Mayor Jyoti Gondek. Photo: Farkhod Fayzullaev

Gondek’s push to de-politicize’ Calgary suburban growth

Mayor wants admin — not council — to decide which communities proceed.

The Sprawl is focusing on and digging into the issue of urban sprawl throughout the month of September. This podcast episode is the first story in that edition. Subscribe to Sprawlcast on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. A transcript of this episode is below, for those who would rather read than listen.

MAYOR JYOTI GONDEK: And I cannot stress enough, it's an administrative operating decision that you are making when it comes to a business case. Please do not politicize it by bringing it here.

COUNCILLOR SONYA SHARP: But the concern is that we're giving up the transparency to the process for both public and council.

COUNCILLOR GIAN-CARLO CARRA: The idea that we can just throw this all onto administration—it's an abdication of our fundamental responsibility as elected officials.

JEREMY KLASZUS (HOST): This was a lively summer at Calgary city hall. At the beginning of July, council approved a new climate strategy. Then, a few weeks later, council fast-tracked the approval of five new suburban developments on the city’s edges. Three of them are on the city’s southern edge, one is east, and one is in the far north.

But there’s something else in the works that could affect how the city grows in the future. Mayor Jyoti Gondek wants to overhaul how suburban developments are given the green light at city hall. In the summer she described it as depoliticizing the process—and taking the politicians out of it. She wants city administration, rather than city council, to decide which communities go ahead. And city council is slated to flesh out Gondek’s proposal in more detail on September 20th.

The move raises a number of questions. What is the role of a city council when it comes to suburban development? Who would this change serve? And what good is a climate strategy if city hall is still expanding Calgary’s already-massive footprint?

I spoke with Mayor Gondek to find out more about what she’s proposing.

GONDEK: I don't want to be a politician weighing in on where growth is when we have perfectly capable people in administration, with perfectly functioning formulas, that could tell us whether something makes sense or not.

KLASZUS: We’re going to hear more of that conversation later in the show. But first, some backstory.

It has been our philosophy that opening up new communities is a financial decision.

Matthew Sheldrake,

Growth Strategy Manager, City of Calgary

Phasing out a check on growth

This summer, city admin brought forward eight proposals from suburban developers. If all eight were to proceed, citywide greenhouse gas emissions would increase by about 1%, according to the city’s estimate. Needless to say, this doesn’t align with the city’s climate strategy. But city admin recommended that five of the eight suburban developments proceed—with the other three as maybes.

Admin’s proposed timeline was that city council would make a decision on these five communities after setting the next four-year budget in November. Why wait until then to decide? Here’s what the city’s manager of growth strategy, Matthew Sheldrake, told council in July.

MATTHEW SHELDRAKE: It has been our philosophy that opening up new communities is a financial decision; it's a financial commitment. And so we have felt that the best way to do that would be at budget time. And so once a four-year budget is approved, then the next subsequent public hearing would be the opportunity to remove the Growth Management Overlay when you have that certainty of funding, to be able to tell the developers or the industry that you're good to go and we're going to service these lands.

KLASZUS: You just heard Sheldrake reference something called the Growth Management Overlay. Sometimes at city hall they call it GMO for short—and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with food! It’s been a point of contention at city hall for years now. The Growth Management Overlay is a tool that city hall introduced in 2012 to help regulate suburban growth. At the time, city council approved new growth by giving the green light to area structure plans for new suburban developments—until Calgary hit a point where council had approved more development than city hall could pay for. And so the Growth Management Overlay was introduced as a sort of check on growth. Here’s how Kathy Davies Murphy explained it to council a few years ago in 2019. At the time she was the city’s manager of growth.

KATHY DAVIES MURPHY: The Growth Management Overlay is really a flag for council to ensure that appropriate infrastructure, budget, and operating budget is approved. And so that process would need to continue. We can't open communities if roads aren't built or if utility infrastructure isn't in place. So there still needs to be some mechanism. Call it what you will, it's really a budget decision.

KLASZUS: In recent years there’s been a push to get rid of the Growth Management Overlay and replace it with a more business-friendly process. This was introduced by former city councillor Jeff Davison in 2019 and backed by the development industry.

