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Guidebook for Great Communities - frequently asked questions

The Guidebook for Great Communities - why now?


What's new about the Guidebook for Great Communities?

The Guidebook takes best-practice community planning policies, improved community planning policies and new community planning policies and keeps them in one document. By consolidating and updating these policies into one complete document, we create more certainty and consistency with interpretation.

Calgary has more than 200 local area plans, each with similar policies working to achieve similar outcomes. When similar policies are written in 200 different ways, it creates uncertainty, inconsistency and confusion for citizens, the development industry, and City staff. The Guidebook’s approach to having planning policies in one document leads to a better understanding of the vision and outcomes to planning the growth of our communities.

The Guidebook builds on the Municipal Development Plan (approved 2009) and provides more specific policies for how to accomplish its goals in a community. It’s also an evolution of the Developed Areas Guidebook (DAG) (See page 227 of the Municipal Development Plan), which Council approved in 2017. The DAG already guides development in certain communities.​

Why do we need a Guidebook for Great Communities?

The success of our communities leads to the success of Calgary. It’s important to Calgary’s own growth and economic success that it remains competitive and an attractive place to live. Our communities need to reflect that growth and longevity. The long-term success of our communities begins with offering choice – places to live regardless of want or need; ways to move; closer professional and service amenities; and closer places to gather, play, shop and work.

We know our communities are constantly changing and will evolve over time. The local area planning process uses the Guidebook as a tool to plan for the evolution of our communities and ensures communities can prosper in the future. It means they can remain attractive to people who live there now and adapt and be attractive to people who may move there in the future.

The Guidebook for Great Communities is a more modern and robust planning tool for City planners, citizens, developers, builders, and other stakeholders. It provides consistent and predictable tools in one place to make sure our communities can thrive into the future and support a prosperous Calgary.

More technically:

  • Implements the Municipal Development Plan by bridging the higher level Municipal Development Plan policies with local area plans and site-specific planning applications.
  • Supports and guides local area planning by providing a consistent system that supports local area planning, using the urban form classification system and related policies, to enable future growth and development.
  • Provides Guidance to Planning Applications by providing policies to guide planning applications and development outcomes.

Why do we talk about Great communities for everyone?

When we talk about great communities for everyone, it means making sure our great communities can remain great for longer and be great to more people. Positioning our communities to thrive now and into the future puts Calgary in an economic advantage. We’re competing with other cities internationally for investment, where people and businesses are looking for high-quality neighbourhoods.

Calgary’s population, economy and communities are also changing. Our needs and preferences for living will also change over time. When a community offers more choice for living, amenities and gathering spaces, it can adapt and thrive over a longer period of time. Our communities can become more attractive to more people, while our citizens can also choose to stay and grow in their community, as their life changes over time.​

The Guidebook for Great Communities - zoning and land use bylaw


Does the Guidebook change zoning or the types of buildings that can be built on land parcels in communities?

No. The Guidebook does not, and will not, change the zoning of any property. Current zoning (e.g. R-C1) will not change by approving the Guidebook. After the Guidebook is approved, changes to a property’s zoning would follow the exact same process it does today – through an application for a land use amendment by a property owner.

The process to change zoning is governed by the Province of Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, which outlines how zoning can be changed. Through the local area planning process, citizens, stakeholders and City planners use the Guidebook as a tool used to determine what type of growth should go where in a community.​

Will the Guidebook change what can be developed in a community?

No. The Guidebook does not change the zoning or development rules of anyone’s property. The conversation about where and the type of development that should occur in a community occurs through the local area planning (LAP) process. Through engaging with citizens and stakeholders, the LAP process will use the Guidebook’s tools and policies to determine where and what type of development should happen in a community.

Engaging the community through an LAP is an important part of the planning exercise, because it’s the residents and stakeholders who best know the surrounding context, impacts, and opportunities in their communities.​​

Does the Guidebook eliminate single-family detached housing?

No. The Guidebook allows for single-family detached housing, as does the Municipal Development Plan. The single-family detached home is still and will remain a highly valued housing type. We will continue to see this built form in Calgary.

