09/20/2013 03:49 EDT | Updated 11/19/2013 05:12 EST

Community Consultation Must be Addressed in October Elections

Many issues will come up when the civic elections happen in October. One important issue that should take a seat front and centre in the campaigns is whether the City cares about public engagement when it comes to new developments that are due to appear right next door to your home.

If the cases of the Stadium Centre and Shawnee-Evergreen developments are of any indication, Calgarians should expect a rude awakening when plans are put in place to reshape communities.

University Heights is a community many Calgarian's pass through on any given day. To reach Banff, you have to pass through University Heights. If you attend the University of Calgary, or want to see the Stampeders play, you have traveled through the community.

The 60,000 square foot shopping centre in question was built in the 1960's, and the community is adamant that the property must be rebuilt. However, the property is being turned into 790,000 square feet of office, retail, residential, and medical buildings on six acres of land. The size, according to the community is too much for the community to handle at that small spot.

The new development is not the only construction planned and ongoing in the area. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre at Foothills Hospital is getting rebuilt, new residences are being built at the University of Calgary, and the Foothills Fieldhouse, an indoor multi-sport centre is being constructed, all within close proximity to the shopping centre.

According to Peter Khu, president of the University Heights Community Association the community, "already has a traffic problem" that will get worse when this new development is built, along with all of the new structures. A plan to extend 16th Ave to a six lane road has not eased the concerns of a community that believes they were shut out from any collaboration.

The problem Khu, and others in the community had with the development wasn't just the size of the project, or the traffic concerns, the main issue was the lack of collaboration given by the developer and the city.

Plan It Calgary is an integral part of Calgary's future. The visionary plan was enacted in response to the projected population increase that will see new Calgarians entering Cowtown looking for opportunity underneath the mountainous ranges that paints a city full of opportunity and stability. The plan brought together professionals, and regular Calgarian's to map out a future where their children prosper. According to the community, one integral part of the Municipal Development Plan is the importance of community engagement in mapping future development.

Section 2.3.7 of the MDP states, "All Calgarians should be provided with opportunities to participate in shaping the future of their community... and collaborative neighbourhood planning processes." That engagement, and collaborative strategy, according to the community was nonexistent.

In a letter to city council, the UHCA accused Western Securities of presenting an Area Redevelopment Plan that "fails to meet these substantive and procedural planning principles." The community association added, "to date the ARP process has been conducted at an unreasonably accelerated pace and has not been responsive to the concerns and suggestions of University Heights."

Residents of Shawnee-Evergreen can feel University Heights' pain. The three-year fight over a community staple came to an end in February. City Council approved a plan by Geo-Energy to rebuild Shawnee-Slopes (golf course) into a residential and commercial community. Just like those who live in University Heights, residents of Shawnee-Evergreen believe the developer and the city failed to adequately consult with the community before the high density project was approved.

In an interview I did with Ward 13 alderman Dianne Colley Urquhart, the veteran of city hall claimed, "Everything got off on the wrong foot." Colley-Urquhart added the developer, "came to that meeting and basically told the crowd what they were going to do."

An email sent by then SECA President Gloria Dingwall to city planner Darren Todd accused Geo-Energy of demonstrating, " interest to discuss the community's unprecedented design materials, even as a basis for discussing what is important to the community." That discussion, according to the community was about telling the citizens what was going to happen, and how the development was going to be built.

Ray Clark, the former alderman, and Geo-Energy spokesman claimed, "Geo-Energy always believed that it was important to have meaningful community engagement." In a letter to lawyers, Clark accused the community was unwilling to communicate their ideas, and engage the developer. Those accusations made for a tense relationship that got worse when Geo-Energy copyrighted communications from the developer to the city, an action that shocked Ald. Colley-Urquhart.

"In my thirteen years (the copyrighting) is practically unheard of. I've never seen a developer, or a builder, do that sort of thing."

A treasurer for the Shawnee-Evergreen Community Association filed a FOIP request to obtain that information, Peter Snell told me he, "just wanted to see all the documentation through the city from the developer without restriction." Snell reacted to the obstruction by saying, "The city administration is obviously slanted towards the developer." I even made a FOIP request, and did not receive the documents I requested.

The concerns of these communities, in their eyes have been ignored. Developments they did not want will soon be a bitter reality. Mayor Naheed Nenshi wants Calgarians to sign a pledge to vote, and be involved with the governance of the city. But if the mayor wants civic engagement, he must lead by example, and make sure communities believe they are involved.

One University Heights resident made a strong allegation that screams anger. In a phone interview I did with John Rowse the vocal opponent suggested, "(City Council) have not looked at the Municipal Development Plan, or they have and just don't care."

Residents of these communities are angry, they believe city council is on the side of developers, not the communities. Rowse believes community development should wake up Calgarians.

"(If citizens don't pay attention) the status quo will maintain, and communities will find they won't get what they want."