Calgary city councillors voted to transition new growth decisions to city administration to de-politicize debates.
But, according to the revised administration directions, all new growth business cases must still come to Calgary city council for approval. This move came after a city-wide growth discussion at a full-day strategic meeting of council on Tuesday.
Tweaks were made to the new community approval process, most notably allowing an open intake process for new business cases. Previously it was done every two years in a larger tranche of cases.
Once a new community case has been taken in, administration will evaluate based on a set criterion. Then they will make a recommendation to council. It’s essentially the same process as before, but on an ongoing first-come, first-served basis.
Any new community approvals will also have to meet the budget smell test. If they trigger additional capital spending or significant operational investments, the new growth neighbourhoods will only move ahead if that money gets budget approval.
Originally, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek was in favour of removing councillors from the process altogether and leaving it in the hands of admin.
“My position on this is if you have the tool that proves out the case, you don’t need a political decision,” she said Tuesday.
Some councillors disagreed. Coun. Sonya Sharp said council oversight should remain.
“One finishing note is that I have a tough time supporting the de-politicizing,” Sharp said.
“The decisions we make on these files actually have huge implications on the decisions we make for the city.”
Councillors also approved a plan to examine the removal of all Growth Management Overlays (GMOs) in favour of admin biz case reviews. These city overlays determine where and when tracts of land can be opened for development.
Arguably, the biggest changes among the nine-point plan don’t specifically involve the intake and approval of new communities.
Coun. Jennifer Wyness added an amendment that asked for a process to proactively identify and evaluate city-wide growth opportunities. This would involve ongoing city review and outreach to different stakeholders.
The other notable addition was from Coun. Andre Chabot. He wants the city to more directly attribute taxes and user fees paid to cover individual community expenses.
“I think council needs a better understanding of where revenue is generated, how it’s revenue generated, what kind of development generates what kind of revenue,” Chabot said.
He said many established area communities in his ward were built with predominantly single-family homes. Without proper amenities planned for each community, they aren’t sustainable. Chabot said decisions for developed communities need to be made with ongoing operating costs in mind.
In the end, the City of Calgary’s Director of City and Regional Planning, Josh White, summed up the conversation. They still do much of what they did before; the pieces have just been moved around.
“We’re just trying to understand actually what changes,” White said.
During the conversation, admin said a full transition could take up to a year to implement.