The clash between Calgary city hall and the city's developers is a showdown between the city's highest elected office and a city consciousness deeply rooted in a suburban identity.
The match between the two camps reached a fevered pitch when mayor Naheed Nenshi suspended the Canadian Home Builders Association from city advisory committees after local president Charron Ungar in a speech said the city is under a “suburban development freeze.”
Although Nenshi has softened his original demands that Ungar publicly apologize or explain his remarks before the association be reinstated, the CHBA has yet to be invited back to the table, the Calgary Herald reports.
Ungar has not apologized and has unequivocally said he will not apologize.
But over the weekend, fiery alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart blamed the political fireworks on Rollin Stanley, City of Calgary General Manager of Planning, Development and Assessment.
In an op-ed published in The Calgary Sun, the suburban alderman backed Ungar's comments, saying in actions and words, Stanley has in fact put the city under a “suburban development freeze.”
"Rollin recently put industry on notice by saying that only two area structure plans submitted 'have a chance of getting started for at least 10 years,'" she wrote in the Sun.
"This absolutely has the affect of a “suburban development freeze” and one I take considerable exception to."
But who is Rollin Stanley and what's with his ability to inspire and muster support, while simultaneously fueling the kind of anger that makes public figures say private things in public?
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Stanley, the senior bureaucrat with the wavy locks and acumen for public speaking, has been described as ambitious, a visionary, flamboyant, provocative, effective, dynamic, controversial and flawed, by everyone from The Washington Post, to the Calgary Herald, and from the CBC to The Calgary Sun.
Stanley has nearly 35 years experience in planning and has been described as a "smart growth evangelist," a man driven to make cities more walkable, sustainable, environmentally friendly and centred around communal spaces.
Which may explain why he was brought in last year by a city administration in love with the idea of getting people out of their cars and bent on, if not curbing, certainly reducing urban sprawl.
He is known for pushing agendas that may not be immediately popular, but fiscally and environmentally necessary. Continuing to talk about his work in Maryland, Stanley recounts “I was showing them the tax benefit between a single family home, and a fifteen story condo on the same land. The yearly benefit of that condo is about $600,000 greater compared to the home. Then I showed them maps of all the water pipes needed to service those homes; in 25 years half of those have to be replaced. We can’t afford to do it. When all the tax bills start coming due for the suburbs, they’re not going to have the revenue to pay for the infrastructure. We have to raise density somewhere, as that’s the only way we’re going to raise income. The higher density areas come to subsidize the lower density areas.” For cities, this can be purely about tax revenue, but increased densities also means greater efficiencies in terms of heating, power, transportation, and other services. Put more succinctly, “fiscal sustainability ties into green sustainability.”
Those kinds of thought patterns resonate with many in Calgary's growing, and increasingly younger, population. But they also offend many who believe that much of Calgary's identity and the health of the city's solid construction industry depend on the continuation of business as usual at city hall.
“I think the other thing about Mr. Stanley is he’s not from Calgary, he doesn’t know us and for him to impose some of his conceptual theories and criticisms on our city, the way we’ve built our city and compare us to some of the American jurisdictions that he has worked in, I find that offensive,” Colley-Urquhart told Metro.
“I will continue to be one of his biggest challengers.”