Brookman: Taxpayers feel ignored as council moves to beat of own drum

The voices of the community must be heard by the people elected to represent them

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Back when those bumbling Baby Boomers were running the show, when glass bottles were recycled by reusing them, when groceries came in paper bags and we got rid of fluorocarbons and leaded gasoline, there was something called the “sunshine rules.” Buildings such as Calgary’s beautiful First Canadian Centre and the Eau Claire condos were designed with serious consideration that their height could block sunlight on the Bow River.

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Baby Boomers didn’t just care about the environment, they also cared about their neighbours and communities. The Welcome Wagon had people who visited newcomers and people were members of community associations, local churches or clubs such as the Lions, Kiwanis or Rotary, which led the way in developing community halls, swimming pools and playgrounds.

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It’s important because our world is changing in many ways, and while change is good, it can also be confusing. A woman called me to discuss council’s plan to remove zoning in our city. She said she and her neighbour had lived side by side for 40 years, enjoying their gardens and yards together. The houses across their alley were demolished and replaced by a six-storey apartment building that virtually eliminated sunlight and the privacy of their gardens.

During the past few weeks, I have been invited to three gatherings where people were angry over the changes proposed to their established neighbourhoods. The most common expression I heard is, “If our own councillor won’t stand up for us, who can we speak to?” People are worried about homes being demolished in their communities and their taxes, and are shocked by utility bills. There is a general feeling of, “What is going on here?”

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City council must pause and take a step back to review their initiatives. The idea that every corner of every older neighbourhood should be converted to a three- or four-plex dwelling without careful review is just not right.

The voices of the community must be heard by the people elected to represent them. There is concern about the removal of zoning, but over and above that, there is a feeling that city hall is not listening and that many councillors are determined to move in a certain direction no matter the objections. Some new projects fit beautifully into neighbourhoods but, in other cases, carefully maintained and lovely old houses find themselves with next-door buildings that do not fit.

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The cost of the Green Line LRT project is another topic constantly raised. People are worried that the budget for this is out of control and the recent demolition of the former Hard Rock Café, the proposed demolition of Eau Claire Market as well as former condominiums in that area have raised people’s awareness that the Green Line funds are being spent fast and furiously.

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I often ask people where they think the Green Line will run, and inevitably some will say, “From the airport to the South Health Campus,” yet that is not the fact. Here we have Calgary taxpayers investing multibillions of dollars, yet too few know what they are getting.

No one would run their household like that, and this council needs to clarify and explain.

All over Calgary, we see small businesses with street parking blocked in front of them or roads torn up with confusing signage — or worse, we see retailers with bike lanes in front of their stores so their customers must park blocks away.

No one thinks there is an underlying maliciousness to any of this. People simply do not understand why their communities are being torn up or why their tax dollars are being spent so fast. Worse is the fact that pleas and protestations by the public are largely ignored.

Government by decree is not the Canadian way. Council must open the doors and let the sunshine in.

George Brookman is chair and company ambassador of West Canadian Digital.

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