A large group of Calgarians have voiced their opposition and support for changes to the city’s zoning rules, which aim to give the green light to higher density development in inner-city neighbourhoods.
Sixty-four people registered to speak at Tuesday’s lengthy public hearing at Calgary City Hall, which also included more than 400 letters and emails sent to city administration on the matter.
The proposed amendment to the zoning rules would allow for more development otherwise known as the “missing middle.” The medium-density builds would include townhomes, rowhouses, low-rise apartments and semi-detached homes.
Council is also being asked to approve a new zoning category called Housing – Grade Oriented, or H-GO. If given approval by council, it would be allowed to be used within 200 metres of a main street or activity centre, within 600 metres of an LRT station, within 400 metres of a bus-rapid transit stop and within 200 metres of a primary transit service — if the community doesn’t have a local area plan.
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“It is simply another land-use district that can be used into the future. It is not replacing anything. It is not blanket rezoning,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.
“It is something that will not be forced upon people. It will be an option for people to use into the future.”
Even if council approves the changes, property owners would still need to bring individual rezoning applications to city council for approval.
According to the city, the new zoning category would help with housing affordability.
Alkarim Devani, the co-founder of RndSqr, was one of the many speakers that lined up at city council on Tuesday to speak in support of the zoning changes.
RndSqr, pronounced “round square,” is a developer in Calgary that specializes in inner-city developments.
Devani said there is a lot of demand for the type of housing covered by the proposed zoning changes, and under current zoning, these types of developments are expensive.
“The challenge is it’s not happening in an equitable manner,” Devani told Global News. “Only a select few are able to do it and it’s not easy for industry to do, so many aren’t willing to take the risk.
“There’s an over-demand and a very shallow supply of this type of housing in the marketplace, and if we can’t bring in more supply, then demand will continue to be high and it will continue to be difficult to access these neighbourhoods.”
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Many speakers brought forward several concerns with the proposed changes and new zoning regulations, including parking requirements, the distance rules in the proposed bylaw and how the different build forms will fit in with the character of existing communities.
Chris Davis, a resident of North Glenmore, spoke in opposition. Davis said while the city needs to find ways to attract more density in the inner city, it has to be done in a “respectful and sensitive way” for the people who already live there.
“The challenge is to find a build form that fits in nicely with the people who are already living there so that everybody can find a more harmonious way of moving forward,” Davis told Global News.
“What was challenging with council today is that the rules haven’t really been clearly defined.”
Another concern brought up by several speakers was the consultation process for the zoning changes.
City administration only consulted with development industry experts and not the general public. In a report it said that was due to a short time frame of four months to conduct the engagement.
A city report also suggested public consultation would not be helpful.
“Citizens would not have the technical expertise to contribute to the writing of land-use districts,” the report said.
It’s a concern shared by Ward 10 councillor Andre Chabot, who initiated the request to administration to create the new zoning category.
“What’s here is the gold standard for development,” he said. “It’s not the gold standard for the general public.
“Somehow we need to find some middle ground here, something the general public can buy into and that the developers can live with, because right now this is just exactly what the developers want.”
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Many similar types of developments have been approved in the past during lengthy rezoning application debates until what’s called direct control zoning.
Gondek told reporters that approving these types of medium-density developments under direct control zoning creates “a lot of uncertainty and unpredictability” for the community.
A city report said the changes to the zoning categories aims to reduce the number of direct control applications and associated costs, while bringing in a consistent set of criteria to address concerns from neighbours.
Council is expected to debate and make a decision on the proposed changes and new zoning category on Wednesday.
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