It is hard to tell which does more damage to Calgary’s business environment; city council’s indecision when it comes to zoning decisions or when city council actually makes a decision on something and intervenes in projects. They both are damaging in general.
There clearly is a great deal of money to be made in generating studies and reports while our cowardly city council tries their hardest to avoid making a simple decision on anything. Despite pretty clear evidence that a bike share program in Calgary is totally unviable and likely would turn into a terribly expensive taxpayer boondoggle, our council of cowards has turned away from completely shelving the program. $24,000 has been wasted on one biased bike-share study and our council has decided to throw more good money after bad in order to study the issue further.
Last year I went to a meeting at my community association where an exasperated lawyer was trying to build his case to get the city to give him the green light to build a small office complex on Center street near 41 ave. He had bought some houses there under the assurances that he would have no trouble in getting his offices approved and he would be able to construct and move into his new facility. This was not to be so and the poor man was jerked around by the city system for a couple years. He has since put all those houses up for sale and one can see the line of realtor signs on Center north of the Tim Hortons there.
You see, there is an element of the hard left who have this long-term utopia in mind where Calgary would have LRT access to all portions of the city and that includes a proposal to run a train right up Center street. While there is no official plan on the books for this extension and certainly there is no money to build it, there are some members of city council who want to see this happen. What is happening now is that they are stalling all development on Centre Street North as they know that new development on Centre would hinder plans and expropriation of property should the city decide in a decade or so to put a line there. This is similar to the provincial legislation that essentially seizes and devalues private property in anticipation of expropriation rather than just buying it.
The outcome of this unofficial policy on Centre Street North is stark, ugly and obvious. Houses are run down and worthless as owners will not put in any dollars to maintain a place that they expect to be expropriated. Crack houses, massage parlours and general slums are blossoming along this stretch of zoning uncertainty and things will only get worse. Who in their right mind would buy property on Centre right now?
I can’t imagine how much that poor lawyer lost in his attempt to develop something nice and new in good faith. He still hasnt managed to sell those dumps that he purchased.
The impact spreads beyond Centre as well. We have seen a marked increase in general crime and vandalism in our neighborhood as the unsavory element drawn to the run-down houses walks to neighboring communities in hopes of stealing something for their next fix. This devalues houses for blocks around Centre and it is soley due to instability and indecision on the part of our ineffective city council.
Not simply content to meddle with development through their inaction though, our city council is now looking to stop development through direct action. Council decided yesterday to study (surprise surprise) an idea to purchase 19 hectares of land along Highway 1 in order to stop potential development of retail business. This is getting outright insane people. This is not some rare natural area and it is not an area lacking in open space. Have a look at the picture below to see the massive volume of undeveloped and protected space already set aside in that area.
What we have in city hall these days is an almost religious-like fervour against the concept of what some pejoratively call “sprawl”. This anti-business gang will stop at nothing to try and hinder city growth and this idiotic notion of buying land to stop retail development is a clear indicator of it.
Lets assume that the city wastes millions and millions of our dollars to buy this land in a gross dispay of market intervention. What will the consequences be? Well, our reputation as a good place to do business will sink further as instability in zoning is assured and the anti-development attitude of our council is more clearly exposed. The retail businesses that were considering that site will not simply vanish. What will be more likely to happen is that a larger new retail center will simply be developed farther West this causing people to commute even farther for their purchases. How green. Residential development will push even farther as it chases retail services and the dreaded “sprawl” will have expanded more.
Get real you fools! Calgary is a thriving and growing city. We are blessed with the open space surrounding us that allows us to grow and build good neighborhoods for our families. To those who really want to see the outcome of high density planning may I suggest a trip to Manhattan. There you will see obscenely expensive real-estate values due to lack of supply. That leads in turn of course to neighboring slums and ghettos that are totally unimaginable in cities like Calgary. Homeless and crime levels in densely packed cities are worlds worse than ours and much of the reason is density.
People are welcome to pursue whatever unrealistic utopia they like I guess. What is concerning though is that these blinded idealists have found their way onto city council.
Airdrie, Okotoks, Cochrane and Strathmore will continue to thrive and people will continue to develop outwards to avoid the congestion and discomfort that anti-“sprawl” measures will bring about. We will continue to grow as a city but our development will be an odd hybrid of sattelite cities and a dysfunctional downtown crowded with discarded rental bikes and empty busses.
Please Calgary can we elect a city council with a grain of common sense in 2013? We really need to break the trend.