Community Guidebook debate draws more than 125 speakers; debate to continue Tuesday

CALGARY — It’s a 131-page city planning document, so you may not expect it to garner the type of attention it has.

But debate over The Guidebook for Great Communities is stretching into another day, thanks to increasingly contentious public interest.

The purpose of the guidebook is to streamline the arduous process of community building and development plans. The document is meant to update the city’s process and create more discussions between planners and residents.

But Monday at City Hall, dozens of residents argued the guidebook would have a negative impact on their neighbourhoods.

Some are concerned it’ll lead to density issues. Others complain it could mean poor building decisions on their block. Some are even convinced the guidebook would push the “character” out of their community.

Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra said the controversy wasn’t over the contents of the guidebook, but rather because of poor communication about the guidebook’s actual purpose.

“People are being manipulated,” Carra said. “No one is changing your zoning. We are not going to end the existence of single-detached districts. What we’re going to do is allow our communities to become more mixed-use over time. Where and how that happens is through the guidebook.”

DEVELOPING AND GROWING

Many on council want to approve the guidebook, something they say will be used for years as Calgary develops and grows.

But the approval process got a little lengthier Monday.

More than 125 Calgarians signed up to speak virtually at a public hearing.

The five minute speeches will stretch into Tuesday and possibly even Wednesday before a vote is taken.

Critics say the guidebook is being pushed through with limited consultation. Some, like Councillor Jeromy Farkas, would like to see the vote delayed and turned into an election issue.

“Not everyone wants to live in a high density neighborhood,” Farkas, who’s running for mayor in October, told CTV News. “I think it’s really foolish to try to make every neighbourhood the same.”

But many of Farkas’ colleagues — including Mayor Naheed Nenshi — say the Ward 11 leader and mayoral hopeful is peddling misinformation dressed up as community concern.

“I would say that certain politicians are trying to foment that lack of trust, but really, they are bringing it on themselves by misleading others,” Nenshi said. “What (Farkas) is saying isn’t true, so either he doesn’t understand what he is voting on or he wants other people to not understand it.”

The guidebook would prioritize green space, mobility and local amenities.

Those are issues some councillors say Farkas is misinformed on. They believe he’s also unaware of the legalities of the guidebook.

Farkas says that’s not true.

He called the guidebook ill-advised on Monday, questioning why community development is the focus of council during a pandemic.

He has some support in the community.

Multiple neighbourhood associations are also against the guidebook. They’d like to see the debate revisited after more public consultation.

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