Some facts about the Guidebook for Great Communities
Thank you for your help in building the Guidebook for Great Communities (Guidebook). We’ve been listening to your comments about the previous draft, through our outreach and engagement efforts over the past year. The Guidebook also considers more than five years of information collected from engaging with citizens through hundreds of planning projects.
Your participation doesn’t stop here, though. When your community goes through a local area planning process, you’ll be testing and working with the Guidebook and city planners. A monitoring and sustainment plan is part of implementing the Guidebook, in case improvements to the policies are appropriate.
We’re confident the Guidebook that we’re presenting to Council will address a lot of your comments. It will ensure our communities in Calgary will grow in ways that keep Calgary as one of the most desirable places to live, locally and globally.
Over the past year, we’ve heard from citizens who have assumptions (some of them false), and discussed misunderstandings about the Guidebook. Here are some facts, based on those questions, false assumptions, and misunderstandings to help set the record straight.
Why does Map 1 separate areas into Zone A and B? Will this change over time to include communities in the outer parts of the city?
Zones A and B represent communities from different eras, with differing development patterns. Zone A identifies inner city communities (defined in the Municipal Development Plan) generally developed prior to 1950. Zone B includes established communities that were typically developed prior to 1970. Zone A and B communities are in different stages of redevelopment as housing stock ages and is replaced. The boundaries for these zones will likely change over time, responding to evolving redevelopment pressure and updates to the Guidebook. At this time, areas outside of Area A and Area B have one general policy as these areas are newer and are not likely to experience significant redevelopment pressure in the near future.
Are areas outside of Zones A and B excluded from intensification? How does this promote diversity of housing?
Areas outside of Zones A and B are usually newer communities with younger housing stock that will not see as much pressure for redevelopment in the near future. It is also important to note that many newer communities were developed in alignment with the targets of the Municipal Development Plan and already have a greater intensity and range of housing choices. Policies in the Guidebook promote the ability to develop a range of housing choices in a community, whether it is a single detached, rowhouse or apartment. The New Community Planning Guidebook in the Municipal Development Plan sets development standards and establishes a design framework for new communities.
The criteria were selected with our colleagues in Community Planning to identify typical conditions that have made it difficult to develop a parcel to higher intensities. Other conditions that may have influence includes environmental constraints such as flooding. Factors not included in this policy are addressed elsewhere within the Guidebook, the Municipal Development Plan or the land use bylaw.
Escarpments are also noted as an important environmental feature, where redevelopment should be set back a minimum of 18m as noted in policy in the Municipal Development Plan. Building types with a smaller mass or footprint may be better suited to meeting setback minimums.
How are the residential intensity criteria used in evaluating a development application for R-CG? This seems to allow for R-CG in most places in a community.
The Neighbourhood Local, Limited Scale Residential Intensity policies in the Guidebook help guide where various low density homes should go. These policies recognize that there are some areas where development limitations would restrict higher intensity low density homes and the ability to accommodate additional residential units on a site. Many areas in Zone A and B may be able to accommodate modest amounts of additional residential intensity to complement most of the growth being directed to higher activity areas, such as Main Streets.
These policies are just one of the set of tools that are used to evaluate land use redesignation applications. A variety of different policies could also apply, such as a local area plan with heritage guideline areas, or different regulations, such as heritage direct control districts. These policies are not meant to be applied in isolation. The policies for Neighbourhood Local, Limited Scale includes a range of housing forms, and notably includes single detached as an option for these communities. We recognize that single detached is an important part of these communities and it will continue to be a housing form that many people will choose in the future. The Neighbourhood Local, Limited Scale Residential Intensity policies support that choice.
Urban Form Categories
Urban form categories in the Guidebook, such as Neighbourhood Local, do not replace or supersede existing land use designations or the current process that exists for land use amendments, as outlined by the Municipal Government Act. Guidebook policy and a local area plan are intended to guide decisions when a development application is submitted.
All of the processes that exist today will continue to exist after the Guidebook is approved. While local area plans may not be modified to exclude built forms, there may be other tools, such as heritage guideline areas or Special Policy Areas that would guide how parcels are developed in a specific area.
Why isn't there an urban form category for single detached homes? Will entire streets remain single detached homes?
