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Calgary housing strategy: Parsing the two contentious issues

Two of the primary bones of contention in the upcoming Calgary housing strategy don’t even really happen right away – if at all.

Citywide upzoning to R-CG and elimination of parking minimums have become the rallying cry for those opposed to the City of Calgary’s corporate housing strategy to be presented at the Community Development Committee Sept. 14.

Fully two of 60 recommendations (by our count) had to do with either of those topics. However – those two do affect a vast majority of Calgarians.

If this decision Thursday (or Friday as it may be) were to automatically implement both, the consternation over both could arguably be deserved. That’s not what happens at this point.

When the item comes up for public contribution on Thursday, more than 100 Calgarians are set to share their thoughts, councillors will listen and then debate the strategy, make potential changes and then ship it off to a full meeting of Calgary city council for approval.

They may decide to make further changes at a full meeting of council based on public feedback.

“We now have the ability to look at it, make amendments, make changes, do some motions arising, whatever it might be,” said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“This now becomes a full item of committee and council to change as we see fit.”

What is it about the two items, which make up a fraction of the recommendations, that have people concerned: Public consultation and… cars.

We break it down a bit further below.

Public consultation in the planning process

Currently, when a landowner wants to increase the density of a lot zoned for a single-family detached home, they have to go through a land-use redesignation. Here’s the process.

Community 11 Resource Landu… by Darren Krause

With the proposed City-initiated upzoning, by and large, the first six steps of that process are eliminated.

That’s what prompted a Notice of Motion from Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp earlier this month. She wanted to incentivize developers to use the currently existing concurrent land use redesignation and the development permit process together, potentially cutting down construction time and saving them money. This would still leave the door open for the public hearing process.

“The purpose of the notice of motion was to bring something forward that reduced red tape and still allow the public to be part of the process that they should be a part of when it comes to changes in their community,” Sharp said after her motion failed at Executive Committee.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said that there’s still public input on the development permits. Most of his council colleagues know this, he said. He said that most of the concerns residents have about proposals are development permit questions anyway.

“I think many of my colleagues agree that the feedback loop for development permits needs to be better, needs to be closed, so that more of the public can see themselves in the feedback or at least understand how their feedback was built into a development permit,” he said.

When asked about the process for involving the public, the City of Calgary said that development permits are advertised and circulated for public comment.  They’re advertised on the online development map and for discretionary permits, there is onsite notice posting.

They may go to planning commission, but they don’t have a public hearing.

City administration said the development authority for these permits. Here’s the process.

The public does have the chance to appeal within 21 days to the subdivision development appeal board.

However, the public input aspect does change if this measure were to pass. It’s important to note, that the upcoming decision, should it pass, would mean that City administration would prepare bylaws to make the change.

It would not change them immediately, and that would be subject to public consultation, a public hearing and council’s approval.

Removal of parking minimums

This is a debate that’s gone on for more than a decade in Calgary. There’s a building in the East Village that back in 2015 had zero parking stalls included with it.

The City of Calgary, back in 2020 debated the removal of parking minimums for non-residential properties. During the city council conversation on the so-called missing middle bylaw (to include an H-GO land use) the elimination of parking minimums was suggested by Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian.  Eventually, a proposed .375 stall per unit was bumped up to .5 stalls per unit.

This could be an issue if that’s what was proposed in the upcoming housing strategy. Only, it’s not.  The Housing and Affordability Task Force recommended that change be made, but their recommendation was changed to a more nuanced suggestion that parking minimums shouldn’t be a barrier to the development of affordability and should consider location and the different land use districts.

Still, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said we need to decouple housing from owning cars to get more units built. The two aren’t tied to each other. Further, Penner said that it costs developers thousands – tens of thousands – to include stalls for parking in certain areas, and that could be a barrier to developing more units.

“We are we’re talking about providing homes for people, and we make assumptions that people come with cars; and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t,” Penner said.

“We also make the assumption that there’s sort of this this right to be able to park your vehicle in front of near or close to your home because we’ve had an abundance of street parking for a very, very long time, which is free, but which is also public. It’s not private.”

Exclusion of certain items?

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said there’s a difference between what was voted on in June, when she’d advocated for the full recommendations of the Housing and Affordability Task Force and what’s being presented on Thursday.

“We needed to accept fulsome recommendations from a task force that was commissioned to do that work. The breaking them up at that point made absolutely no sense,” she said.

“You either accept the work that’s been done by someone you commissioned to do that work or you don’t. It’s pretty simple.”

She said this is a much different thing. This one’s now open for further massaging.

Coun. Sharp said last week that if the two contentious items had been removed from the original HTAF recommendations, it likely would have passed 15-0.

“All 15 of us know there’s a housing crisis. How we get to the solution of solving the housing crisis will look different,” she said.

Sharp said that the seven who signed on to that initial pilot project Notice of Motion would reconvene to determine how they would approach the housing strategy and any potential amendments, including the pilot project.

“We do have to remember that the public is not the red tape,” she said.

“We’re here to serve the public. Saying that they’re part of a problem in a process is wrong.”

The item will be heard Thursday and possibly Friday and voted on at committee. It will then go to a full meeting of Calgary city council for final approval.  

Home is Here City of Calgar… by Darren Krause