Council greenlights 5 new communities on Calgary’s outskirts amid debate

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the process of approving business cases for new growth has become a "beauty contest" and needs to be depoliticized. File / Global News

Five new communities on the outskirts of the city have been given the go-ahead from Calgary city council with the potential for another three approvals later this year.

It follows a two-day debate that spanned more than 20 hours at the city’s infrastructure and planning committee, which saw councillors vote to move up the approval from what was originally recommended. The original recommendation from city administration was to hold approvals on the five proposed communities until November when city councillors will build the next four-year budget.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner attempted to return to the original recommendation of waiting until November to decide on the five new communities explaining that extending beyond the work already undertaken with the budget in mind could be “problematic.” Yet, her motion was defeated 10-5 with just Penner, Gian-Carlo Carra, Terry Wong, Richard Pootmans, and Courtney Walcott in favour.

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The five new communities going forward are: Lewiston (Genesis), Belvedere West (Truman), Seton Ridge (Brookfield), Logan Landing (Genesis), and Nostalgia (Jayman Telsec).

According to the city, none of the five new communities required new capital funding and would be included in the recommended investment of $532 million over the next four years for transit, roads, utilities and emergency services. Spending decisions with both capital and operational funds will be considered at November’s budget deliberations.

Tuesday evening, council also voted 10-5 to remove the growth management overlay on the five communities, which will be made official in September. It’s a process that would allow developers to begin work on the sites, which are on the outer edges of the city.

“I’m very happy to see some of these progressing a little bit quicker,” Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp told reporters.

Council’s vote means three more communities — Rangeview Trafford (WestCreek),  Glacier Ridge Community C (Qualico) and Glacier Ridge Community D Cabana (Brookfield) — will also be up for a council decision later this year.

Walcott, who represents Ward 8, voted against moving forward with the new communities.

“While I do not agree with these communities, it is because I believe that climate is the greatest challenge in front of us and conversations on affordability need to be had before we continue to do things the same way than we’ve done them in the past,” Walcott said.

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Following that debate, Mayor Gondek brought forward a motion that would see a change to the process to approve business cases for new communities.

She said the process of bringing business cases for new communities to council is politized and becomes a “beauty contest” in which councillors choose favourites and defend growth in their own wards.

The mayor said she’d rather see administration take on that work and judge the business cases on a set of criteria.

“If administration feels that all the criteria are met for growth, then they should say these are our best recommendations and embed them into the budget, which is where we would make an approval,” Gondek said.

Coun. Carra cautioned against moving forward with a “massive shift” in the current process.

“I hate how political this process is,” Carra told council. “But I want to warn you all that if you want to depoliticize an inherently political process, you are not going to depoliticize it; you are going to push the politics elsewhere in weird and unforeseen ways.”

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot raised concerns that the change would put more work on city administration, while Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean and Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer expressed support for the idea.

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“I like this; this removes red tape,” McLean said in council. “We are still council, the gatekeepers at budget time for the purse strings, so I don’t think it gives all the power to administration.”

Ultimately, city council approved an amended motion to have a discussion with administration on a potential change to the process to a strategic council meeting in September, rather than making an immediate change on Tuesday.

Gondek said she wants the process to evolve to councillors making land-use decisions and not the business decisions behind new communities.

“That’s what I want to see; I want to see smart, operating, business-based decisions.”

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