JEFF DAVISON: … explore the phasing out of the Growth Management Overlay and create policy that encourages a much more business-friendly environment and further investment – and retention of that investment – in Calgary.

KLASZUS: We’re going to listen in to a little of the debate that happened when this idea was introduced. None of these people are on council anymore, but here’s what former councillors Ward Sutherland, Evan Woolley and Druh Farrell had to say at the time.

WARD SUTHERLAND: The challenge that we have is we implemented a system because of a situation of high, rapid growth and 30,000 people moving into the city. Okay? So that's no longer the situation, so we're using a process that we put in – we reacted to something several years ago that's completely changed. What we need to look at is how many hoops does any business need to jump through to get to a certain point. And my concern is this is a hoop that we don't need anymore.

EVAN WOOLLEY: I think there's an important thing to clarify here, and I'm actually fine with looking at this – this isn't... opening up a business that doesn't require City resources. This is a bunch of private-sector businesses competing for public money, and so we have to have a rigorous process. It's because we're using public dollars and citizens' money to build this infrastructure in this partnership, and there's a limited amount of that money, and there's a whole bunch of different private companies who are going after that money, and so it's really important that we have processes and hoops to go through to ensure that we're putting those public dollars at the best return on investment for the public.

DRUH FARRELL: At one point, and not during a period of intense growth, council was approving every community that came forward, until the city manager of the day, Dale Stanway, got up to the podium and said, "We have no more money. We can't do this." I think it was Evanston, actually. And we sent it back and started a whole process around growth management. And my worry is we're going back to the days when we might have 40 developing communities, some of them leapfrog, and we just can't afford it.

The stage gates must exist. We cannot go back to the wild west.

Naheed Nenshi,

former Mayor of Calgary, in 2019

KLASZUS: Farrell was referencing a situation that unfolded in the early 2000s. Fast forward a couple decades. At the start of this summer, Calgary already had 39 suburban developments in progress that had been previously approved by council. And as those get built out, the city finds itself on the hook for more costs that increase over time—both operating and capital costs. The citywide growth strategy that came to council this summer identified more than half a billion dollars in additional capital costs for these 39 new communities. This is for stuff like roads, transit and fire stations.

Admin also identified just under $12 million in operating costs for those communities. And those numbers are just for the next four-year budget cycle. Beyond 2026, the city expects the capital costs to increase by another $4.4 billion - mostly for streets and transit. Some of that would be covered by developer levies, but not all.

So this has been a recurring issue over decades, one that’s been in constant flux: How does city hall pay for these new neighbourhoods, which have costs that increase over time? Here’s what former Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in response to Farrell at that 2019 meeting.

NENSHI: So I'm perfectly happy to support this, because maybe there's a better way to do it. The key is to your point, the stage gates must exist. We cannot go back to the wild west. You know, your example of Evanston was way before my time, but Councillor Magliocca will agree with me that when we finally did approve that neighborhood, we approved it with one entrance and one exit, and we didn't have the budget to actually build the road infrastructure that neighborhood needed, and that's what I want to avoid going forward.

KLASZUS: Gondek was the councillor for Ward 3 at the time, and supported Davison’s idea of phasing out the Growth Management Overlay. That process has more or less dragged on since—not going as fast as industry and council proponents had hoped.

But the GMO isn’t city hall’s only check on urban sprawl.

City hall introduced another process in 2018 to try and get a better grasp on growth. Suburban developers would submit business cases to the city for each new project that they wanted to build. City admin would review these business cases, and then make a recommendation to council on which ones should go ahead, factoring in market demand, financial cost and alignment with city policies. City council would then decide which of these should go ahead, and which shouldn’t.

That summer, in July 2018, council infamously approved 14 new communities on the outskirts, going beyond the eight that admin recommended. That council took a lot of heat for that decision. And so both the previous council and the present one have lamented this business case process as being a problem that needs fixing. Here’s what Nenshi said in one of his last committee meetings as mayor last year.

NENSHI: The system, nobody likes it. It's overly political; it's way too much drama; it's a whole bunch of work. But that said, if we're going to replace it, we've got to replace it with something better.

