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Calgary Mayor Nenshi picks a fight with developers

This is interesting

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is reprimanding the top Calgary home builders group for speaking out against the city’s planning department.

In a letter sent Thursday, Nenshi informed the Calgary branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association that its members are sidelined from city advisory committees — until its president recants statements he made to an industry dinner last month.

The advisory work includes cutting red tape and reforming the entire planning department.

Nenshi told the Herald the city would continue to work with the development industry and home builders, but it “will find our representatives from the home building industry elsewhere” until they clarify comments the mayor contends contain “misleading and inaccurate information.”

Nenshi is taking issue with a speech made by Charron Ungar at the CHBA’s Jan. 9 economic forecast dinner, which was attended by Premier Alison Redford.

Ungar was critical of the city’s planning and accused the city of freezing surburban development in favour of increasing density in existing communities.

“Currently, there exists a significant (divide) between city hall and our industry on this issue of how we are going to grow,” the Herald reported Ungar saying at the meeting.

Ungar, an executive with a major homebuilder, called the city’s plan to balance growth by increasing density in existing communities “essentially a suburban development freeze.”

He told the group increasing density in existing communities shouldn’t be done “at the expense of suburban growth. Ensuring proper and adequate housing in all areas of our city should be our main focus – and not a byline of a grand experiment in planning.”

Nenshi said Ungar’s comments to colleagues contradict what CHBA has been saying directly to the city.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, we disagree with one another all the time, but we need to do so in a respectful, thoughtful way,” Nenshi said in an interview.

The mayor also says that Calgary “is up to pre-recession year levels in housing starts.”

Although the group president made passing reference to Nenshi’s past comments about “crap” development applications, the mayor says his reprimand isn’t about a personal grudge.

The CHBA is an influential organization whose members build the houses and condos of Calgary’s suburbia, and also redevelop existing neighbourhoods. They’re a top lobbying force in the city, and its home-builder members are among the top civic campaign finance donors.

If you let the market decide how to build homes, they will build for profit.  One of the roles of a city planning development is to take in considerations on how the development will impact the city and those that live in it.  Most cities abdicate that role because they don’t like fights like this with developers.  It’s a gutsy stand to take, especially with an election next year.  That being said I think it is the only stand a mayor can take here.  Calgary suburb lots are being sold at a lifetime lost.  The city isn’t making back the money needed to install and maintain the sprawling sewers, roads, and other infrastructure during the lots life which means that Calgary is subsidizing quite heavily each and every new suburban lot in Calgary.  That is a path that has taken many American and especially Californian cities to bankruptcy.

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