allowing all of these Guide problems to happen.

But, the irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Coun. Shane Keating.

“What we have is, those who want to make this an election aspect, are not willing to get rid of it,” he said.

“We got on both sides of that street, on each sidewalk, the two opposing forces kind of shouting over top each other as if it’s a great document, let’s run a campaign on it.”

Mayor Nenshi’s motion essentially relegated the document to a piece of information. There’s nothing to wage a campaign on.

Public hearing weighted heavily against the GLAP

Speakers at the morning portion of a public hearing on the Guide for Local Area Planning overwhelmingly opposed the revised version presented at a Calgary committee Wednesday.

Mount Pleasant resident Al Barber said he was disappointed with what administration returned with, calling them “a few token concessions.”

Barber said the city has an agenda of rapid densification and has huge advantages in manpower and funding to control the process in their favour.

“There was never any good faith on the part of the city, not in raising awareness, educating or engagement,” Barber said. He said he would like to see the current document discarded and the process started after an upcoming election.

Others, like Catherine McCunn, said a document that impacts so many Calgarians should have robust engagement.

“Give Calgarians the opportunity to work with city council on getting this right,” she said.

“You have our attention. We should not rush the process now that you have our attention.”

McCunn closed by saying that she’s disheartened to hear councillors say that those fighting the Guide are doing so because they’re opposed to change.

“We are not opposed to change,” she said.

“We just want to understand it and have an opportunity to have a two-way dialogue about approaches and outcomes before we agree to it.”

The city said they did work with many speakers from the past public hearing. They also went back to stakeholders on the revisions.

Supporters of the Guide in the p.m.

While it was skewed towards those opposed to the Guide in the morning, it was considerably more balanced in the afternoon.

Nathaniel Schmidt spoke in one of the early evening panels and he supported the Guide.

“This guide is neither a panacea for change nor scripture for destruction. Like most policy document, it fits comfortably in the middle,” he said.

Schmidt said that there have been multiple chances for Calgarians to participate, and that the same demographic of people came out again against the document is very telling, he said. It said it shows the real problem with the City of Calgary’s engagement.

“It shows that the voices of privilege continue to be amplified more than others,” he said.

Kathryn Davies also spoke in favour of the plan. She said it was necessary for Calgary to be more sustainable and liveable. She too said the public engagement was adequate over the years.

“Crying insufficient engagement is a convenient cudgel with endless potential to derail and delay important and difficult conversations about city building,” she said.

“I suspect that no amount of future engagement will be sufficient to appease those who are committed to maintaining the status quo.”

Best practices outlined in the Guide can still be used to inform the local area planning process. The local area plans will be statutory documents.