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Calgary’s missing middle land use bylaw approved at city council

After two days of public hearings, Calgary city council moves forward with new land-use.

Calgary city councillors approved an amended version of the so-called missing middle bylaw, opening the door for the application of this land use.

It was day two of the public hearing on the Housing – Grade-Oriented (H-GO) land use, and amendments to the Residential – Grade-Oriented Infill District (R-CG). It will essentially allow for semi-detached, rowhouses, townhouses, at-grade flats and suites.

Once again, councillors heard about housing choice, missing middle, aging in place and and sustainable communities and cities. On the other side, staying in lock step with day one, parking and public engagement were the main bones of contention from citizens.

Sarah Geddes, a communications professional in Calgary, said the city does a lot of public consultation on a variety of projects. She said the city solicits public feedback – just not in development issues, she said.

“We’re told developers and the city’s experts know best and our only opportunity to engage is at times like this at the finish line” Geddes said.

“I would like to ask how could there possibly be better experts on our communities then the people that actually live in them?”

Others, like Mike Borkristl, with the Calgary Inner City Builders Association, said that having the H-GO is just another tool, like other land uses.

“This is important to us and it’s important to the city,” Borkristl said.

“It’s important to the communities and everyone that’s spoken to it. Again, it’s not going to be rammed down anybody’s throat. It’s just another tool.”

Several times the question or statement was made that properties would immediately be affected upon the land-use approval. Admin said repeatedly that this land use must be applied for and delivered through the same development process as any other land use.

Highland Park’s Jeanne Kimber said this was a much needed addition to the land use bylaw.

“We completely agree with the need to reduce or eliminate the use of direct control land use change applications,” Kimber said.

“Not only are they more time consuming and therefore costly to review and approve, but they also create uncertainty for community residents.

Also in favour of the change was Renfrew resident David Barrett. He said there had already been “robust” engagement on the city’s part, despite the fact the public hearing process is inaccessible to many.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to remind Council as I do every time that I call in – first time being down here for a while – to consider who they have heard from and who they haven’t, and factor that into your decision making process,” he said.

“Finally, remember that what makes up community character is not the dominant housing type, it’s the people that live there.”

Questions from councillors

Many questions came up from councillors, including parking, but also waste and recycling space as well.

City planner Kate van Fraassen said that much of the bylaw content around these issues was developed through the different feedback on previous direct control developments that have gone through.

“The starting point for this work is the applications that have been approved over the last two to three years,” she said.  

“That was our starting point. But based on those concerns, we’ve presented more stringent rules than what’s been approved.”

Coun. Sharp asked pointed questions about the city’s engagement plan. It included questions on whether the city met the legal requirement for engagement.  The city’s law department said it has.

City admin further defended their months-long engagement process – one that came under fire from many of the public hearing speakers.  The City’s GM of Planning and Development Stuart Dalgleish outlined the efforts in great detail.

Planning and Development GM Stuart Dalgleish on the engagement done for the missing middle bylaw.

Amendments made to the missing middle bylaw

Coun. Jasmine Mian opened on the main motion and said the new H-GO district provides a lot of different opportunities for new housing.

She believed that administration has done a good job of taking into account the views of a variety of stakeholders and the public.

“I think you’ve struck a very good balance between the stated policy objectives and the will of the public,” Mian said.

Amendments came in to adjust parking minimums. A parking minimum is the minimum number of stalls required per unit. A minimum is just that; a builder can go over that, unless there’s a maximum in place.

Mian proposed a change to zero minimum for parking in the H-GO land use. She said it offers developer flexibility in an area that will lean heavily on alternate transportation. It was defeated. Instead, an amendment from Coun. Sonya Sharp put in a .5 per unit parking minimum, up from the proposed .375 per unit. It was approved 8-7.

R-CG (comparable) rules require one parking stall for every unit. It’s still a reduction to parking minimums from the norm.

“I want to be really careful that we are meeting Calgarians where they are at today,” she said.

“I’m very open to the arguments of the market, reducing red tape but I think there needs to be a bigger conversation on a later day, and I think we need to stick to what we know is working. And that is working.”

Editor’s note: The original published story included a final line that said another amendment on dwelling units being changed to a discretionary use in this bylaw. It has been removed. The item was later reconsidered in the meeting and then defeated on a re-vote.