Urban form categories capture the broad range of building types and uses that may generally occur in an area. Neighbourhood Local areas may be predominantly single detached dwellings, but may also include other types of homes such as rowhomes, semi-detached, fourplexes and even apartment buildings mixed in. The Guidebook includes policy encouraging the sensitive integration of new buildings with their surroundings. However, as is the case today, many streets will experience limited or no redevelopment and any redevelopment is initiated by individual property owners.
The Guidebook is the toolkit that lays out the various blocks or urban form categories that are applied in a local area plan. During this process the community, with planners, apply these blocks and scales in a way that supports the community’s vision for growth and change. The results will be different for every community context, and may also contain additional policy that responds to that context, such as heritage guideline or Special Policy Areas. A local area plan may address unique neighbourhood characteristics and respond with policy to support local identity and sense of place.
As a community ages and changes, there will always be a need for a range of housing types at different levels of affordability and close to amenities, services and places of employment. Flexibility and choice helps to address climate change and improve economic resilience in the city. Directing growth to areas like Main Streets and supporting modest intensification in our existing areas is an efficient and effective use of our resources and infrastructure. Planning complete communities that offer many services and amenities, as well as a range of recreation and housing opportunities, helps to ensure our communities are resilient and can adapt to future trends and challenges.
Some existing residential areas are located near or adjacent to Industrial General areas. Industrial Transition is intended to only be applied where it is adjacent to an Industrial General area and may provide a better transition to the residential area. This cannot be applied broadly to all residential areas. Industrial Transition areas would be characterized by light industrial uses compatible with the residential nature of the surrounding neighbourhood and may include work-live opportunities.
The Guidebook is in alignment with and implements the Municipal Development Plan. Decisions made based on the Guidebook and all policy documents must be in alignment with higher level policy such as the Municipal Development Plan. This is outlined in the Municipal Government Act, which also sets out the ability for anyone to appeal decisions.
Calgary’s Heritage Assets
The Guidebook has progressive heritage tools, supported by the professional heritage advocates at Heritage Calgary and by City heritage planners. The policy tools outlined in the Guidebook will support a three-level approach to helping guide redevelopment and change in areas where there are concentrations of heritage assets. Heritage guidelines for communities are created through local area plans informed by the Guidebook. Heritage Resource policies in the Guidebook also ensure a consistent approach and account for best practices to support the retention and protection of historic buildings, infrastructure or cultural landscapes.
Since July 2020, heritage work has been incorporated into the document, including guidance as to what are considered heritage assets and the identification of heritage guideline areas in a local area plan, as seen in the North Hill Local Area Plan. This is one of many approaches, as the initial work for Heritage Direct Control Districts is starting as well. At this point in time, we have received support from Heritage Calgary for our approach in addressing heritage assets and areas.
Are heritage assets identified to prevent high density development or any redevelopment? Are decisions made on a case-by-case basis at the time a development application is submitted?
Heritage assets that are not legally protected by Municipal or Provincial bylaws are permitted to redevelop and are subject to review under the existing policies and regulations on the site.
The Guidebook allows for heritage area guidelines (>25% heritage assets on a block face) to be developed as part of a local area plan to guide the look and feel of any new development, regardless of scale, to maintain the character of the area. Pilot projects are underway for Direct Control Heritage Areas, which may govern the regulation of how a building is situated or built on site. This tool is only available to areas with high concentrations of heritage assets (>50% on a block face) and requires that a majority of affected landowners/homeowners support establishing a Direct Control Heritage Area.
Environmentally, Equitable and Resilient Communities
The Guidebook encourages the development of complete communities that meet resident needs, provide housing choice and offer convenient access to services, amenities and mobility options. Complete communities offer a foundation to support climate change mitigation and adaptation in Calgary.
Policies that encourage sustainable development are embedded throughout the document. Energy use in buildings accounts for approximately two thirds of Calgary’s greenhouse gas emissions, and consumption of transportation fuels accounts for approximately one third. We know that our built form and how we move are key to meeting Calgary’s climate change goals. The Guidebook, together with local area plans, contains policy that aligns with our Climate Resilience Strategy. The City will continue to explore the possibility of incorporating community-scale climate change tools and policy that can reduce climate-related risks into the Guidebook.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guidebook and local area plans become even more important, as they give us the tools we need to plan resilient communities. This includes providing a range of housing types and green spaces to adequately meet the needs of the community. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of green spaces and the need to provide an affordable range of housing with access to amenities, like outdoor recreational spaces, to support healthy communities.
