News / Calgary

Calgary's suburban growing pains a sore spot for some councillors

As the city grapples with how it will work out its New Community Growth Strategy for the next budget cycle, tensions between Calgary's councillors emerge.

Housing in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta.

Metro File

Housing in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta.

As it turns out, how to build a city is a complicated discussion for Calgary's city councillors.

On Thursday, administration asked the Priorities and Finance committee for permission to maintain the current approach to how Calgary invests in new communities, while asking for more cash to help the city keep up with its growth. But this move will mean taxpayers will continue to help fund the high cost of operational costs in new communities through property taxes.

BILD Calgary Region, a developer industry group, proposed allowing developers to chip in private funding outside of the city's budgeting process to help keep up with services, a motion that was added to the committee's final ask.

Everything on the floor passed, but not without some philosophical discussions.

There are currently 27 actively developing communities that need various funding for both capital and operating costs. In April the city will present on the criteria to determine what new neighbourhood projects it takes on with a final decision in June.

As the mayor explained in people speak, the city used to subsidize new growth in the suburbs. A couple of years ago the city shifted its support and got rid of that developer cash on the capital side – but operationally, getting buses and fire service to new communities, is still being funded by taxpayer dollars.

"New neighbourhoods now by and large pay for their growth in terms of physical things we need to build, like roads, bridges," said Nenshi. "When you have a new neighbourhood you need to have firefighters, you need to have buses, so until that neighbourhood is built out, the taxes they pay don't cover those costs."

The "how" in how the city should pay for those services is a point of contention for councillors.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she fears the city is losing residents to Rocky View County because they have the housing product people want. She said the city's made mistakes together with planners and developers, in creating "single use communities" and those mistakes need to be fixed.

"I think calling it a chosen lifestyle is a little bit broad, it's an economic choice for many people (to live in the suburbs)," said Gondek. "We owe it to a lot of folks in those neighbourhoods ... to complete those communities properly."

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said because of the city's urban, suburban and rural landscapes there's a challenge. He said the city can't restrict its growth because there's not enough infrastructure to accommodate the city's new residents in the built environment. But he wants to set up the city to accommodate more people in better established areas.

"When our fire department responds to fire calls in wards 7,8 and 9, the cost per call is a fraction of what the cost is in, like, Ward 14," said Carra. "Yet the people who pay taxes in Ward 14 pay less for more, and the people in the inner city pay more for less."

Nenshi suggested the discussion on the floor had less to do with the item at hand, and more to do with councillors needing to have their voices heard.

"It points to other cleavages, ideologically, within the council," said Nenshi. "Not necessarily inner-city versus suburban. That said, I'm pretty satisfied that by the end of this council will come up with a solution everyone will be happy with."

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