KLASZUS: In her last term, Gondek pushed for a robust model to better understand the operating costs of new communities—because these numbers have always been rather murky at the outset, until the bills come up for payment years later. And Gondek wanted admin to be putting up some numbers.

GONDEK: It has been an ongoing issue to understand what the – I think you guys call them "fulsome" operating costs – are. We keep getting information on incremental operating costs, but to date no one has created a model of fulsome operating costs.

KLASZUS: Which brings us back to the five communities that council just approved.

We’re getting in the way of business. I will say it. We are.

Sonya Sharp,

Ward 1 Councillor

Why is Calgary still sprawling outward at all?

Here’s a question that many have asked: Why is the city still sprawling outward at all, when we know that Calgary’s existing footprint is environmentally and financially unsustainable? Well, city hall expects 88,000 people to move to Calgary over the next four years. And to help accommodate that growth, admin recommended these five new developments—in part, because they build on what has already been approved.

On paper, these five new developments require no new capital costs over the next four years. But councillors also heard that these projects rely on previously approved capital projects, including transportation infrastructure, that have not yet been funded. Which is why admin recommended holding off on a decision until after budget time.

The operating costs, meanwhile, are estimated to be five million over the next four years, which is a relatively small amount in the city’s budget.

When this was being discussed at the city’s planning committee this past June, Councillor Jasmine Mian asked a question of Josh White, the city’s growth strategy director.

COUNCILLOR JASMINE MIAN: And I'm just going to ask you one kind of provocative question, because it often comes up again in the public discussion and discourse, which is sort of this notion like, we should just stop growing on the edge of the city. And I'd like you to just answer the question: if today all of a sudden we just stopped growing on the edge of the city, what would happen?

JOSH WHITE: That's a provocative question, but it's actually one I've thought about a lot. And so I think, yeah, there are some that would say, "Stop growing on the edge of the city." That is – you know, for example, from a climate outcome, that might be the most pure outcome that we could achieve.

However, this growth strategy, I think, is balancing multiple objectives at the same time. It's balancing social outcomes, including affordability. It's balancing economic imperatives that we have as a city as well. So again, I think some people might imagine that if we stopped growth on our city that all that development may be achieved within the established areas. I don't think that's really possible nor going to be true. We aren't growing in isolation of our region as well, and if we, for example, froze the new suburban development in our community, I think we'd imagine that a lot of that growth probably would go even further out to our aligned communities. And so I think we need to weigh the trade-offs of what that might look like.

KLASZUS: The recurring argument from developers is that new supply is needed to keep housing affordable in Calgary. And after developers pitched their projects at committee in June, Councillor Sonya Sharp moved to fast-track the removal of the Growth Management Overlay for these new communities.

COUNCILLOR SONYA SHARP: A lot of applicants have stuff actually sitting in the queue, can't get lifted until it has its council approval. We're getting in the way of business. I will say it. We are.

KLASZUS: We’re going to listen in to more of the debate from when this came to council in July. Here’s Councillor Andre Chabot, followed by Councillor Mian and Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra.

COUNCILLOR ANDRE CHABOT: We have some plans here that would allow us to grow very strategically to help to complete communities that we've already approved in part that will actually maximize on existing capital expenditures that the City has made, help us to recapture some of those investments more proactively than if we delay this further. So this is going to be a cost to us to not move forward proactively, at least on these five business cases.

COUNCILLOR MIAN: So on the one hand we have a development industry, I think, who sometimes is frustrated by this process. We have citizens who are concerned about climate and how these two things together, how growth and climate go together. I think that's an interesting conversation. And certainly, as we have our strategy out in front of us, I think that we have to think really clearly about how we're going to implement strategy. I don't think that coming in with a stick really hard and saying, "This is a process that you've been waiting for for a very long time. We're just going to say no," is not the right way to go about, I think, good climate strategy. I think we're going to really create some serious opposition in ways that I think are unfair to the ultimate strategy by not approving these communities, which is the best professional advice we've been given today.

