Guidebook for Great Communities going back to May committee meeting

Mayor Naheed Nenshi addresses reporters following three days of public hearing on the Guidebook for Great Communities, pictured on March 24, 2021. Adam MacVicar / Global News

After nearly 18 hours of public hearing involving submissions from 139 Calgarians, the Guidebook for Great Communities is returning to the city’s planning and urban development committee in May. The move allows the city’s administration to synthesize what was heard over three days.

“I think this is a very good outcome,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “As someone who has spent 15 years talking about the need to do this work, I heard things in the public hearing that I said, ‘You know what? We could have done a better job. We could have explained that better.’”

“And so rather than try to do that on the floor of council, after three days of hearing from the citizens, we said, ‘Let’s go away, think about it, combine things and see what kinds of amendments we can make that will improve, not water down, the guidebook.”

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Councillors Jeff Davison, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Peter Demong and Ward Sutherland brought forward a motion. Building on that, Coun. Shane Keating suggested an amendment that ended up being the motion agreed upon by most of city council.

Text from the motion approved by Calgary City Council regarding the Guidebook for Great Communities, on March 24, 2021. handout / City of Calgary

Only number 7 on the final motion failed on a 6-8 vote, with councillors Jeromy Farkas, Druh Farrell, Jyoti Gondek, Keating, Evan Woolley, Gian-Carlo Carra, George Chahal and Mayor Nenshi opposed.

The committee will address amendments during their meeting and bring their recommendations to council in a subsequent meeting. The public will have a chance to participate in that meeting, as well.

“The concerns I heard (from a councillor) about engagement were by and large concerns, saying, ‘I want to kill this, but I don’t want to say that,’” Nenshi said. “And in fact, we had the councillor who’s been championing ‘we’ve got to hear from the public’ vote against hearing from the public because he actually said, ‘I just want to kill this.’”

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As council was nearing a vote on the amendment and then final motion, Ward 11 Coun. Farkas sought ways to vote for parts of the motion that would achieve his goal.

“As a member of council, I was intending to completely seize work on this and to end the guidebook rather than to move the guidebook forward, as suggested by the mover of the amendment,” Farkas said to Nenshi. “Would voting against (item numbers) five, six and seven achieve that?”

Nenshi suggested to reporters that Farkas “owes an explanation” after championing the concerns of citizens over the guidebook after trying to vote it down.

Part of the work at the committee level will be to consider re-qualifying the guidebook as a policy document rather than a statutory document.

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The guidebook will be approved by council at the next meeting following the committee meeting on May 5.

Nenshi recounted public sentiment after the meeting, saying “every single person said, ‘There’s lots of good in here. It just has to be massaged.’”

The public hearing on the guidebook brought the most Calgarians out to a council meeting in the past decade. Hearings over the city’s conversion therapy ban saw 121 citizens, and 113 Calgarians presented during anti-racism hearings in July 2020.

Of the 139 people who spoke this week, 21 were from Elbow Park and 41 per cent of presenters were from Ward 11, city officials told council. Wards 6, 7, 8 and 9 also had representation, with 21 individuals not declaring their home communities. Lisa Kahn said 37 communities were represented at the public hearing.

Concerns from opponents included changes to their neighbourhood and the perceived loss of single-detached homes.

Many also said the five-year process, which included mailouts, billboards, social media and more than 200 events open to the public, wasn’t enough public engagement. City officials also told Global News that the city reached out to every community association in the city independently and through the Federation of Calgary Communities.

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Supporters hailed the guidebook as a way forward to help redevelop and revitalize Calgary’s older communities to be more inclusive and allow for a more diverse population. Concerns about the city’s legacy of growth, and infrastructure investment that doesn’t match the tax base, was also raised.

Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek tabled a motion to address inequities in the public hearing process.

“It is intended to create a user-friendly and inclusive public hearing process that includes but isn’t limited to collaboration between the city clerk, and the Chief Information Technology Officer to figure out the best way to implement an integrated, automated registration system,” Gondek said.

Her motion was passed unanimously.

Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell also shared that she had registered a complaint with the city’s integrity commissioner over a flyer distributed outside of Coun. Farkas’ ward.

“I was notified by a number of people that there was a flyer that had the city crest on it and the official city logo from Coun. Farkas that went well outside his Ward,” she told the council.

Farkas responded saying he did “authorize a publication to be provided in my capacity as Ward 11 representative,” but added, “if it was sent to other wards, that would have been the error of Canada Post.”

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Nenshi confirmed he had received complaints from citizens of similar flyers “pretty far afield.”

“You may want to check with Canada Post — they may have overcharged you.”

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