The Guidebook also recognizes the importance of parks, natural areas and outdoor recreation to communities. Though the Guidebook is not the tool by which communities would have these spaces created or upgraded, it does set the foundation for that to occur within a local area plan. The Guidebook also supports preservation of habitat and connections between green spaces and recognizes the variety of services these important places provide in the city.
We recognize that no one can see all of the challenges that lie ahead, which is why planning and supporting resilient communities is so important. The Guidebook is positioned as a living document that can respond to these changes in policy moving forward.
The Guidebook promotes more equity by encouraging affordable housing and a range of housing options that are closer to places of work, transit and mobility infrastructure and amenities. All types of families, including people with or without children or living in multigenerational households, should be able to access a range of affordable housing options close to services and amenities like schools and parks and open spaces.
The Guidebook also encourages parks, recreation and civic and public spaces that are welcoming to all Calgarians and provide flexibility to enjoy our natural areas and engage in recreation and cultural activities. Heritage Resources policies have been updated to encourage recognition, protection and celebration of cultural landscapes, Indigenous traditional use areas and sites of archaeological significance.
The Guidebook is just one of the policy tools available that supports moving the needle forward for anti-racism in Calgary. The Guidebook is meant to be an accessible document that gives everyone a common understanding and enables a plain language approach to planning. Part of the next conversations, both city-wide and within the local area plans, is to continue to educate and build capacity in the community so that people understand how planning impacts their lives, what influence they have and how they can be involved. There are also many tools beyond the Guidebook to help achieve affordable housing, locate amenities in the right spaces and provide services where growth is happening.
Policies in the Guidebook support the retention of trees on private and public lands. While there are some issues with developing parcels due to site constraints, such as utility right-of-ways, there is an opportunity with the renewed land use bylaw to look at landscaping requirements and site coverage regulations.
Local Area Planning
The local area plan program, as presented to Council, aims to streamline all existing policy documents, including area redevelopment plans (ARPs), area structure plans (ASPs), and policy briefs, into 40-45 local area plans. This allows for a plan to look at broader connections and investments across communities. It is intended that all plans will be rescinded and replaced, however, the original intent of the ARP or ASP may be largely retained within the new policy document. Over time, this will help consolidate information that Council will consider when investing in potential projects and improvements needed as communities age.
The identification of new local area plans to be developed will be looked at every year by Administration and provided to Council through the City Planning and Policy Priorities and Workplan Report. Generally speaking, Administration will reach out to communities through community associations prior to a plan getting underway. Once initiated, most plans are anticipated to take between 18 to 24 months, including public engagement, working group meetings and drafts of the plan before being presented to Council for consideration.
The Guidebook sets out a general set of tools for local area plans to apply to their communities, including the ability to provide community specific policy to respond to local context, such as through a Special Policy Area. As more local area plans are developed, there may be additional common policies or challenges identified that result in future amendments to the Guidebook. This evolution is an expected and positive outcome. The Guidebook is a living document that can respond to change and is improved through implementation and sustainment. A sustainment committee for the Guidebook will be established to carry out this anticipated work.
If a local area plan identifies an area as appropriate for up to six storeys, does that mean the whole street would be torn down and six storeys would be built everywhere? Or that only six storey buildings would be approved?
No, a local area plan does not force anyone to redevelop or redesignate their property. Each scale category includes a range of heights, up to a maximum (such as six storeys). The scale map in a local area plan does not require a development to build to the maximum scale. Scale is also limited by the existing land use designations of specific areas of a community and land use designations are not changed by the Guidebook. Change happens over time and there may be areas that will redevelop sooner in locations such as key intersections. It is unlikely that whole streets would be redeveloped at the same time or with consistent building height, as site and economic constraints also influence timelines and built form.
Coordination of City Projects and Plans
The Guidebook illustrates a number of different public space improvements. Will they be implemented in my community?
The illustrations in the Guidebook are an example of what streets could look like in communities, rather than what will be required in every neighbourhood. During the development of local area plans, communities may identify opportunities for public space improvements. These projects and initiatives can be identified as part of the implementation section of the plan for further review. This may include upgraded sidewalks, public space improvements and pilot projects for traffic calming measures, among other initiatives.
