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Speakers line up at Calgary city council for missing middle bylaw public hearing

City administration wants to avoid direct control land uses and instead apply a new H-GO application for row houses, townhouses and other residential density.

Calgary city councillors heard from dozens of speakers on Tuesday, on both sides of the missing middle bylaw debate.

At stake at Tuesday’s Combined Meeting of Council, was the future of the Housing-Grade Oriented (H-GO) land use addition and amendments to the Residential – Grade Oriented Infill land use.

The bylaw would add a new land-use category that allows for townhomes and row houses. Currently, because this isn’t a typical housing typology in Calgary, they go to something called Direct Control.

The city said they want to streamline the process for these units. The Direct Control process is time consuming for both the city and developers, they said. It also fills a much-needed gap in the housing continuum – the so-called missing middle – they said.

“This directly aligns with the policies of the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and is not blanket densification,” city admin said in their presentation.

“This actually provides more value to the local area planning process, because it gives local builders and residents an opportunity to decide exactly where H-GO could be supported or not in the future.”

They said it doesn’t rezone any parcels. It simply creates another option in the land use bylaw.

“Since the new district does not exist on the ground, council will continue to have control for every single H-GO application,” admin said.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek reaffirmed much of what admin said in their presentation.

“It is a land use district that we presently don’t have,” the mayor said.

“It is also in response to a district that has some issues with it that require direct control, which provides a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability for the community.”

Public hearing: Parking, public engagement

Predictably, developers came out in favour of the change. It reduces red tape and opens up a market opportunity that isn’t being met.

Alkarim Devani of Rndsqr Developments said this kind of modified district isn’t new to council. They see it on an ad-hoc basis as direct control numerous times a year.

“The current model is not equitable or fair. It’s not that communities and residents can’t understand or find these things complex, it’s that they’re changing on a per-application basis and have no consistency,” Devani said.

“So quite frankly, we’re all confused. If council chooses to abandon this, then we’d end up back in the exact same position we are today.”

Parking and public consultation were two common themes among those who opposed the city’s land use update.

Bowness resident Jean Woeller brought up a number of concerns, including arbitrary distances from transit nodes, building in floods zones and increased parking on streets.

“Lastly, I am disappointed and offended that the city administration chose not to consult the communities that would be most affected by this change, and instead chose to engage stakeholders who have everything to gain from this proposal,” she said.

Philip Dach, a former City planner, said they’ve heard over and over again at the meeting about the lack of proper consultation. He said he appreciated Coun. Andre Chabot trying to dig into what changes should be made, but Dach said this should be a conversation between the planners and the communities.

“During the public hearing on the on the guidebook last year, many people, councillors and presenters, spoke at the loss of trust between communities on one side, and the planners and council on the other and how it was going to get better. Council wanted it to get better,” he said.

“This RCG, HGO exercise has done it again and exacerbated it.”

Community character, lack of infrastructure

Hounsfield Heights – Briar Hill resident Jeff Marsh speaks to Calgary city council during the public hearing on the missing middle bylaw on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. CITY LIVESTREAM

Jeff Marsh from Hounsfield Heights / Briar Hill said it feels like there’s a homogenization of inner-city communities taking place. There’s no room for neighbourhoods to be unique, he said.

“Land use to a great extent has historically, and continues today, to define our communities and largely the determines in the built form,” he said.

“Land use directly defines many of the characteristics that give our communities their unique personalities; as such significant change in land use policy, which the proposals before Council today represent, will impact very essence of our communities and they fundamentally change the characteristics on which residents choose to make particular community their home.”

Mount Pleasant resident Estelle Ducatel presented council with data that showed it wasn’t likely cars were going to be given up soon. Therefore, the idea of reducing the parking minimums wasn’t going to work.

When asked by Coun. Courtney Walcott if we should still be building cities for cars, Ducatel said her family only has one vehicle.  She finds the infrastructure lacking to make simple trips around the city. Until that improves, it’s a challenge to hear limits on cars and parking.

“I would argue that our transit network isn’t what it needs to be. And it’s decades away from being kind of that New York, London-style where truly people in those cities can live and make do without cars,” she said.

She walks or bikes to work, but when she needs to get groceries or take the kids to activities, cars it is.

“If you think of everything else that you do in your life other than just getting to work. You can see how you need a car. And so, I think we need to plan for it,” Ducatel said.

There are 33 more speakers signed up to resume at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

After that, councillors will debate the item before a final decision is made.