Community Associations & Urban Development

Recently a former neighbour who moved to Sunnyside shared with me a copy of the Feb 2017 Hillhurst Sunnyside Voice (community bulletin) thinking I would be interested to see all of the new development projects in the community. 

Indeed I was!
  One of the many sites in Hillhurst/Sunnyside that is a potential new development site. 

One of the many sites in Hillhurst/Sunnyside that is a potential new development site. 

I was surprised to see a two page spread with summaries of five major projects at various states of development:

  • Royal Bank, 413, 10th St NW
  • Former CBC site, 1724 Westmont Blvd NW
  • Russell Red “Glo” Project, 916 – 926 2nd Ave NW
  • Sunnyside Grocery, 802, 2nd Ave NW
  • Truman Condo, 922, 926, 928 Memorial Dr.

This got me to wondering! How does the Hillhurst Sunnyside Planning Committee must be spending with developers, City and community to gather information, listen to presentations, discussing how City policies and plans are being followed, understanding the short and long-term the community-at-large implications and then respond to the application.

Then I thought - this is just one community!  What about all the other inner city communities where new infill projects are routinely being proposed.  Do they all have Planning Committees and how do they find qualified volunteers who are willing and able to spend the time to do all of this volunteer work?

Having served on the City of Calgary’s Planning Commission for two years I know first hand how hard it is to understand all of the City’s plans, policies and zoning regulations, as well as how detailed the development application documents can be. 

A quick check of the Hillhurst Sunnyside website revealed they have full-time staff member to help with urban planning issues and communications.  Hmmm…now I am wondered how many other communities have a paid urban planning position?

So I checked with Lisa Chong, Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Urban Planning Coordinator since 2013 to learn more about what she and the volunteer Planning Committee do.

  Everyone has a different idea of what is important to them and the future of their community.

Everyone has a different idea of what is important to them and the future of their community.

Q&A with Chong

What is the role of the Hillhurst/Sunnyside’s Planning Coordinator?

I coordinate all the community’s education and engagement activities with respect to planning issues – infill developments, heritage, safety, public spaces and public realm.  This includes not only coordinating Planning Committee meetings, but numerous guest presentations to the community on development and other issues. I also spend significant time on planning communication by way of community newsletters - Voice, monthly e-newsletters and social media posts.

We also do our best to engage with the community and make sure their feedback is discussed and incorporated into our formal feedback to developers and the City of Calgary.

  The new Ezra condo on 5th Avenue next to the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community centre was opposed by some community members. 

The new Ezra condo on 5th Avenue next to the Hillhurst/Sunnyside community centre was opposed by some community members. 

How many people are on the Hillhurst/Sunnyside Planning Committee? 

Approximately 16. But people come and go depending on their interest and what is on the agenda. At one time I had 60+ people on the email list. Typically, we have about 10 members at each meeting and anywhere from 2 to 50 interested guests. At max, we’ve had 65 people attend one of our guest presentations.

We also have folks we consider community leaders who we ask for input on specific issues.  In addition there are volunteers who help with the distribution of leaflets to households immediately adjacent to proposed developments.

  The approval of St. Johns on Tenth condo was delayed for several years to meet the community and neighbours' concerns before approval was granted.

The approval of St. Johns on Tenth condo was delayed for several years to meet the community and neighbours' concerns before approval was granted.

Can you share with me the qualifications of committee members?

Members are not required to have specific qualifications but are required to keep up with planning education (Federation of Calgary Communities’ “Partners in Planning” courses, newsletters and other forms of communication).

Some are long-time residents others have lived in Hillhurst Sunnyside for a few years. We have a mix of homeowners and renters and from single-family homes and condos, with ages ranging from 30s to 60s.

The planning committee team draws from a pool of members with professional in  architecture, planning, engineering, development, heritage, local business, law, oil and gas, arts, education and entrepreneurial.

As this is just one of 151 community associations in Calgary,  I wondered what does the citywide picture look like.  I contacted the Federation of Calgary Communities (FCC). Turns out the FCC has two full-time urban planners on staff to help community associations with planning issues and to coordinate education programs. 

