The document formerly known as the ‘Guidebook for Great Communities’ was a turbulent point of discussion for City Hall in March of this year. Through many days of public dialogue, there was a seemingly sudden and worrying interest in the document that sought to ‘make our communities great.’
There are three Local Area Plans (LAP) in the works set for the areas of Westbrook, Heritage, and North Hill, which will be guided by the document. These LAPs aim to bring together established neighbourhoods into multi-community groups. North Hill was the first LAP to be approved by the city this year, and the first draft of the ‘Westbrook Communities Local Area Planning Project.’ is due in early 2022.
Let’s back up — where did it all begin and why are Calgarians concerned?
The ‘Guide for Local Area Planning,’ as it is now called, has been in the works since 2016 and was first drafted in September 2019. Many Calgarians said this was not enough time for them to become adequately informed and consulted about the plan, with some claiming to have never heard of it before this spring.
In March, council heard from hundreds of speakers on both sides of the issue, whose concerns ranged from urban sprawl, to development equity, to a lack of informed communication from the city about what the plan might mean for their communities.
For those who were against the Guidebook at the time, the prospect of greater housing density, particularly where single-family detached homes are the norm, topped their list of concerns.
On the pro side? Residents noted that Calgary’s pattern of endless growth wasn’t sustainable and that gaps in the inner-city housing market needed to be filled.
Following these hearings, the Guidebook — intended to be used as a resource for all future community development in Calgary — was brought back to the city’s Planning and Urban Development committee. It was approved in May as the ‘Guide for Local Area Planning,’ and the bylaw to make it mandatory was scrapped.
The Westbrook area includes the communities of Wildwood, Spruce Cliff, Westgate, Rosscarrock, Shaganappi, Glendale, Glenbrook, Killarney/Glengarry, and parts of Richmond and Scarboro/Sunalta West.
How are things proceeding with the Westbrook neighbourhood project?
Having already been underway before the Guide was approved, the Westbrook LAP communities had long been advocating for viable development policies — something that Chris Welner, president of the Glendale Community Association, knows all too well.
“There is certainly the recognition that the future of Glendale is going to include more density, and we’ve really been working with the city for years … to help structure and plan that development and that future density in an orderly way,” he says.
Welner believes that Glendale residents “think of it as a unique spot in the city,” and that the diverse range of housing options currently available in Westbrook is a great asset.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about Calgary as a whole, and the west end in particular, where if you want to live in multi-family housing, you can. If you want to live in single-family housing, you can … all those options are available in the west end of the city.”
Home, sweet, single-family home
A significant majority of housing in Glendale — no less than 84 per cent — is single-detached housing, according to data from the 2016 federal census. The same is true for much of the Westbrook LAP, with a few exceptions. For example, apartments make up 73 per cent of housing in Spruce Cliff, and only 14 per cent of dwellings in Rosscarrock are single-family.
Compare this to the ten central Calgary neighbourhoods of the North Hill LAP — including Crescent Heights, Mount Pleasant, and Thorncliffe — where there is a much more even split between communities with majority segments of single-detached, semi-detached, and apartment housing.
“There’s a really strong, almost a passionate desire to keep the fabric of that single-family neighbourhood,” says Welner.
“Without having those options, even for young people, within the city limits, we’re just sending everybody out to Okotoks and Airdrie, and that comes with its own issues. I don’t know if every young family wants to have a house 20, 30 kilometers outside the city.”
The Westbrook LAP is shared between Wards 6 and 8, both of which have new representation on council following last month’s municipal election. In the case of Ward 6, however, councillor Richard Pootmans is returning after serving two previous terms and is quite familiar with the issue at hand.
During a Ward 6 forum held just before the election (moderated by Welner), candidates were asked about the pressures of high-density development on inner-city neighbourhoods, and their thoughts on the possible elimination of RC-1 communities — those that are zoned for single-detached housing.
“I’ve got a fairly radical position on this,” Pootmans told the virtual room. “I’m convinced, after seven years of having been to, sometimes nightly events where people were protesting a new infill development, or a fourplex being installed where a bungalow used to exist … that they weren’t clear on what the benefits of density are.”
The generational divide
Pootmans added that the city owes a proper explanation of these plans to the population of its older communities. Westbrook neighbourhoods are indeed ageing — the oldest, Killarney/Glengarry, was incorporated in 1906, and most of the others came about in the 1950s.
“I’ve been in all our older communities, [and] especially senior citizens are frantic. They’re worried that their homes are going to be devalued. They don’t want a flat-topped roof house across the street. They don’t like the modern look.”
Welner says that his priority is ensuring communities remain diverse and affordable for new, young families. While affordability is a principle of the city’s LAP concept, he believes it may not be able to deliver on this promise.
“I don’t know if I necessarily think that density means affordability,” Welner says.
“We can cross the street into Killarney … where it is filled with infills, and you can’t buy an infill for less than $800,000. Are those affordable for young families? In Glendale, you can buy a single-family home for probably less than $500,000.”
Residents will have another chance to have a voice
Before the Westbrook LAP is presented to council next year, residents will get an opportunity to provide feedback on a draft of the first chapter, with public engagement kicking off again on Nov. 22.
“We’re working to connect with people in a variety of ways, including targeted digital advertisements, in-community advertisements, mailed information and engagement packages, and opportunities to provide input through the mail, at community engagement stations throughout the area, or online,” according to an email from the City of Calgary.
“The Westbrook communities have changed over the years, and they will continue to evolve … we will continue to work closely with citizens and stakeholders over the next year to discuss the area,” the email continues.
Pootmans expressed his desire at the forum for a “brand new look at density” without having to completely repeat the entire consultation process that has been done on urban development in Calgary.
“It’s important to determine the cost-benefit of density and establish, in terms we can all understand, something far more easily read than the Guidebook, to understand the sorts of development that the city has in mind.”
Starting on Nov. 22nd running until Dec. 10, Westbrook residents can give their feedback online, or at a ‘My Idea Station’ located at their community association.
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