Stand Up Smart Growth Part 2
On Wednesday, I shared with you that Council is being lobbied by some members of the development industry to approve 11 new communities on Calgary's edges. Many of you reached out to share your frustrations about this proposal and, instead, asked to see Council focus more on making the best use of our existing infrastructure to avoid the service cuts and tax increases that come with unsustainable growth.
You also posed great questions about what exactly we mean when we talk about 11 new communities, or "business cases" as City Administration calls them. Here is a break down.
What is a business case anyway?
A business case is a proposal brought forward by a land owner or developer to open up new land for development. This could be an entirely new community or a new expansion to a previously approved area. A community, on the other hand, is a bit vague. Technically, it means lines on a map that outline a named area like Montgomery or Tuxedo Park. However, developers often brand areas differently and we could have multiple sub-communities inside a larger community.
From the proposed 11 new community business cases, City Administration expects this would create 3 brand new communities and 7-8 expansions to the 14 new communities Council approved in 2018. Regardless of the terminology, this is net new land on the edges of the city that was not previously approved for development.
So, how much new land and development are we talking about?
Approving the 11 new community business cases would mean 1,081 new hectares of developable land and 19,287 new homes. At the Calgary average of 2.6 people/home, that means a likely population of over 50,000.
For context, that’s roughly the same as 11 Sunnysides in land area, the same as 9.5 Capitol Hills in home count, and the same as 8 West Hillhursts in population. This is all in addition to the near-record 41 total new and developing communities already approved by Council.
With the 11 proposed, whether you call them new communities or new business cases, we are talking about significant new land for new development on Calgary’s edges. Land that is not supported by market demand.
And what’s the big concern with that again?
Calgary already has 41 new and developing communities to cover a decade of projected population growth on the city’s edges. Not to mention the immense potential through redevelopment for more Calgarians to live in our existing communities and make more efficient use of existing services. The market demand for new community housing also continues to decline because of the struggling economy and the COVID-19 pandemic. Simply, at this time, we have too much available new land and not enough demand to fill it.
This means the communities on Calgary’s edges are building out too slowly to sustainably service with things like transit, water, and fire. Housing starts are down 16% this year, and were 18% lower than projected in 2019. Slow build out also means delays for the levies that developers send to the City to repay the nearly $500 million in public money already committed to enabling new community development. This causes multi-million dollar financial shortfalls to the City that must be covered by increased taxes, increased utility rates, and/or service cuts for existing communities. Then there is also the 2.15% direct property tax increase in 2019 that all Calgarians paid to subsidize the 41 new and developing communities.
Add this all together and we have a financially unsustainable growth situation, even with just the 41 communities today. Adding yet more new community land supply will only make the problem worse.
What’s the key takeaway for me?
To bring on more new land for development and to continue subsidizing the 41 already approved communities, while Council is also asking for a property tax freeze in 2021, means we will see service cuts to existing communities. Cuts that are over and above those made in recent years to services like Calgary Transit and the Calgary Fire Department. Whether you live downtown, in the inner-city, or in existing suburbs built over the past many decades, the quality of your services is at risk. Like I said before, this is an issue of spreading too little butter over too much bread.
What can I do?
While City Administration is recommending against approving any more communities, there is no guarantee Council will agree. You have the opportunity to share your concerns about Calgary’s unsustainable growth. You can speak directly to Committee, either in-person at City Hall or remotely online. You can also write to Committee and have your comments included in the public record. For details on all of those options, and for more information on new community growth in Calgary, visit: https://www.calgary.ca/pda/pd/current-studies-and-ongoing-activities/new-community-growth-in-calgary.html?redirect=/newcommunity
Categories: Blog, Budget, City Finances, Community, Planning & Development