Carrie Yap one of the FCC planners was more than pleased to answer my questions.

  This fun house now has a development sign on the front yard. 

This fun house now has a development sign on the front yard. 

How many CA’s have standing planning committees?

There are approximately 95 communities with standing planning committees that actively participate in the planning process. Participation in the planning process is different with each community association depending on their capacity and the magnitude and controversy of developments in their community.

She confirmed Hillhurst Sunnyside is the only Community Association with a full-time Planning Coordinator.

  The old CBC site on Memorial Drive NW is slated to become a major residential development. 

The old CBC site on Memorial Drive NW is slated to become a major residential development. 

How many volunteer hours are contributed each year by Planning Committee members?

We estimate the 95 Planning Committees members contribute a total of about 12,000 to 15,000 hours of per year performing the following tasks:

  • Reviewing development applications,
  • Preparing formal responses back to the city,
  • Researching applicable policies, meeting with developers or builders,
  • Attending engagement sessions on local or city wide projects,
  • Getting acquainted with new policy or land uses
  • Notifying neighbours or residents of new developments
  • Hosting engagement sessions or open houses for residents
  • Writing articles for the community newsletters, website, or social media 
  • Building relationships with their Councilor and Project file managers
  • Attending Council or City of Calgary Committee meetings
  • Attending and preparing for appeal boards
  • Being a community representative on external committees
  • Leading community-planning exercises.  
  • Educating themselves on the planning process through Federation courses

I don’t know about you but I am intimidated and exhausted after reading this list.  No wonder many CA Board and Committee members suffer from volunteer fatigue.

Note: I misinterpreted the original information I received from Carrie Yap as 12,000 to 15,000 volunteer hours per Planning Committee vs the number being the total of all 95 Planning Committee members.  Unfortunately this misinformation was published online by the Calgary Herald.  I am now thinking this number is conservative given what I know about how much time it takes to do all of the above activities. 
  Truman Homes placed with Sounding Board in the Legion Parking lot on Kensington Rd NW so anyone walking by could leave comments. Information on the proposed development was located on the other side. 

Truman Homes placed with Sounding Board in the Legion Parking lot on Kensington Rd NW so anyone walking by could leave comments. Information on the proposed development was located on the other side. 

How many project per year are reviewed each year? Which communities are the busiest?

The Federation does not track how many projects per year are reviewed by each community. However, we have seen a direct correlation between policies the City is working on and a community’s lifecycle with how active a community is with planning issues.

The busiest planning committees are the ones dealing major redevelopment projects or major City of Calgary planning initiatives like the Main Streets Initiative and Green Line Corridor.

Based on the information on the city website, for the month of January 2018, alone 467 applications (development permit, land use amendments, or subdivision applications) were circulated to our community associations.

Leslie Evans, Executive Director of the Federation of Calgary Communities thinks, “Planning committees and community associations are one of Calgary’s hidden gems. They are the people that help build community character, advocate for your neighbourhood needs and they do it without any recognition but simply because they love their community and this city.

  Proposed redesignation signs like this are popping up more frequently in Caglary's inner city communities. 

Proposed redesignation signs like this are popping up more frequently in Caglary's inner city communities. 

Last Word

In reality not all Community Association Planning Committees are created equal. Not all have broad representation from their community like Hillhurst/Sunnyside.  In some cases the membership on the Planning Committee doesn't represent the diversity of opinions with respect to development of the entire community.  While many of the members of the 95 Planning Committees are educated professionals, few are fully versed on the complexities of City's overall planning policies and how they impact their community. 

Former City Councillor, Brian Pincott says "while some Community Association Planning Committees are very well managed and representative of the community, in some cases it is whoever shows up." 

With that being said, a follow up blog will examine the experience Pincott and others have had in working with Community Associations positively and negatively.

If you like this blog, you might like these links: 

Urban Planning Is Not A Science

Group Think or Good Urban Planning

Urban Planning: The Power Of Observation