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Calgary ‘missing middle’ bylaw proposal approved by city committee

So-called ‘missing middle’ housing was further clarified at a Calgary committee Friday, but the conversation will continue, councillors said.

Members of the city’s Infrastructure and Planning committee approved a new land-use designation that would clear up Direct Control land uses for lower-density projects like row-houses, semi-detached, townhouses and others.  It was approved 7-4

City of Calgary administration proposed a new housing district – Housing – Grade Oriented (H-GO).  It will still need to be finalized at a full meeting of council, likely in October. It’s expected that some amendments will be brought forward at that time.

Currently, lots that require a land use change that doesn’t fit current land uses typically apply for direct control (DC) use. This has caused frustration in various Calgary communities because the criterion for approval is unclear. Many have said that developers apply for direct control so they can skirt specific rules in other uses.

“These forms were not anticipated in Calgary’s current Land Use Bylaw resulting in inconsistent and unique direct control districts,” the city report acknowledged.

City admin said this provides a better understanding of what can be built in their communities. It will also allow for wider variety of housing forms in Calgary neighbourhoods.

Coun. Jasmine Mian supported the motion, saying that we need to get rid of the gatekeepers to improving housing supply in Calgary.

“I think this is a small way that I think we can improve a very important aspect of the missing middle housing,” she said.

Concerns raised during the public hearing

During the public hearing, some citizens said a new land use shouldn’t be applied everywhere.

Others brought up a lack of public engagement and opportunity to review the bylaw before it came to committee.

Kelvin Grove resident Guy Buchanan said that the application of the HGO would work, but it can’t be done in blanket form. It must be done in the right places, he said. He said the city must first quantify how many units they need to meet demand. Then, take stock of where the city can maximize impact of these developments.

“I think that the city again, just needs to go back and look at that low hanging fruit first and that being next to your LRT sites and long major corridors and undeveloped or underdeveloped commercial sites,” he said.  

“I think there’s huge opportunity to support the transit system which really needs support and may make available some very affordable housing.”

Philip Dach, a now-retired City of Calgary planner, said he got the document 70 hours ago. He said he and others have tried to dive into the details. More time is needed for proper review, Dach said.

“The main thing that myself and a lot of people want is a proper engagement process,” Dach said, noting the concern that not enough people understand the planning process doesn’t wash.

“If it’s too complicated, it’s the job of the planners to explain it and explain it and explain it until people understand it.”

Coun. Andre Chabot put forward a motion to allow for further public engagement to come back mid-next year. That was defeated. Admin did say during questions that a public input process would consult more than just the loud voices. Done properly, it would require a $500,000 investment.

Needs for this type of housing: CivicWorks

David White, principal for development consultant CivicWorks, who works with many inner-city developers, said the market demand is there.

“There is a clear demand for these housing forms and they’re simply not going away,” said White.  

He said it would be difficult to present innovative housing solutions without relaxations sought through the Direct Control process.

Alkarim Devani, co-founder and president of inner-city developer RNDSQR, doubled down and said there’s an unprecedented demand for this kind of housing. He said they have a two-year waiting list on these housing types.

One of the big challenges is the projects are nuanced, he said.

“They’re very difficult to kind of get approved and this is an opportunity for us to fix some of those mechanics and hopefully open up more opportunities for other folks within Calgary to get involved in this type of housing,” Devani said.

“We’re simply making adjustments to make it more equitable and fair and for the system actually move quicker.”

Still Coun. Chabot said that it’s important to hear from the public. He expects that in the upcoming council conversation and through the work on overhauling the city’s land use bylaw, that feedback will be plenty.

“I will repeat something that one of my former colleagues used to say: ‘There will be another day to have this discussion.’ This is Committee. It still has to go to council,” he said.

He’s hoping there will be continued feedback from the community before that time.