The Guidebook builds on the Municipal Development Plan and supports growth around areas identified as Main Streets and Activity Centres. The urban form categories Neighbourhood Commercial and Neighbourhood Flex are intended to be primarily used in Main Street areas and would be applied through a local area plan. The Guidebook also supports improvement or creation of pedestrian-focused public spaces to support Main Street activity and resilience. Implementation opportunities that can be identified through a local area planning process may also include items such as streetscape master plans or public space improvements for specific communities.
The Guidebook does not specifically address individual major projects, but instead outlines urban form categories and policies that can be applied in a local area plan to respond to community context. A local area plan uses urban form categories, scales and additional policies to support growth and development in a community and consider the influence of large projects, such as the Green Line.
When large projects change, this may require a local area plan to be reviewed to assess and respond to that change. In the case of a project like the Green Line, there may be minimal changes as the scale and uses identified for those transit stops also reflects existing infrastructure, such as Bus Rapid Transit, and the policies would remain appropriate for the area.
In July 2020 Council directed Administration to revise the Guidebook based on feedback previously received.Following that direction, from July 2020 to January 2021, targeted stakeholders who were part of existing working groups (including citizens, community associations, business owners and representatives from the building and development industries) participated in Guidebook workshops and engagement sessions. These sessions were focused on the evolution of the urban form categories in Chapter 2, rather than on the Guidebook as a whole. This was a detailed exercise that necessitated a working knowledge of the urban form categories.
Online Guidebook 101 sessions are being offered to Calgarians to provide an opportunity to learn about the Guidebook and to ask questions and hear responses from City staff. Administration has engaged with thousands of citizens on the Guidebook over the past five years and ideas and comments that come out of Guidebook 101 sessions are being captured for review and consideration in future sustainment work.
In the future many Calgarians will learn about and work with the Guidebook when their community engages in a local area planning process. During public engagement and working group sessions for a local area plan, City planners will explain the Guidebook in depth and work with residents and other stakeholders to apply the urban form categories in a plan area to support the community’s vision for future growth and change.
In addition to these formal sessions, there are online resources available so that Calgarians can learn more about the Guidebook. Visit engage.calgary.ca/guidebook to participate in a conversation around what makes your community great and to tell us more about what you would like to see in the future.
Various channels have been used for Guidebook engagement, including advertising in community and industry newsletters and paid social media advertisements on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In addition, City staff have attended community meetings, events and trade shows and provided information and answered questions from individual Calgarians, Councillor offices, City partners and community organizations.
Engagement and outreach on the Guidebook through 2019 and 2020 resulted in over 3,100 direct consultations, plus integrated consultation from ongoing local area plan projects. In 2021 we have launched Guidebook 101 sessions to inform Calgarians about the Guidebook, results of engagement and the work still ahead.
Public participation doesn’t end with the approval of the Guidebook. When a community goes through a local area planning process they work with City planners using the Guidebook. A monitoring and sustainment plan is part of implementing the Guidebook to be sure it always reflects planning best practices and lessons learned through local area planning.
Stakeholders are people who live, work or invest in a community and wish to participate in public engagement. Developers are just one of the stakeholders in a community, as they contribute to redevelopment and investment. The engagement process is designed to allow for all stakeholders to participate based on their level of interest. Stakeholders may choose not to participate, stay informed through email updates, attend a single information session or participate in a more involved engagement process, such as a working group for a local area plan.
Development and Land Use Redesignation Applications
If the Guidebook is approved how will development applications be reviewed and what is the process for appealing land use or development decisions?
The Guidebook does not change existing application or appeal processes. Administration will review all applications against Council approved policy and regulations (including the Municipal Development Plan, local area plans, the Guidebook and the land use bylaw) to provide a recommendation to Calgary Planning Commission or Council. The mechanisms for public input (such as speaking at Public Hearing) or for appeal (such as the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board and the Municipal Government Board) will remain unchanged and are outlined in Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.
If the Guidebook is approved will a developer or landowner need land use approval before applying to build a townhouse development or can they go right to development permit?
Properties are not redesignated to a new land use district by the Guidebook or a local area plan. A landowner who wants to apply for a rowhouse on a parcel that does not allow the use (e.g., R-C1, R-C2) would need to go through the same land use amendment, development permit and building permit applications processes that exists today. The process for redesignating the land use of a property includes community outreach by the applicant, review at Calgary Planning Commission and a Public Hearing of Council. Council will continue to make the final decision on all land use amendment applications.
