Calgary's locked into adding 14 new suburbs despite budget woes, committee hears

Calgary is unable to hold off on allowing 14 new suburban communities to be built despite the city's new financial reality, a council committee heard on Tuesday.

City says it's too late to hold off as land use is already approved for developers

Downtown Calgary, as captured by a drone in March 2017. City council is discussing how it should approve new neighbourhoods going forward. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

Calgary is unable to hold off on allowing 14 new suburban communities to be built despite the city's new financial reality, a council committee heard on Tuesday.

But the committee will bring forward a recommendation for council to look at tightening the rules on new development.

That recommendation would ensure the burden won't fall on existing communities to pay for new developments through increased utility fees and property taxes — the situation the city currently finds itself in.

On Tuesday, the priorities and finance committee was presented with an update on the new neighbourhoods which council voted to OK last summer. The committee also heard demand for housing and suburban land absorption to outlying municipalities are both on the decline.

Calgary council has been struggling with how to manage recent provincial budget cuts in advance of the city's budget, which is due later this month. Council is also facing a massive property tax shift due to low downtown business occupancy rates. 

The city is predicting a $56.9-million shortfall across utilities, transportation and community services over the next three years.

Coun. Druh Farrell asked if it was possible to hold some of the new communities back in light of the city's financial situation. She was told, as council had already granted the land use, it's too late as the land is now in the hands of developers.

The conversation then turned to ensuring council doesn't approve new communities in future unless the burden will fall on the developer to mitigate new costs — without the city increasing tax or utility rates — and that there would be no additional operating costs to the city for the next two budget cycles.

The committee voted to bring that recommendation forward.

Here's what progress has been made on Calgary's 14 new communities so far. No development has started and the first occupants are expected in 2021. (City of Calgary)

"We have a certain amount of natural growth that happens every year. Regardless of how many new communities we approve … by and large we're not looking at changing the figure of growth. The question is over how many pipes and how many roads do we spread those people?" Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.

"We're not saying build less houses … we're saying where those houses need to go. Ultimately the amount of business that happens is the same."

Coun. Jeff Davison said he didn't see the conversation as a business-friendly one. He put forward an amendment suggesting the city should remove its growth management overlay — which means the city would no longer need to guarantee it has a budget for infrastructure and services in areas before it expands. 

The 14 new communities will be located within the following provisionally-named area structure plans:

  • 4 in Glacier Ridge in the north.
  • 2 in Belvedere in the east.
  • 1 in Haskayne in the northwest.
  • 1 in East Stoney in the northeast.
  • 2 in Keystone Hills in the northeast.
  • 2 in Rangeview in the southeast.
  • 1 in Providence in the southwest.
  • 1 in South Shepard in the southeast.

There also would be a couple areas set aside for commercial and industrial development. The new communities could add more than 18,000 single-family homes and more than 9,000 units such as condos and townhomes.