Council looking at investing $35M in established communities
Improving public realm seen as a way to attract developers, but not everyone convinced
The city is hoping that by investing more money to improve the public realm in Calgary's established communities, developers will get more interested in spending money there.
Council's priorities and finance committee approved a plan on Wednesday to improve pedestrian facilities and parks as well as adding traffic calming measures in certain areas north, west and southwest of downtown.
There would also be $5 million spent on improving utilities in those communities to accommodate growth and replace aging underground infrastructure.
The plan calls for the spending to happen over the next two years.
The list of projects includes:
- Improving amenities around the arts centre in Mount Pleasant.
- Improving pedestrian connectivity around the Bridgeland LRT station.
- Upgrading around River Park and Sandy Beach in the southwest.
- Upgrades to the Kensington Plaza.
- Investing in Buckmaster Park in Bankview and adding traffic calming measures to nearby streets.
The money would come from the city's fiscal stability reserve fund. It's projected that the work could create 190 construction jobs.
The goal is that by making those established communities more inviting for development, it could help generate more property tax revenue for the city.
Some areas neglected
Coun. Evan Woolley said that the city has neglected some areas, including parts of the inner city which have already successfully attracted investment.
He cited Downtown West, which has seen a number of new residential towers in recent decades.
"It is one of the densest residential neighbourhoods in the country and it sucks because we made zero public investment after those developers invested in all of those highrises," Woolley said.
"We're pulling in a significant amount of property taxes out of that community and we have given those people that live there no infrastructure and no amenities."
Mayor on board but has questions
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he supports the plan. But he does question why some neighbourhoods already attracting redevelopment were selected for the first phase of this project.
He referenced other established communities which could use more public investment as a way of attracting greater interest from developers.
For example, he said affordable properties can be bought in the northeast community of Rundle and that the area already has schools, recreation facilities, shopping, a hospital and good transit connections within a short walk.
"I think everyone would say that's an amazing neighbourhood that should be redeveloping and everyone wants to live there," Nenshi said.
"What can the city do to help the market understand the market potential in neighbourhoods like that?"
Coun. Druh Farrell pointed out that the investment is relatively small as it's less than half the cost of a new interchange in a new community on the city's outskirts.
She said that the city needs to make such investments to move toward its long-term goal of 50 per cent of its population growth happening in areas that are already developed.
Currently, most population growth is happening on the city's fringes as new communities rise out of farmland.
But not everyone on council is convinced of the need for this spending.
Questions about timing
Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he can't support the proposal.
He's concerned that these investments would increase the pressure on the city to approve some redevelopments over the objections of area residents.
"I feel that if this is allowed — this public realm investment fund is allowed — it's going to be used sort of as a bludgeon to communities that are otherwise not in support of density, but we'll have to say, well we're spending tens of millions of dollars on this investment, so now you have to take the density whether you like it or not," said Farkas.
Coun. Sean Chu said he's concerned about the timing of this proposal given the city's financial troubles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I believe we should hold off on this until things get a little better," said Chu. "We have to show people that we are actually focusing on what's necessary at this time."
The proposal was approved by the finance committee by a 7 to 1 vote.
City council will discuss the plan during one of its meetings in May.