Councillors say downtown fire hall is at risk, warn against future cuts should 11 new communities be approved

Two Calgary councillors say a downtown fire hall is at risk of moving to a new northern community launched in 2017 — and add that if council approves 11 new communities on the outskirts of Calgary, it could be a sign of the times to come.

Proposal made to close fire station in Eau Claire in favour of Livingston, councillor says

Councillors Evan Woolley and Druh Farrell say the city should not support adding 11 new communities. ((CBC News/Google Maps))

Two Calgary councillors say a downtown fire hall is at risk of moving to a new northern community launched in 2017 — and add that if council approves 11 new communities on the outskirts of Calgary, it could be a sign of things to come.

Coun. Druh Farrell said administration has come forward with a recommendation to explore the closure of Eau Claire Fire Station 6, which is less than 10 years old, in order to open up a station in the community of Livingston.

"We're growing. As you grow, you need to serve a larger city, which means stretching our existing services, if you're both cutting and freezing the budget," Farrell said. "As well, we need to serve new communities for fire halls and other essential services.

"We're growing beyond the market, and we're not figuring out ways to pay for that growth without burdening and taking away from the existing city."

Council will be asked on Monday whether or not to approve 11 new communities, just two years after a controversial decision to approve 14 other new communities.

Administration has recommended that council reject all 11 applications, given the fact that the number of unsold homes in the city is nearing a 19-year high, according to a report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

A map shows the proposed new communities and their locations around Calgary. (City of Calgary)

Farrell said that unless taxes are increased, Calgarians would be likely to see cuts like that of the Eau Claire fire hall should Calgary "continue to grow beyond our means."

"If we continue in this vein, it will be pools, it will be rec centres, it will be cuts to our tree planting budget, cuts to our parks maintenance, you'll see it across the board," she said. "You can't grow and cut at the same time without impacting Calgarians."

In making their pitch to council earlier this month, developers said some areas are next to communities that are already approved, meaning utilities are already in place.

But when considering the $23 million in annual operating costs, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi cited costs like snow plowing as an example of how costs could be driven up for taxpayers.

Eau Claire Fire Hall

Matt Osborne, spokesperson for the Calgary Firefighters Association, said the department's budget has decreased as the city has grown larger.

"The fact that the city is considering closing an inner-city fire hall, at the same time the city grows, is truly a disaster in the making," he said. "Anything that increases response times, we see as irresponsible. Seconds matter in an emergency."

How Calgary firefighters are being stretched thin as Calgary continues to grow

3 years ago
Duration 0:31
Featured VideoMatt Osborne with the Calgary Firefighters Association explained to council some of the troubling numbers when it comes to fire response on the city's outer edge.

Fighting fires in office towers, apartment buildings and high-rises poses unique challenges, Osborne said, meaning that the closure of an inner-city fire hall could pose unforeseen consequences.

"Firefighters will always be there, but we need to ensure we have the tools to do our job," Osborne said. "As the city gets bigger … we're still doing the same work and responding to the same emergencies for Calgarians."

Peter Oliver, president of the Beltline Neighbourhoods Association, said that the community was previously frustrated by efforts to close two inner-city pools last year.

The potential closure of an inner-city fire station and the approval 11 new communities felt like a "hollowing out" of services in inner-city neighbourhoods, Oliver said.

"It just doesn't feel like this city council is prioritizing residents," he said. "It feels like they're really just trying to appease developers."

Councillor says plans don't add up

Coun. Evan Woolley said the specific issue of closing a downtown fire hall to fund suburban sprawl was emblematic of city council "trying to have its cake and eat it too."

"This example is exactly what we'll see two years down the road, three years down the road, if we approve these 11 new communities," he said. "It's an oracle of what's to come."

Woolley said he would not be supporting any of the new 11 communities on Monday, adding that the city "cannot afford it" — especially given the 14 previously approved communities not moving as fast as anticipated.

"There's a range of rationales why this is a foolish decision outside of the fact that developers understandably want to keep moving forward with their pipeline of development," Woolley said. 

Trico, one of the developers, has said that it hopes to work on two additional parcels in close proximity to its Belvedere development.

On Twitter, Coun. Jyoti Gondek said that there was no "diabolical plan" to approve the new communities.

"We are obligated to review business cases," she wrote. "That's what we're doing."

Coun. Joe Magliocca has argued that council should not be "fools" and let the projects leave Calgary, voicing his approval for all 11 new communities.

With files from Drew Anderson and Sarah Rieger