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Westbrook Local Area Plan gets initial green light from Calgary committee

The president of the Wildwood Community Association said the way the current Westbrook LAP has rolled out takes away the agency of citizens in that neighbourhood.

Matt Stambaugh was one of the presenters as city councillors heard from the public on the Westbrook Communities Local Area Plan (LAP) during Thursday’s Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting (IPC).  

The committee ultimately approved a recommendation for council to give first reading to the Westbrook LAP with a small amendment on a block along 17 Avenue SW. It will come back to the Jan. 17 combined meeting of council.

The Westbrook LAP is the latest local area plan to be developed and includes: Wildwood, Spruce Cliff, Westgate, Rosscarrock, Shaganappi, Glendale, Killarney/Glengarry, Glenbrook, Upper Scarboro/Sunalta West (west of Crowchild) and Richmond (west of Crowchild).

The local area planning process takes a regional approach rather than the prior area redevelopment plans individualized by community.  It covers land use, public realm, parks, transportation, heritage and more.

Stambaugh said he came to the public hearing wanting to provide a more balanced perspective from Wildwood residents. He said the citizen concerns didn’t warrant it. Ninety-five per cent of the emails he said he’s received have been opposed to the current plan.

“I think the crux of the concern is around what’s called the limited scale policies,” Stambaugh told LiveWire Calgary.

He said the way the community interprets it is that it’s an underlying set of policies that allows for any developer to request an up-zoning in the community to a higher density development. While he didn’t want to refer to it as a blanket densification, he said with a policy that encourages this type of action, there’s a virtual guarantee it will be approved. What sparked the concern was a map that had changed from prior iterations – and discovered with little time to review.

“What it does, it takes away the agency from the community to develop an appropriate plan that we’re happy to work on and it puts it in the hands of individual developers,” he said.

Time to review the city’s work

City admin said that thousands of area residents participated over three years to help shape the plan. They outlined tens of thousands of mailouts, numerous engagement sessions, ongoing updates and iterations.

They even created different phases of the engagement that showed changes as the result of feedback, they said. Peter Schryvers, who worked on the Westbrook plan, said there were dozens of changes made after feedback.

Stambaugh said that most of the engagement happened during the pandemic when awareness was low. What was most concerning is that it was only about a month ago that community members “stumbled upon” a map of planned changes by accident, he said.

During the engagement, much of the information was talked about in bullet points and at very high levels – and they agreed with much of it. When they saw it applied and the impact to the neighbourhood, things changed.

More than anything, Stambaugh said community members just want, now that they can visualize the change, to have a more constructive conversation on where to put increased density.

“It’s that frustration of, we’re happy to work with the city on the plan, but this is like free-for-all, kind of developer-driven densification and it just doesn’t seem appropriate,” he said.

Many members from the Wildwood community spoke at the public hearing. They talked about traffic, particularly around entrance and exit into the community. They said that there are only two (maybe three) ingress/egress locations. Adding more people potentially exacerbates this, they said.

Todd Walker said the city should postpone the plan to address some of the specific concerns.

“The original Westbrook densification plan does not clearly outline the rezoning plan, which was not fairly shared. Or communicated to residents,” he said.

Thinking about the way citizens get the information

Coun. Sonya Sharp, who chairs the IPC, said she was concerned about what she’d heard from residents. In particular, the map that had just been circulated to area residents within the past couple of months.

Sharp said she doesn’t want to call it a lack of engagement.  The city has to revisit how it might be educating citizens on these important community level plans.

“When something like this does affect the community, a community that people are very emotionally, passionately involved in, during the time of COVID, which was also an emotional time for people, they may feel like they didn’t get their voices heard,” she said.

She said calling it blanket rezoning isn’t fair comment. Sharp said local area plans give more detail to the development applications.

Coun. Jasmine Mian with public engagement, some people just don’t think about it deeply until a decision point is upon them.

“So, then it always feels like there’s a crunch time when this has been going on for three years,” Mian said.

She also said we need to be clear about what engagement is – is it being heard and getting what you want, or having feedback considered and how it’s going to be incorporated.

“That’s the hard part of government and it’s a hard part of leadership is that you do have to hear from all the different stakeholders and balance all those perspectives,” Coun. Mian said.

Just want an opportunity to go through the process: Stambaugh

Stambaugh said that most citizens agree that Wildwood should and could handle some densification. He said there’s a middle ground to be found, while acknowledging that there’s always going to be some nimby-ism at play. They’re hoping for more time to have those conversations.

“We’d far rather go through that process than have this kind-of like blanket driven policy applied to us because the impact will be then we have no agency in the process. It’s fully developer-driven, ad hoc and opportunistic,” he said.

“We kind of lose the ability to help shape our community over the next 30 years.”

An amendment by Coun. Richard Pootmans to allow for more engagement with community associations around density at certain intersections was withdrawn after hearing from both admin and fellow councillors.

Admin first said that singling out certain groups to acquire a different outcome wasn’t equitable. That would require them to go out to all stakeholders and citizens in the area – something they’d already done over three years.

Coun. Mian added that this process was a compromise, and some will be happy and some will be disappointed with various aspects. The mistake would be trying to please everyone, she said.

“I feel like there’s, respectfully, a little bit of an attempt to try and solve the problem of the 10 people that are in front of you without realizing that you’re going to create a problem for many people, that you are going to immediately get slammed by the second that you leave here, other stakeholder groups that will feel like this is preferential treatment,” Mian said.

The recommendation was for council to give first reading to the Westbrook LAP. They would then withhold second and third reading until the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board approves it.