Calgary's controversial new blueprint for growth to be voted on Monday

A 131-page document called the Guidebook for Great Communities, set to be given a final yea or nay at Calgary City Hall on Monday, has been stirring up a lot of debate.

Council to hold public hearing on Guidebook for Great Communities ahead of vote

The Guidebook for Great Communities is supposed to lay out common planning principles to guide policy decisions and shape future local area plans for Calgary's communities. (John Gibson/CBC)

A 131-page document called the Guidebook for Great Communities, set to be given a final yea or nay at Calgary City Hall on Monday, has been stirring up a lot of debate.

City officials as well as councillors in favour of it herald it as a big leap forward in Calgary's approach to community building, one that will give citizens a voice and act as a blueprint for successful growth.

It's supposed to lay out common planning principles to guide policy decisions and shape future local area plans for Calgary's communities.

But its critics worry the guidebook hasn't been developed with enough public consultation and that it could be used to foist unwanted population density in residential neighbourhoods where it's not a good fit.

"Choosing your neighbourhood where you live in is one of the biggest choices that a family will ever make," Coun. Jeromy Farkas told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

"I think Calgarians deserve certainty about what can be built next door to them."

Farkas said because the guidebook has the potential to be so transformational, all candidates running for council this fall should feel compelled to make their views on it known to the voters.

According to the city, the Guidebook for Great Communities provides “language and options for how a community can grow through working with citizens during the local area planning process." (Helen Pike/ CBC)

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, however, told the Calgary Eyeopener that Farkas is peddling misinformation.

"The guidebook does not change anybody's community. The guidebook does not force multi-family anywhere. It creates a palette of options. It's a menu," he said. 

"It's setting up a planning system where instead of mindlessly subsidising roads on the edge, public dollars are thoughtfully … reinvesting in communities that have been paying taxes for decades."

Carra said the guidebook points the way to build a city that is more socially inclusive and economically diversified — goals already set out in Calgary's municipal development plan.

"And now we're going to engage in a 10-year process of local area planning where we sit down with every community, everyone in every neighbourhood and we have very thoughtful conversations about what do we love about our communities … and what do we want to see change about our communities."

The city makes the same argument on its website, which includes a section aiming to clear up misunderstandings about the document.

"The Guidebook brings into one place best practices for neighbourhoods as they mature, drawn from across Calgary and around the world," the website says.

"It doesn't change the zoning on a single piece of land. It does however provide a reference to save time and money when your neighbourhood is ready to co-create a plan for growth together."

Guidebook already in use

The city says the guidebook has already been put into practice when it was used by residents to develop the draft North Hill Communities Local Area Plan. And it's currently being used to develop the Westbrook and Heritage Communities Local Area Plans.

Crescent Heights is included in the North Hill plan. On Thursday's Calgary Eyeopener, Simonetta Acteson, a board member of the Crescent Heights Community Association, said while her community supports aspects of the guidebook, she thinks there's a lot of confusion about it.

"I don't think that our residents really understand completely how this will work in our community and what it will impact long term. So that would be one of our concerns is just the lack of understanding by residents," she said.

Acteson said the community isn't afraid of density — it's already quite dense. But she said the guidebook as it stands is not clear enough regarding how discussions on densification will be framed.

"It's how and where density is put in and also about how people in our community can respond to densification, whether they can object or support or how they would go about that."

On March 22 council is set to vote whether to approve the guidebook in a session that will include a public hearing.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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