The NIMBY issue

Has “not in my backyard” become Calgary’s unofficial slogan?

The cry “not in my backyard” has been heard in this city over many topics. From secondary suites to skateparks to special needs schools and even bottle depots, objections have arisen on projects both public and personal.

Having even spawned its own Twitter handle, Calgary’s long-running history of NIMBYism has seen residents object to special needs schools on the basis that they would lower property values, social housing based on an increase in population density and skateboard parks based on the “racket” created by budding Tony Hawks.

For those tasked with moving projects forward in the face of such criticism, it can be a delicate balance.

“Obviously there is NIMBYism in Calgary, as there is in every city. Whether or not there’s more, I don’t know,” said RESOLVE spokeswoman Amy Hurst.

 

Working alongside nine organizations such as Horizon Housing and the Calgary Homeless Foundation, RESOLVE is a one-time fundraising campaign designed to see Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness come to fruition.

In the process of meeting the organization’s long-term goal of build supported rental housing for 3,000 Calgarians by raising $120 million by 2018, Hurst said she has seen those who support such projects as well as those who oppose them.

“We’ve seen some really positive stories through some of our builds and some not so positive ones but we’ve received a lot of really good support from different communities in the city.”

“There are certain communities that wrap around these projects and are really excited about welcoming into their community, but it’s all going to depend on the community.”

Last year, a proposed affordable housing project in Wildwood was met with criticism from area residents who challenged that the 48-unit project would increase traffic, decrease safety and drive property values in the area downward.

“We believe affordable housing is required and important for the city of Calgary, but it needs to be done right,” stated a website started by Wildwood Citizens Coalition, a group opposed to the location of the project.

“The current proposal is not in the best interest of current Wildwood residents or potential future affordable housing residents. We believe that all citizens, regardless of their housing situation, deserve to live in safe environments and communities. The current proposal does not provide a safe environment.”

The project is currently in the planning stages, with another public hearing set for Sept. 14. Earlier this year, the city was forced to put the brakes on a proposed skatepark as a result of similar arguments from those in the community.

One of eight new parks proposed for communities around Calgary, the Edgemont Community Association withdrew their application for a park after more than 500 residents signed a petition opposing the project.

Perhaps Calgary’s longest-running example of NIMBYism impacting development is the city’s ongoing debate on secondary suites. Dating back to Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s first campaign, when he made citywide acceptance of the suites a priority, the issue has been met with endless controversy.

With city zoning laws requiring many seeking to build secondary suites to go through a public hearing at council, many Calgarians have seen their requests shot down based largely on the opinions of those living in the community.

With many of the complaints citing the same issues of increasing traffic, altering the “fabric of the neighbourhood and declining property values that arise in many NIMBY debates, approval of the suites has been an unpredictable process.

Countering many of the arguments made by those opposed to the suites is a report issued by Martin Brown and Taylor Watkins. Entitled Understanding and Appraising Properties with Accessory Dwelling Units, the report deals with some of the same criticism leveled at secondary suites in Calgary.

For what it’s worth, Brown – a researcher with a background in statistics and owner of a home containing a secondary suite – said that while unpermitted suites can be substandard and unsafe, the fears surrounding approved suites have little or no statistical basis.

“The things you mention are the typical fears about what will happen when a city starts allowing [secondary suites], but so far, there is zero evidence that the typical fears are playing out. For example, people might be relieved to realize that on a purely mathematical basis, it is hard for [secondary suites] ADUs to affect parking.”

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