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Committee approves plan for new Calgary suburban communities

Calgary’s Infrastructure and Planning committee members approved a recommendation to continue work on at least eight new communities after more than 21 hours of questions and debate.

The decision, approved in various parts, included the initial five business cases city administration said warranted consideration, with further analysis on three more they included “with caution.”  They want an updated recommendation on those three back by September.

According to admin, these cases could be approved without any further capital cost. They would take advantage of the $532 million in capital cost budgeted for already approved new communities. It will, however, add $5.05 million in annual operating costs upon start up.

Several amendments were put on the floor and questions about admin capacity came into play. These amendments included the request for further work on five additional business cases.

It also asked city admin to review the Growth Management Overlay (GMO) process and solicit feedback on the process from industry stakeholders. During the public portion of the meeting on Monday, developers did raise concerns with the process.

An investigation into net-zero and climate incentives to trigger GMO removal priority was also approved.

The decision sets the stage for capital spending and operational cost considerations going into the upcoming four-year budget process.  Though approved at committee, this recommendation must succeed at a full meeting of council in late July.

Why have a process?

After hearing from both the public and developers and then going through a battery of clarifying questions for administration, councillors debated climate impacts, business friendliness and ultimately the process for managing city growth.

Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian expressed concern with the process. Admin came back with their recommendations based on a certain strategic criterion. She suggested they should stick with that.

“What I’m finding very frustrating in this process, which is that you’ve been directed to do work, and it’s outlined in a strategic way, and then now everyone’s sort of picking their little piece that they want to put at the top of the pile, which is the exact opposite of strategic,” she said.

“It’s just, it’s very frustrating. This is the type of stuff I used to watch when I was not on council and get really annoyed with.”

Chair Gian-Carlo Carra suggested that the process is both strategic and political. The additions were part of the political process, he said.

Coun. Courtney Walcott was also concerned about the governance aspect. He said there’s a time and a place to change the process, but not in the middle of it.

“If we pre-empt (admin) at any point by advancing GMO removals by doing anything other than just the what the original recommendation was, and to be honest, several of the other recommendations that they’re doing already, then you are interfering with the process of people whose job it is to run the city.”

Directing conversations

In total, it’s a 5+3, maybe a +2, with work to advance another three new communities. (13)

Coun. Sonya Sharp requested a West View (Qualico) development in her ward get more attention.

Two others in East Calgary (Belvedere) were also added by Coun. Andre Chabot. Those could ultimately be added to the November budget list. That brought the total number of potential communities informing budget decisions to 10.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the Belvedere cases were included based on potential stormwater funding from other orders of government that impact transit priorities in the area.

Coun. Dan McLean added in the Providence development for more discussion with administration, and Coun. Jennifer Wyness topped things up with the Glacier Ridge (Ronmor) business case. The latter was tacked on (with reference to others) to help address some water capacity issues for the area. They’d need capital funding in the near term.

Coun. Sharp said that this wasn’t about adding even more new communities immediately

It was about directing administration to ensure they were talking directly with developers about some of the specific outstanding issues that hold up development.

Right now, the city reviews the submitted business cases every two years. The conversations on these areas weren’t ongoing, she said.

In her debate, Sharp said the GMO delays slow business.

“My concern is that delaying the time to lift the GMO just places another unnecessary barrier in front of businesses starting their work.

“One added thing is we do have to be careful in our language and we’re not vilifying sectors that actually contribute to our economy and provide jobs.”

The signal it sends

Coun. Evan Spencer, who ultimately made the final nuanced recommendation, said it’s a balanced recommendation with minimal impact on the city’s budget.

He supported them moving ahead immediately.

“While there’s a strong case to have these conversations alongside our budget deliberations in November, I believe that there’s a stronger case for these five to proceed immediately,” Spencer said.

Coun. Spencer said this demonstrates certainty and capital investment by city businesses follows that.

“It’s time to move forward with these and I do think it is important to show that we respond to our business community when all the ducks are in a row,” he said.

Coun. Carra felt it sent a different signal to the city’s development community.

“The signal it sends is that regardless of what we say we’re going to do, they can lobby us or politic us into doing whatever they want. And that is a bad, bad place to be,” he said.

“It is not to anyone’s benefit, except the destruction of our process and the teaching of bad habits with regard to how we collectively pursue city building.”

As mentioned, this series of recommendations will need approval at a full meeting of council. Absent from the final vote were: Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Couns. Kourtney Penner, Richard Pootmans and Peter Demong.