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Residents feel ‘back door’ being used to approve Marda Loop area development

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said the city’s subdivision and development appeal board (SDAB) quite simply made a mistake.

Residents in the area, however, say developers are using a back door to push a 16-unit project through.

Woolley is referring to an upcoming public hearing matter involving a Direct Control land use application for two properties in the Marda Loop (Richmond / Knob Hill / South Calgary) area. The parcels involved initially had a redesignation to RCG. That allows for up to four, street-facing units to be built on each site.

Initially, the Calgary Planning Commission approved plans for the eight units, but with secondary suites added, and eight parking stalls. Area residents appealed that decision to the SDAB, a quasi-judicial board where these appeals are heard.

The SDAB overturned the development permit application, citing 14 different points of objection in its ruling.

“The Board finds that the proposed development will materially interfere with or affect the use, enjoyment or value of the neighbouring properties and is, from a planning perspective, inappropriate for the site,” read the decision, written by board member Katherine Wagner.

Area resident Meaghan Pelton said they didn’t actually think they’d win the appeal. Though the group of roughly 20 neighbours were well prepared and hired professional advisers to assist.

“We thought, ‘wow this is fantastic. Now they’ll have to go back to the drawing board and build something that is more in keeping with the neighbourhood,’” Pelton told LiveWire Calgary.

A month after the decision, Pelton said the developer applied for Direct Control.

Direct Control… is just that

“A Direct Control (DC) is a customized land use designation. It has a list of allowable uses and a set of rules specific to a particular property or development,” the city’s land-use dictionary states.

Pelton, who lives kitty-corner to the proposed development believes this direct control application undermines the entire process.

“We’re thinking, why engage if there’s this kind of loophole, back door,” Pelton said.

“It undermines the entire process of the SDAB and all of the neighbours that took the time, energy and resources to go through that process, which is set up by city council.”

Residents had concerns over parking, waste management and street-facing doors that blended with the neighbourhood. Plus the addition of eight more secondary suite units.

Some changes have been made, according to a letter sent to residents by CivicWorks, a consultant that handles many inner-city development projects.

In that letter, it states they believe there were errors in the SDAB decision.

“Findings in the decisions are noted without adequate supporting reasons, as many of the Board’s noted reasons are statements and opinions,” the memo read.

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley agreed that errors were made in the decision.

“The Subdivision (Development) and Appeal Board absolutely made a mistake,” Woolley told LiveWire Calgary.

“The example that we have here, absolutely is exactly the direction that council have given, and SDAB failed to acknowledge council policy, and made the wrong decision.”

Woolley went on to say that given the property right afforded owners, the application for Direct Control is just the next step in the process.

Pelton said if it meets city council criteria for the area, then they should test it under the prior RCG land use. She said she doesn’t recall any opposition to the developer’s request for redesignation back in 2019.

It’s not about opposing redevelopment, Pelton said

Pelton said she’s seen a lot of redevelopment in the area. Particularly a number of “really nicely done” four plexes. She rejected the idea that neighbours oppose density in the area.

“If it had been an eight-unit with none of these secondary suites and they had all been facing the streets, which is what we would have expected… I would not have said a word,” Pelton said.

Woolley said residents say they’re not opposed to redevelopment. But when they oppose a development, they’re actually opposed to development in their area.

“It always smacks of a bit ironic or hypocritical. They’re saying they don’t oppose development, as they’re opposing development,” he said.

“I guess my question is, eight units with eight secondary suites versus eight units without secondary suites. How does that any differently impacting neighbours?”

Woolley said he’s looking forward to the conversation and is still keeping an open mind on the topic. He understands the frustration the group must have in navigating the process.

Pelton said she was told other developers await this decision in council on Tuesday.

“The whole development community is watching to see if they get their direct control. It sends this message that if you don’t like the decision of the SDAB, try, try again. You can get this through direct control,” she said.

The matter will be discussed as a part of day two of the final Calgary city hall meeting for this council.