As Calgary continues to grow, some areas of single-family detached homes may evolve naturally to provide different housing options, to benefit more people and their preferences and needs. These areas would be identified through a community’s local area planning process, which involves engagement with citizens, the community, and other stakeholders.​

What does the Guidebook say about density in communities?

The Guidebook does not require a community to have a certain amount of density. Through the local area planning (LAP) process, citizens, stakeholders and City planners use the Guidebook as a tool to determine where density should and should not go in a community.

The LAP process allows for a conversation with citizens and stakeholders to determine where and how density happens in a community, and what the trade-offs may be. This process also considers the local context of each community – e.g. activity and amenity locations, transportation, and services that could benefit from more density to support them. It identifies constraints, opportunities, and/or investment. The LAP process uses the Guidebook’s Urban Form Categories in Chapter 2 to determine the areas where more density may be appropriate.​

Are we changing the Land Use Bylaw in the future to eliminate R-C1?

Council directed Administration to develop a new Land Use Bylaw. The Guidebook will guide this work. Our current Land Use Bylaw (the rules) was approved before our Municipal Development Plan (the vision). Right now, the rules and vision are not aligned.

The Land Use Bylaw may introduce new land use districts (or zoning districts), but the land use districts that apply to each parcel may not change right away. Council will give direction to Administration on how to apply these potential new land use districts, once they are created. Direction could come through an individual application by the parcel owner, or through city-wide application, which require public engagement and a public hearing of Council.

Regardless, creating a new Land Use Bylaw with potential new land use districts will require a public engagement process with communities and stakeholders. There will also be a public hearing of Council. Currently, the schedule for this policy work is undetermined.​

Heritage and the Guidebook's future


Does the Guidebook support the conversation of heritage assets in a community?

Yes. The Guidebook provides a section on Heritage Resources that would apply to communities that have an approved local area plan, which used the Guidebook through the planning process. This section of the Guidebook represents the most up-to-date and best-practice set of policies that support the retention and protection of heritage resources in any City of Calgary planning document. This new approach expands upon heritage policies that exist in current and older local area plans.

Communities may also have a variety of existing physical characteristics, features, and buildings that are not currently considered to be heritage resources by The City or Heritage Calgary, but have significance to residents and citizens. The Guidebook helps to highlight and manage these aspects of a community’s “Identity” and “Place” with new direction within the local area planning process.

As part of a separate initiative, Administration is undertaking a Council-directed review of available heritage conservation policy tools and financial incentives. To foster alignment with the Guidebook, a placeholder section for implementation of these tools has been created in Chapter 4, pending Council’s direction.

Can the Guidebook change, once approved by Council?

Yes. In Chapter four, there is direction to continuously monitor, review and amend the Guidebook, as required. As we begin to use the Guidebook in local area plans and applications, we will learn where policies are working well and where some policies will require more work. There will also be other ongoing policy and strategic initiatives at The City that may inform further amendments to the Guidebook.

It’s important the Guidebook remains responsive to what we learn from community planning with citizens and to new ideas and opportunities.

What happens if the Guidebook is not approved?

If the Guidebook is not approved, community development and growth will continue through the approved Development Areas Guidebook (DAG). New local area plans would also default to using the existing DAG

The DAG is much more rigid. It has specific land use districts, uses, and building heights that are outlined in Building Blocks. It does not allow the flexibility for a community to grow and develop. In contrast, the Guidebook allows for flexibility and the ability to customize Urban Form Categories that respond to a community’s local context, which means communities can be best positioned to adapt to change, as Calgary grows and changes over time.

The DAG is also much more focused on the building and building height, as a starting point to development. In contrast, the Guidebook focuses on people, areas of activity, and how the built-form of buildings and spaces can create great experiences for people in their communities. It allows communities to grow and develop based on the people who live there and how they experience their communities every day. The Guidebook ensures the built form of buildings and spaces responds first to that human experience.​

What happens to the existing Developed Areas Guidebook, if the Guidebook is approved?

The Developed Areas Guidebook (DAG) remains in effect for previously-approved local area plans, which already refer to it. Since the DAG was used in some local area plans and Main Streets, the policy document needs to remain in place to provide policy guidance in those areas.​

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