'I'm pretty flummoxed': Calgary mayor says council made wrong call on land annex vote

Calgary city council has passed a motion to open annexation talks with the Municipal District of Foothills against the recommendation of city administration, for an area on the southern edge of Calgary.

Mayor says city does not need more land in deep south

Mayor Naheed Nenshi voted against a decision to open talks to annex land in the city's deep south, which passed 8-7. The motion to open talks with the M.D. of Foothills was tabled by Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart. (CBC)

City council has passed a motion to open annexation talks with the Municipal District of Foothills, for an area on the southern edge of Calgary.

The motion passed 8-7, and went against the recommendation of city administration.

"I'm pretty flummoxed that council went against the recommendation of its own administration, repeated recommendations from administration, and chose to move forward with what can only be characterized as a gift to one land developer," Mayor Naheed Nenshi told CBC News on Tuesday. 

Nenshi voted against the motion — which was the final vote of the night on council's final evening before taking a summer break.

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart tabled the motion to open annexation talks with the M.D. of Foothills.

Nenshi said the city doesn't need that parcel of land, referred to as the Sirocco lands, adding there are no plans to develop it anytime soon.

"So what are we doing?" mused the mayor after the vote.

The decision has critics crying foul, accusing council of quietly pushing it through late at night while Calgarians were focused on things like COVID-19, the virus' effects on the economy, and the expense audit for Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca. 

Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek took to Twitter to explain why she voted yes in a series of tweets.

"There was a thread a few days ago about how [city council] made a decision to subsidize sprawl in the cover of night (I'm paraphrasing but you get the idea). I can't speak for my colleagues but I can explain my decision. It was based on authorizing purchase of a remnant parcel," Gondek tweeted.

"Given the history of the land in question provided by the ward councillor, [Diane Colley-Urquhart] and the support of the neighbouring county, my decision was based on bringing this remnant parcel into the urban jurisdiction best suited for the proposed uses. This was not a decision to undertake a massive annexation."

During the July 28 meeting, Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart spoke about the history of the land, and why she believes the deal will be good for the City of Calgary.

Colley-Urquhart calls it a remnant parcel. It is a portion of land that was not acquired during previous annexations of a larger area, some of which was annexxed in order to build the community of Pine Creek in Calgary's deep southwest.

Colley-Urquhart says the parcel left over can and should be developed, but in order to run utilities, the city would need to own the land.

"The remaining lands were left without water and sanitary services. The only practical solution is servicing from Calgary," Colley-Urquhart said at the meeting. 

The mayor agrees with the eight councillors on that point at least.

"I don't want to make their argument for them but the idea is that these lands can't be developed without city servicing and the city doesn't service outside of Calgary," he said.

The price tag for the land has not been disclosed. But Nenshi said the last annexation deal back in 2005 cost the city $1.5 million. The mayor worries that at today's prices, the land won't be worth the price tag.


Elissa Carpenter is a reporter with CBC Calgary.

With files from Scott Dippel


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