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Calgary city council remains part of new community approval process amid changes

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council retains approval of new community development'
Calgary city council retains approval of new community development
City council will still have final say over new communities on Calgary's outer edge. It comes after a debate resulted in several changes to the approval process. Adam MacVicar reports – Sep 20, 2022

Calgary city council has made several changes to the way new neighbourhoods are approved, but removing city councillors entirely from the process wasn’t one of them.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek floated the idea in July as part of a proposal to “depoliticize” the process of approving new communities by allowing administration to take on that work and judge the business cases on a set of criteria.

“My goal was to get to a point where council was comfortable enough with the process and administration’s experience to make a sound decision on where we should grow and that council should be out of that decision,” Gondek told reporters Tuesday.

City council discussed Gondek’s motion on Tuesday to formalize a business case review process that looks at operating and capital costs, as well as financial, environmental and social implications.

However, some councillors were opposed to the idea of removing council from the decision-making process around new communities.

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Read more: ‘Working hard to maintain affordability’: Calgary city council gets first look at 4-year budget

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said spending decisions on growth are part of council’s “core responsibilities.”

“We have to make difficult choices and I, for one, want to live in a world where those difficult choices are ultimately made by elected representatives who are informed by as robust and as public a debate as possible,” Carra said.

“Any attempt to pretend that these are not difficult political choices, but are in fact some sort of technical decision, I think is problematic.”

Under the current process, developers submit business cases for new communities at the same time to administration, who then makes recommendations to city council for approval.

But city council doesn’t necessarily have to follow those recommendations and could approve more community developments than administration recommended.

After several hours of debate, city council voted 14-1 in favour of tweaking the approvals process, with Carra the sole councillor opposed.

Under the changes approved by council, administration will evaluate the business cases as they come forward with a set of criteria including policy, as well as operating and capital costs to the city. Administration would then make its recommendations to council for approval.

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The mayor said the changes make the process clearer for the applicants, administration and city council.

According to Gondek, a final approval for each proposed community will be debated during budget deliberations each November.

“Once we know that it is solid, we will take it to budget and make a decision based on the fuller context of the whole budget,” Gondek said.

Further reports on the changes are expected from administration next year.

Gondek added that her colleagues on council made “a good argument” on why councillors should retain the final say on new community developments.

“While we are advancing and changing this process and strengthening it to leave it with administration, it’s still important for council to have oversight,” Gondek said.

The discussion comes after council greenlit five new communities on the city’s outer edge earlier this summer with another three up for debate later in the fall.

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

A city report presented to council with administration’s recommendations said Calgary’s population is expected to grow by 22,000 people annually or an additional 88,000 people in total by 2026. That growth will require approximately 44,000 single, semi-detached and multi-family homes.

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“At the end of the day, growth and sprawl should not be synonymous,” Calgary Construction Association president Bill Black told Global News. “There is good growth, there is intelligent growth and there is sprawl.”

According to Black, the development industry is working to balance single-family homes and multi-family developments along with commercial construction to build new communities differently than in the past.

Black added that the future of new community developments will require a partnership between the industry and the city to help evolve the process and zoning practices.

“I think as Calgarians, we need to make sure that we understand what intelligent development looks like, what balanced development or redevelopment looks like because it’s a combination of existing and new neighborhoods,” Black said. “What are some incredible examples, either in our own backyard or elsewhere, that we can take some encouragement from and then hold the City of Calgary and industry accountable to deliver against some of these models.”

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