COUNCILLOR GIAN-CARLO CARRA: I remain completely convinced that the work the committee did was good except for one fatal flaw, and that was to reverse the decision of making our decision at budget time. What that ultimately does is it sends the signal to the industry – and we're talking about a big industry, with lots and lots of dollars in play – that whatever process we set up will be politically gamed at the end of the day because that's the direction we will go and we will be led.

We really are a regulatory body, and council is as well, when it comes to how this city grows and builds.

Stuart Dalgleish,

General Manager of Planning, City of Calgary

'Business-friendly' decisions

KLASZUS: Okay, now let’s zoom out from these five specific communities to look at Gondek’s proposal of changing how new communities get approved. This is something she’d floated at committee in June.

GONDEK: This process of business cases being evaluated, recommendations being made, and then asking council to make political decisions, is actually not the smoothest path forward. Council gave direction through the Municipal Development Plan about where growth should happen, and I believe it is the responsibility of administration to have an evidence-based decision-making process that takes the politicians out of this process.

KLASZUS: The Municipal Development Plan was approved by council in 2009, and calls for growth to shift inward so that 50% of new growth happens in established neighbourhoods, and 50% happens on the outskirts. But that’s still just an ambition at this point.

Here’s how the city’s GM of planning, Stuart Dalgleish, responded to Gondek’s idea in June.

STUART DALGLEISH: We really are a regulatory body, and council is as well, when it comes to how this city grows and builds. They really are traditionally within the domain of council. And so I would say that this is a really important, I believe, not only jurisdictional area for council, but also where council can really make good decisions about the city that we're trying to build, the sustainable city that we want to be, and much of that comes through our developed and built and the directions that you provide.

KLASZUS: In July, Mayor Gondek voted against approving the five new communities. And once that vote was done, then the mayor reintroduced her idea of having administration and not council make these big decisions.

This business case process is incredibly flawed. It’s politicized.

Jyoti Gondek,

Mayor of Calgary

GONDEK: I don't believe that bringing business cases to council is a smart idea. It inherently makes it a political process. And I know there's people here who are fans of that. They like to weigh in, and they like to try to defend the growth that's happening in their ward.

But I can tell you this: What we end up doing is horse trading and debating with each other, and it is far from a business case. A business case is something that gets vetted for its merits based on clear criteria. So if that's what we're actually going to be doing instead of what's turned into, I think industry calls it a "beauty contest," if we don't want to go through that pain in the future, there's things we need to do to fix this.

KLASZUS: We’re going to listen in now to some of the debate that happened on Gondek’s proposal, starting with Councillor Kourtney Penner, followed by Councillor Carra and Councillor Sharp.

I think what we’re being asked to do is improve upon the processes in order to facilitate good, strategic, business-friendly decisions.

Kourtney Penner,

Ward 11 Councillor

COUNCILLOR KOURTNEY PENNER: I think what we're hearing... whether it is in established areas or whether it's in new areas, that what we're really trying to do is give certainty and predictability to those who are seeking to do business with the city. And we can call it removing red tape, we can call it about having less government, we can call it what we want. But I think what we're being asked to do is improve upon the processes in order to facilitate good, strategic, business-friendly decisions that work in tandem and in favour and in probably to some degree of compromise between our business community and between us as a government and between us as a municipality.

COUNCILLOR CARRA: The single biggest power that municipal governments have is in the control of what happens on the land. All of our power stems from that. And our society made the decision to create an elected group of officials who would oversee and interact with and govern a professionalized administration making these decisions. I hate how political this process is, but I want to warn you all that if you want to depoliticize an inherently political process, you are not going to depoliticize it – you are going to push the politics elsewhere, in weird and unforeseen ways.

COUNCILLOR SHARP: It could work if things were very clear. And I know that there is a lot of work done, and I appreciate the mayor bringing this forward, but the concern is that we're giving up the transparency to the process for both public and council. And I think we need to think about – here's my TSN turning point, is I actually agree with Councillor Carra... something like this is really putting a lot of pressure on administration, and I think we also put them in a really tough spot when we're making them decide on political decisions. And this is a political decision.

You are going to push the politics elsewhere, in weird and unforeseen ways.

