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City of Calgary committee hands Guide for Local Area Planning back to administration

Calgary city hall pictured in fall 2017. Dani Lantela/Global News/File

After days of presentations from the public over the course of years and thousands of dollars spent trying to inform — and some would say misinform — Calgarians about a book that would guide the development process for local area plans, a city committee has reframed its role in the Guide for Local Area Planning.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he realized city council created a problem, a problem he realized at the March 22-24 council meeting that saw a record number of Calgarians speak in favour and against the Guidebook for Great Communities (now known as the Guide for Local Area Planning).

Read more: Guidebook for Great Communities going back to May committee meeting

“We have, in fact, crafted a problem of our own making,” he said. “In a pursuit of something that was technically good — which is to take this on as a statutory plan — we created some misinformation.

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“Heck, even I was confused about why it was a statutory document. And in creating that misinformation, we’ve lost the true crux of the matter.”

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Senior planner Lisa Kahn told the planning and urban development committee that all of the elements of the guide are best practices that city officials already use when creating local area plans (LAPs) and area redevelopment plans before them.

“If council did not pass this guidebook, would you use less than best practices when you’re working with communities to create local area plans?” Nenshi asked Kahn.

“No, we would absolutely still stick with our best practices and look at future trends and seeing what communities really need and want through the local area plan process,” Kahn responded.

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On a motion from the mayor, the committee accepted the guide as information and directed city officials to use it as a living document to steer community engagement during LAP development. Administration was also directed to keep track of lessons learned through the life of the document, and return with a list of LAPs do be developed through 2022.

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The planning committee voted 7-5 in favour, with councillors Chu, Colley-Urquhart, Farkas, Magliocca and Sutherland opposed.

A ‘smart move’

Committee chair and Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek said most planning in most municipalities involves developing best practices internally and using them when creating things like LAPs, which are statutory documents in Calgary.

“So as those statutory documents are being created, they would use some best practices,” Gondek said. “What our administration decided to do is take its best practices and bring them out publicly.

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“And then we decided as a council that we would approve that kind of document, which we didn’t need to do. So what’s come back to us today is, ‘Did we get it right?’”

Gondek said council is leaving the planning work to the experts the city employs, and will instead only be involved in approval of LAPs.

Earlier in the day, the committee heard from 80 Calgarians providing their perspectives on the guide.

Their comments largely repeated what was found in a pair of “what we heard” reports prepared from the marathon March council meeting and subsequent public engagements. The committee was told of two broad themes in the reports: community involvement in the engagement process and single-detached residential areas.

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City officials provided the committee with 62 amendments to the guide, starting with changing the title of the document.

“While changing the title may seem modest, this change targets the guide’s core purpose: its application to the local area planning process,” Stuart Dalgliesh, GM of planning and development, said.

“Local area planning is where citizens and communities come together to work with us (the City of Calgary) and guide how their community should grow and change over time.”

Gondek noted some areas of the city aren’t due to begin the local area plan process for up to a decade from now.

From statutory to administrative

Nenshi said the motion he proposed that passed in committee was one that addressed fears expressed by citizens during days of public presentations. The mayor said those fears were “ginned up” by Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas.

“They were concerned that the guidebook would force them into a new plan, that it would change their communities, that it would change what was allowed to be built in their communities,” the mayor said Thursday. “And it was fascinating to me to hear the councillors debate last night, which is that the motion I put forward actually solve all of the problems that he had raised.”

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Late Wednesday, Farkas tried a pair of motions to move or change the guide.

READ MORE: New guidebook for planning Calgary communities a citizen-driven process: councillor 

The first was to delay the decision to a post-election committee meeting. That was voted down 5-7 with only councillors Chu, Colley-Urquhart, Farkas, Magliocca and Sutherland in support.

The second was a procedure inquiry about whether the document could be changed from statutory to an administrative guide at the committee level. Advice from the city’s legal department and city clerks concurred that a committee can make that decision if the decision is within the committee’s mandate.

Nenshi said changing GLAP from a statutory document to a best practices guide allows the guide to be updated as best practices change in industry and not have every change be voted on by council, as would have been the case as a statutory or non-statutory document.

“The more I thought about it, I said, ‘Well, council is not experts on planning or building codes or anything like that. Council has to vote on the plans that come out of this. But why is council voting on what we think the best practices are?’

“And that really led me to understand, you know, what the real issue here is, is that we just need to explain very clearly this is a best practices document.”

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