Calgary’s property developers and home builders are hailing a revised city growth blueprint that’s not “as scary” as it appeared months ago, when their associations demanded city hall delay its plan so they could lobby for changes.
Two of Calgary’s most influential lobbies — the Urban Development Institute and Canadian Home Builders Association-Calgary Region — had expressed fears that the new land-use and transportation plans under the Plan It Calgary project would choke off expansion of new suburbs and virtually spell the end of the single-family detached house.
But city officials stress that Plan It Calgary will welcome growth on undeveloped land, although future emphasis will remain on population growth in existing neighbourhoods, with less sprawl overall.
- Dennis Little, the industry groups’ chief advocate on Plan It Calgary, said the push to get city officials and aldermen to understand the “business approach” has paid off, even if some council members are “extreme” in their opposition.
He told a Home Builders conference last week the municipal plan going to council on Monday now has language that’s more car-friendly and is more accepting of new suburban developments.
“Is Plan It Calgary as scary as it was back in January, when we first looked at it? The answer is no; it has been modified in response to the industry issues,” Little told the group.
However, he said there’s more work to be done before the city’s 30-year plan is complete in May, and more political lobbying to be done.
“Not every alderman is onside,” Little said at the conference. “There are some that have extreme viewpoints, but we’ll continue to work with them on (explaining) the reasonableness of our approach.”
If Calgary doesn’t provide consumers with enough choice between apartment suites, semi-detached units and stand-alone houses, and too heavily discourages car traffic, the city might not draw the continued population growth it predicts, Little warned. “If we don’t give them what they’re looking for . . . they might not come.”
Michael Flynn, UDI’s Calgary executive director, agreed with Little that some aldermen have hardline views, although neither official wanted to name names. “Inner-city aldermen in established areas have different perspectives than those who represent new communities along the outskirts,” Flynn said.
Ald. Brian Pincott said they’re likely talking about him, and the former federal NDP candidate readily accepts their “extremist” tag.
Pincott acknowledged that the groups have long been effective lobbyists, but also that it’s good the city took more time to better include views of the industry and other diverse critics to ensure builders and developers had expressed their opinions.
A particular concession that industry celebrated was the removal of references to a “compact growth” scenario that envisioned no new suburban expansions, although Pincott and city planning chief David Watson said that was really a hypothetical extreme alongside the extreme of unsustainable sprawl and a mid-ground scenario.
“People were reacting pretty viscerally to the three scenarios, as if they were hard and fast, that it was going to be one or the other,” Pincott said. “I think it speaks more of balance, and that’s important,” he said of the new Plan It Calgary outline a committee approved this month.
Six in 10 Calgary area homes are stand-alone compared with 3.5 in 10 in the Vancouver region or slightly more in and around Toronto.
However, an Ipsos Reid poll conducted in August shows that 40 per cent of Calgarians who don’t live in a stand-alone house aspire to.
Little said business groups also didn’t like the city’s new philosophy around transportation, that proclaimed walking or cycling as the best ways of commuting, and passenger cars as the least desirable.
The revised Plan It key directions include a line to “recognize that the car will continue to be an important way to travel” for several decades.
One thrust behind the new plan is that the perennially cash-strapped city is weary of spending millions on building new roads, sewer lines and providing services to a spread-out population. Aldermen have supported an industry-backed push for a symposium to explore funding options that might give city budgeters more financial flexibility.
Noel Keough, founder of Sustainable Calgary, said that hefty proposed tax hikes might not be needed if the city slows its costly expansions to accommodate companies looking to build houses on cheaper land.
“They’re protecting their own interests at the expense of the taxpayer,” said Keough, a University of Calgary professor of environmental design.
Once council approves Plan It Calgary, city staff will use the strategy to write the new Municipal Development Plan and Calgary Transportation Plan, both major documents that will chart the city’s growth for the next 30 to 50 years.