Mega public hearing expected on Calgary's guidebook for communities

Years in the making, the Guidebook for Great Communities will be back in Calgary's council chamber during Monday's city council meeting.

Controversial document may finally reach decisive vote or it could be delayed again

City council will hold a public hearing Monday on Calgary's guidebook for community planning. ( Submitted by Nicole Ferguson)

Years in the making, Calgary's Guidebook for Great Communities will be back in the council chamber during Monday's city council meeting.

It's no pamphlet.

At 131 pages, the guidebook is intended to be used for years to come to help council and neighbourhoods develop new local area plans.

The planning document was last before council in July 2020, when councillors decided to send it back for revisions and more public consultation.

That seems to have done nothing to address opposition to it.

Dozens of people are expected to speak for or against the proposed guidebook during a public hearing at city council.

Numerous community associations are calling for more public engagement and several members of council will be pitching amendments.

Calls to postpone until after election

Coun. Jeromy Farkas and Coun. Sean Chu plan to ask their colleagues to postpone a vote on the guidebook until after this fall's municipal election.

Chu said the document's "one size fits all" approach doesn't work for every community.

Farkas describes the guidebook as having serious problems.

"Not everyone wants to live in a high-density neighbourhood. It's foolish to try to make every neighbourhood the same or to dictate how people should live."

The mayor is dismissing fears that approving the guidebook means developers can tear down houses and put up rowhouses anywhere they want in single-family home neighbourhoods.

Naheed Nenshi points out that can already happen, as long as council approves an application.

Nenshi said the guidebook is neither a law nor a statutory plan. 

Yet over the weekend, Farkas pointed out on Twitter that the guidebook itself says it is a "statutory document."

The bylaw that council is slated to vote on refers to the guidebook as a "statutory plan."

The mayor acknowledged "it is overly confusing."

Nenshi refers to the guidebook as more of a recipe book that communities can draw from as they rethink the future of their areas and how they redevelop.

It will also save time and money as communities plan their futures.

"What the guidebook does is it codifies a bunch of the stuff that is the best practices in neighbourhood redevelopment plans across the city and puts them into one place, so that future development plans will be much shorter because they can just refer to the guidebook," Nenshi said.

He won't name names but the mayor said some councillors are only adding to the public misinformation about the guidebook.

"Certainly there are members of council who have been spreading things that are false, whether they don't understand it themselves or they're doing it for their own political motives," said Nenshi. 

The mayor said he hopes after the public hearing that council votes straight up to either approve or reject the document.

Amendments expected

Amendments are certain to be part of the discussions.

The chair of council's planning and urban development committee, Coun. Jyoti Gondek, will put forward an amendment that will clarify that portions of communities can be restricted to single-family houses.

Those special policy areas would not be permitted within transit station areas, near designated main streets or activity centres or along collector roads.

Coun. Jeff Davison said there has been plenty of misinformation spread about the guidebook. But given the public perceptions, council should address that.

"Give it first reading. Take it back to the community and let's make sure we have a solid understanding out there," said Davison.

"The main problem we have is that I don't know that the public understands the problem we're trying to solve."

 The misinformation about the guidebook prompted the city to post a myths and facts page on its website.


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