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Calgary city council passes amended rezoning bylaw after longest meeting ever held

A bylaw to rezone most of Calgary’s residential areas and allow higher-density housing was passed by city council in a 9-6 vote Tuesday night, along with numerous amendments to the original proposal.

The vote comes after the longest ever meeting of city council, which began on April 22, and was focused on the proposal to rezone all of Calgary’s residential areas that only allow for single-family homes. Over three weeks, it included multiple 12-hour days, 736 speakers and 238 panels — which marked the city’s largest-ever public hearing.

Couns. Dan McLean, Sean Chu, Peter Demong, Terry Wong, Sonya Sharp, and Andre Chabot voted against the motion to approve the bylaw.

Those in support of the bylaw spoke to its ability to eliminate bureaucratic processes allowing Calgary to adapt to a growing population, help those in precarious housing situations, and reinforce other aspects of the housing strategy.

“This is the removal of a significant barrier,” said Coun. Evan Spencer. 

“The rezoning unlocks the creativity of Calgarians as we respond to our housing challenges. We get more freedom with our land in terms of how we want to be involved in participating and addressing the challenges that we face as a city.”

Coun. Courtney Walcott said that if the rezoning bylaw was not passed, it would undermine the rest of the city’s housing strategy.

“If you were to pull the rug out from under the housing strategy, what you’re effectively doing is you’re making the other solutions less effective because you’re reducing people’s mobility,” he said. 

“People are stuck in affordable housing, in apartments … the availability of those other options is just not there. Because of the price escalations we’re seeing, people who are in single detached homes, they’re struggling to actually even consider how to downsize.”

Arguments for and against

Mayor Jyoti Gondek voted in favour of the bylaw.

“This decision is important for ensuring that Calgarians can live in our city not only with choice but with dignity,” she said.

During debate, councillors who opposed the bylaw referenced Calgarians who spoke out against the measure, worries about hasty and unwanted development, and concerns that the bylaw wouldn’t actually address affordability issues.

“Will blanket upzoning increase supply? Most definitely,” said Coun. McLean.

“It’ll increase the supply of duplexes, of row houses, they’re selling $600,000, $700,000, $800,000. Definitely not affordable.”

Coun. Chabot spoke to the character of communities that he feels could be lost if the bylaw was passed. 

“This would certainly significantly impact my quality of life if development of this nature was allowed to happen next door to me … many folks do pick those neighbourhoods, whether it’s in the inner city or in the suburbs specifically for that quality of life. So community character … it does tie into the built forum.”

Coun. Sharp said she was opposed to the bylaw because of the fact that it is a blanket measure, saying that not all neighbourhoods in the city are appropriate for rezoning. 

More than 20 amendments

More than 20 amendments were made to the bylaw during the meeting, including measures to increase residents’ ability to implement privacy measures on their properties, and giving communities further say in what types of developments are built in neighbourhoods.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mayor Gondek said the amendments made to the bylaw were spurred by the public hearing.

 “We have strengthened what happens at [the] development permit [stage] by allowing neighbours and community members to have a say when it comes to height, when it comes to lot coverage, when it comes to where the windows are going to be,” she said.

“So by listening to over 700 Calgarians, we made the improvements they needed to see in the development permit process, which actually drives what gets built next door across the street from them.”

Blanket rezoning is just one of the various components of the city’s housing strategy that was approved by council last year — which city administration believes it’s a key part of increasing supply and addressing the housing crisis — but it’s been the most high-profile and contentious piece of the plan. The bylaw outlines that areas now zoned for only single or semi-detached homes would be rezoned to R-CG, R-G or H-GO, which would allow for townhomes and row houses in those neighbourhoods.

During debate, councillors both for and against the bylaw spoke to the polarizing nature the proposal has had on the city. 

“We will need to move forward together after this decision,” said Coun. Kourtney Penner, who voted in favour of the bylaw. 

“Calgarians and Council will have to contemplate the future after our decision, as there will be further action [and] investment no matter the vote today. On the backside, we will have to manage the challenges, and many of the concerns raised from both sides could still be true.”

According to the city’s 2023 Housing Needs Assessment, one in five Calgarians struggle to afford their housing costs. The report also states that the median cost to purchase a detached home went up by 37 per cent over the last three years. 

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