Will applicants still be required to consult with adjacent property owners? What can communities and property owners influence in the decision making process?
There is an outreach toolkit available to all applicants and the City encourages all applicants to undertake community outreach. This information is also reflected in our reports to Committee and Council. Planning applications will continue to be circulated by City staff as they are today. While communities may influence the outcome, the decision of what is submitted by the applicant remains their choice and the final decision on approval is made by the Development Authority or Council.
At the Standing Policy Committee on Planning and Urban Development meeting in February, in relation to consideration of the Guidebook for Great Communities and the North Hill Communities Local Area Plan, there were a number of comments and questions raised regarding restrictive covenants (RCs).
There were 44 reported court cases involving RCs in Alberta in the past 3 years and 143 in the last 10 years. However, most of these cases were not about RCs conflicting with development. These RC cases included decisions about competition based RCs and interpretation of words in an RC (such as the meaning of “road”, and homeowner association disputes about the type of roofing material allowed). In addition to these reported decisions, many other restrictive covenant issues may be resolved in chambers, which means there will be no documented conclusion provided. We have no way of knowing how many of these applications occur each year, nor what the decisions are. However, The City has received requests for and provided “letters of no position” on 24 court applications for removal of RCs within Calgary since the beginning of 2018. We are not aware of how these applications were decided. Basically, we have no way of providing significant or definitive data on how RC applications have played out in Calgary or Alberta courts but can provide further information and trends.
Process to Remove an RC
Generally, RCs that are registered against a landowner’s title can only be discharged from title through a court application. In the early 2000s, courts in Alberta began to apply a very rigorous procedure to discharging RCs and since then have been more reluctant to grant discharges than they had been in previous decades. In these applications the court now considers 3 things:
- Is the RC valid – The court will first determine whether the technical legal requirements for a valid RC are met.
- Is there proper standing – The Court will determine who may participate in the RC court application.
- Test for discharge of an RC set out in the Land Titles Act
- Is the discharge of the RC beneficial to the person principally interested in its enforcement? OR
- The RC conflicts with the relevant land use bylaw or a statutory plan? AND
- Removal is in the public interest.
If there is a valid RC (as defined in #1) and the party opposing the application to discharge has standing (as defined in #2), it is very rare for the courts to grant the requested discharge.
Anecdotally, there seems to be a renewed interest in either enforcing or discharging RCs through the Courts. This has roughly coincided with the densification of the established neighborhoods in Calgary. Up until the mid-1960s RCs were used as a form of land use regulation to limit development to single family homes on individual parcels. RCs are private contracts between landowners. Although The City may have originally registered RCs in the past, if The City is not a current owner of land with an RC on title, The City has no legal interest in the RC. This means The City typically has no standing when there is a court application to discharge or enforce an RC.
Council Decisions and RCs
Regardless of how applications for RC removal play out in the courts, Council’s role is to determine appropriate land use and statutory plan policy for an area. The presence of an RC is not a barrier to making a decision on a land use or statutory plan. Decisions on these applications must be made by Council solely on the basis of valid planning considerations. Council does not have the expertise or authority to evaluate the validity or enforce RCs; this can only be done by the courts.
Fundamentally, Council has the power and the obligation to plan the city and its form for Calgarians. To do so, Council must balance competing views and interests (and how these change through time); this is no different in situations where there is an RC on title.
Implementing the Guidebook and Renewing the Land Use Bylaw
Growth and change will continue to occur in communities regardless of whether the Guidebook is passed. By setting the higher level policy and vision, Administration can then focus on the renewed land use bylaw, which will provide further guidance and direction on how development would occur in our communities, as well as other initiatives, such as heritage districts. This would include discussion around development regulation and guidelines, topics that many stakeholders are ready to start engagement on.
The Guidebook sets the foundation for the upcoming work that many are interested in – the renewed land use bylaw. We know that communities want to have more choices for where to live and improved affordability and quality of life. This needs to be supported by all levels of policy and regulation. Housing choice can be provided in a number of different ways and can integrate sensitively in our communities.
In April 2021, City Administration will be presenting a scoping report on the renewal of the land use bylaw to the Standing Policy Committee on Planning and Urban Development, in alignment with the Guidebook for Great Communities and the Municipal Development Plan. Work on a renewed land use bylaw is proposed to commence in Q2 of 2022. A comprehensive and extensive engagement program will be part of the project.