Gian-Carlo Carra,

Ward 9 Councillor

KLASZUS: Now we’ll hear from Councillors Dan McLean, Peter Demong and Terry Wong.

COUNCILLOR DAN MCLEAN: I like this. I mean, this removes red tape, removes the GMO we've been hearing a lot of people want just reformed... We are still council, the gatekeepers, at budget time, for the pursestrings, so I don't think it gives all the power to administration.

COUNCILLOR PETER DEMONG: I've been here long enough to remember when we use to approve area structure plans that would be the gateway to development. We modified that to a formulaic GMO; then we took out the formulaic and took it to business cases. As much as it creates a very exciting couple or three days' meetings worth every couple of years, I would like to see if this new process could become forward as the founding process.

COUNCILLOR TERRY WONG: I do support this notion in general. And I think the thing that I would like to think is that we can make sure that this recommendation doesn't get approved as is, but rather gets approved bulletproofed – in other words, that there's not going to be any hiccups, failures, contradictions along the way.

KLASZUS: And this is what is slated to be fleshed out at council’s strategic meeting on September 20th. I wanted to find out more from Mayor Gondek. And I began our interview by asking her who is driving this.

This is really putting a lot of pressure on administration.

Sonya Sharp,

Ward 1 Councillor

An interview with Mayor Gondek

GONDEK: So what's interesting to me is I've been around this stuff since 2012 when I first got into Calgary Planning Commission. And I remember in those days there was a lot of conversation around off-site levies; there was conversations around – it was called "gates." Gates before you can move on in development. And it was Rollin Stanley at the time who was GM of planning, who came up with this idea of a Growth Management Overlay. And it was his contention that you should have this thing that exists that is a gate that will not be opened, or an overlay that won't be lifted, until you can prove out that it makes sense to grow there.

Great. Great principle. The problem is there's no criteria tied to it. It's a political decision to lift a GMO. And administration can come to us and give us their best perspective on what we need, but their position is generally rooted in, do we have enough supply of land, do we have enough supply of housing, is there existing infrastructure – all of these types of things. So it inherently becomes political even though they try to give us evidence-based decision-making.

What I tried to do in my first term on council was really push the needle on proving out what are the capital costs, what are the operating costs. Tell us how much you think it's going to take for this community to survive every year, or this area structure plan, whatever it happens to be. And so what I wanted was an understanding of how much will it cost for this community to be served. And there's ways to do that, by looking at how much it costs for existing communities to be serviced. So if you extrapolate from that and you add on any other costs of upgrades to infrastructure, anything else like that—additional distance you have to travel for transit—any of those things, you can have an operating costs model that you plug numbers into.

So my argument has been, for four and a half years and continues to be, this should be an administrative decision based on the merits of the business cases put before you. If the operating costs can be covered by property taxes, which is our only certain revenue stream, then tell us if you think this makes sense. If the capital costs can be covered either by willingness from council to invest those dollars or covered by members of industry, is it worth doing this? It also has to fit in with the Municipal Development Plan; it also has to fit in with a broader financial analysis. These are all things that it has to do.

When you call something a business case, it should be proving out that it makes sense from a dollars and cents perspective. So why would you bring a business case to a government body to make a decision? You've inherently politicized the process, and that's what I disagree with. I don't want to be a politician weighing in on where growth is when we have perfectly capable people in administration, with perfectly functioning formulas, that could tell us whether something makes sense or not.

It inherently becomes political even though they try to give us evidence-based decision-making.

Jyoti Gondek,

Mayor of Calgary

KLASZUS: But isn't that the job of council, of elected leaders, to make those decisions which are fraught? We could use the word "political"; we could use the word "loaded"; we could use the word "fraught." But they are heavy decisions. I think of the last council and the decision to approve 14 new communities on the city's outskirts above and beyond what admin had recommended. That council, yourself, took heat for that. And one councillor pointed out, when this was being debated, this is abdicating our responsibility as elected leaders. What's your response to that? Is it a way of preserving council from scrutiny—especially after approving the climate strategy?

