Group of Calgary councillors pushes for plebiscite on city-wide zoning in 2025

Click to play video: 'Calgary councilors want plebiscite for city-wide rezoning'
Calgary councilors want plebiscite for city-wide rezoning
A group of Calgary councilors want city-wide rezoning to be on the next election ballot. As Adam MacVicar reports, the issue is part of the city’s housing strategy and is set to come before council at a public hearing next month. – Mar 7, 2024

Six Calgary city councillors want to punt a decision on proposed city-wide zoning to the next municipal election, according to a motion going to the city’s executive committee next week.

The motion, co-signed by Couns. Dan McLean, Andre Chabot, Sonya Sharp, Sean Chu, Peter Demong, and Terry Wong, asks city administration to prepare a vote of the electors on “city wide blanket rezoning” held in conjunction with the municipal election on Oct. 20, 2025.

“Not one councillor campaigned on a mandate for upzoning the entire city,” McLean told reporters. “Something this consequential, I think, should go to the people and a vote of the electors.”

Currently, the city-wide zoning issue is set to be debated following a public hearing on April 22, which would be cancelled if the motion is approved.

Click to play video: 'Information sessions begin on proposal to change Calgary zoning rules'
Information sessions begin on proposal to change Calgary zoning rules

The city-wide zoning proposal, which is a recommendation in the city’s housing strategy, would see the default residential zoning changed to allow for more housing types on a single property.

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Currently, more than 60 per cent of residential properties in Calgary are zoned to only allow single-family homes as a default.

According to the city, the proposal would see base residential zoning changed to RC-G in established communities, which allows single-detached, semi-detached, duplexes, secondary suites, and rowhouse-style housing.

R-G and H-GO zoning designations would also be considered in some newer communities as part of the proposal.

Click to play video: 'City council divided on zoning reform in proposed housing strategy'
City council divided on zoning reform in proposed housing strategy

The City of Calgary has already begun conducting information and engagement sessions on the issue ahead of the public hearing.

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Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said the plebiscite would delay important work on housing, and would punt the issue to the next city council.

“You think about the number of months of delay that would be and the cost,” Mian said. “We’re in a housing crisis, and I think we should act like we are.”

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Advocates of the proposal believe the reaction to city-wide zoning outweighs the potential impacts if it is approved.

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s real estate market continues to buck the trend'
Calgary’s real estate market continues to buck the trend

Willem Klumpenhouwer, co-founder of More Neighbours Calgary, said zoning reform would increase supply of homes across the city by removing one step in the process to getting new developments approved.

“The changes in each neighbourhood on each city street are going to be very minimal especially for suburban neighbourhoods,” Klumpenhouwer told Global News. “The nature of the change and the reaction to it are really out of proportion.  I would hope that we have more discussions that clarify that this change is one of many in the housing strategy, but also that it’s not a big of a deal as people think it is.”

Calgarians have voted on big issues in plebiscites before including the reintroduction of fluoride into the city’s drinking water, and a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games.

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“We had a plebiscite on an Olympics, which would’ve cost several hundred million dollars,” Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong said.

“This is going to be substantial in the way it changes the fabric of Calgary and I think average Calgarians should have a say in it.”

What remains unclear is whether a plebiscite would impact Calgary’s approved allocation from the federal Housing Accelerator Fund.

Announced in November, $228 million from the fund is earmarked for the city to streamline the construction of thousands of new homes over the next four years.

In a letter prior to September’s debate on the housing strategy, federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser noted the funding would be contingent on approval of the city’s housing strategy including zoning reform. However, the conditions haven’t been publicly released.

Click to play video: 'Feds commit $228M to Calgary to help build thousands of homes by 2027'
Feds commit $228M to Calgary to help build thousands of homes by 2027

Calgary-Skyview Liberal MP, George Chahal, told reporters Thursday he didn’t have the particulars of the agreements but is concerned about a proposed plebiscite.

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“This plebiscite or delay could jeopardize that investment… we need those funds to flow immediately,” Chahal said. “We need to tackle the housing crisis by building more housing, not delaying housing.”

Chahal said he believes councillors pitching a plebiscite is an “abdication of their responsibility to govern.”

However, McLean said he isn’t concerned about the fund if council decides to put city-wide zoning on a municipal ballot.

“I will not be bribed by the Trudeau government to change my zoning laws,” McLean said.

The motion will need to be heard at next week’s Executive Committee for a technical review before it is debated by city council as a whole.

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