GONDEK: So it was an interesting comment that was made to me that I was promoting abdication of responsibility, and I didn't care for that comment. I have never been one to step away from my responsibility. I have always been open and honest about why I make the decisions I make. I have never shied away from media interviews about why I've made the decisions I make. So to suggest that I would ever abdicate my responsibility is ludicrous. That comment, though, brings about a bigger question. When politicians think it's their responsibility to meddle with recommendations that are brought forward by the experts that we appointed to tell us what makes sense according to the policies we've set, then I would call that political interference.

So here's my struggle: We are policymakers. We are the ones that should put out the guidelines by which we wish to grow. Many years ago, before any of us who are presently on council, a decision was made for Calgary to be a unicity, basically meaning that we're not like the Lower Mainland or the Greater Toronto Area—we're not an assembly of municipalities. Someone in leadership at the time felt it made more sense to centralize administration and growth the city to certain boundaries so that it would be less expensive than each municipality trying to run its own administration, run its own transit system, garbage pickup, all of that stuff. So there is some merit to that. That does make sense, to be a unicity. But we continue to get caught up in these battles of, should we grow out to the boundaries that we've set, or should we focus on growing up in established areas, and densifying.

To suggest that I would ever abdicate my responsibility is ludicrous.

Jyoti Gondek,

Mayor of Calgary

Now, we've had some random successes. I'll use Livingston in Ward 3: If someone blindfolded you and plunked you in the middle of that community, you would never know it was on the north-central edge of town. It is dense. It is incredibly diverse in its housing mix. It's incredibly diverse in terms of population. It's got some good amenities. But it's isolated. It's not easy to connect to anything, because you have to get across Stoney Trail. The other big mistake that we made with Livingston – and I remember fighting this – we are hammering through six lanes on 144th right through the community. Why would you do that when Stoney Trail is 90 seconds away? So we make ridiculous transportation decisions, and it compromises community well-being. So sometimes we get it right, but a lot of time it's the ancillary stuff that we get wrong.

Now, do I believe that we should be growing in established areas? Absolutely I do. But our capital model doesn't allow us to do that. We literally have no stream to fund capital improvements that are needed to grow in established areas. Why has no one ever challenged that? So when I boil it down, here's what I think: We have given direction – and it exists – to do 50/50 growth, but we've never accomplished it, because politicians keep taking decision-making away from administration. If you've been given the guidance that "this is how we wish to grow," then you make the decision based on the policy we've already put forward.

KLASZUS: Yeah, that brings to mind, former councillor Druh Farrell would often point that council passes policies and then ignores them. So what happens to the politics then? And by that I mean you all have the same interests, the same industry pressures for growth. Right now that shows up, oftentimes, in lobbying members of council. So if this goes to admin to make these decisions, what happens there?

GONDEK: There's something else I would love to see, and I think it's important. So when I talk about the operating costs model and knowing that you're going to collect enough property tax to be able to support a community, here's my wild idea. I've talked to several people about it. This is not something that I dreamed up on my own. What if you were able to say, "Our best guess is that if you wish to develop this piece of land" – whether it's an area structure plan or a specific community inside of it – "we feel that you're going to need to generate X amount in property taxes? Now show us your best plan to generate that." I'm fairly confident that you would see more mixed-use communities. Why? Because the non-residential stuff is going to generate more property tax.

We would probably see better mixed-use communities if we gave a guideline that said, your development needs to generate this much in property taxes. Then we wouldn't be looking at residential communities alone. We'd be looking at a mixed-use project that makes sense. We would be looking for people's ability to have varying mobility options and to be able to live, work, and have recreation in the same place. So if you did that, and you made your approval for development contingent on the fact that "you must generate this much money," it's a better model, because then you know that you're not on the hook. You're not taking the risk as a municipality. The risk has been passed to the developer, who has said, "I believe I can do this, and any delta there is between what I'm generating in property tax and what you need, I will cover." That would probably blow the mind of a lot of people who are stuck in the way we've always done it, but that's going to get you success. Then everybody's sharing the risk.

And as far as our off-site levies go, why do we collect levies for water infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure? Why wouldn't you just say to the developer, those pipes need to be this size, and they need to be in the ground before you do your development? But it's this passing-around-money situation that I don't think we need to do.

KLASZUS: So under this scenario, if I'm hearing you right, you'd kind of be setting very stringent criteria on expectations. And is that where council would come in?

GONDEK: I think council would have to come in at this stage of, this is how we expect you to approve communities. You need to ensure that you can generate enough operating dollars, that there is a way to generate the capital dollars, and that this meets with the policy that we've set around how our city will grow. We would need to approve that. We'd need to see how they come up with the criteria. And then the decisions get plunked into a formula, and if the formula prompts out that, yes, this works, then it's an approval. It doesn't have to come to council if council approves the process by which those decisions get made administratively.

KLASZUS: So one of the things that seems a little bizarre about this, when I think about it, city council deals with some very specific land-use items that come before council – you know, should this parcel of land in Lakeview be rezoned as commercial, and that's discussed, and decisions are made. Under this, potentially you have entire communities being greenlit by administration without that council decision. Am I understanding this right under this idea?

GONDEK: If this idea applied only to greenfield communities and to new growth communities, then no, you wouldn't see a redevelopment scenario. But it is possible. I mean, on the redevelopment side, we had a motion arising put forward by one of my colleagues which some people think was tongue-in-cheek and others think was serious, but the point was made: why don't we just have a low-density district?

And take a little journey with me back in time. You remember when the G-word – the Guidebook – it was the intention of the Guidebook to create a low-density district at some point, when we redo the Land Use Bylaw, that would incorporate the single detached home, a duplex, maybe a rowhouse of three units, maybe a fourplex. But it would all be one land-use district. And that's pretty much what this cheeky motion arising was trying to do. If we did that, if we actually did what other major metropolitan centers have done, then we would alleviate the need to come to council every month with single zoning applications. So I think we've got two different things that we need to consider.

KLASZUS: You said "low-density" district. Isn't it a high-density district, or am I misunderstanding?

GONDEK: So in my opinion, four units on a parcel is not high density. That's just my opinion. And again, that was debated ad nauseam when we talked about the Guidebook, because people felt that their ability to have a single detached home was going to disappear. That wasn't the case. You could still do a single detached home. It's permissible. It might even be ideal. It just depends on the parcel.

And frankly, there are a lot of character homes, historic homes, in our city that no one wants to tear down. These are homes that people wish to buy if they ever came on the market. So I think the panic that we would suddenly tear down every single detached home is exactly that – it's panic. This would allow us to be streamlined, and frankly, it wouldn't waste the time of community associations every month, and it wouldn't waste administrative time. We could actually probably make better decisions more quickly.

We literally have no stream to fund capital improvements that are needed to grow in established areas.

Jyoti Gondek,

Mayor of Calgary

KLASZUS: Last question. The five new communities approved by council in July, you voted against those. Why?

GONDEK: I was very clear with administration that I felt they had been given direction by old council to stop this process of the beauty contest, to stop this process of coming to us to make political decisions. We had been very clear – I believe it was November of 2020 – in saying, build a model that allows you to assess operating cost and tell us which business cases make sense based on that kind of a model. Get rid of this GMO, politicized process by developing the tool that allows you to show this makes sense or doesn't. Show us the criteria.

And frankly, I think they did it. I mean, they did come to us with an operating cost model. But I don't believe they connected the dots between, we've now created a model that proves out whether we can afford this, so let's now get rid of the GMO because you've got a replacement tool. We've still got the politics involved in this, and that's a little frustrating to me.

I'm also frustrated that in November 2020, when we gave a very clear direction to say, "Start right-sizing roadways. Stop building massive lanes in residential communities," that work hasn't been done yet. We'd be saving a lot of money; we would be adding mobility options; you could bike more places; you could walk more places; it would be better for the environment. But the work hasn't gotten done. So there's things I'm frustrated about. Sometimes that frustration comes out in council. But those are the big moves that we need to be driving as a council.

KLASZUS: Well, thank you for your time and insight, Mayor Gondek. I appreciate it.

GONDEK: Thank you for everything you do. I appreciate your take on these things, whether we agree or not. It's always good to have good local sources for journalism.

Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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