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Construction underway in downtown Calgary on April 9.Louis Oliver/The Globe and Mail

Calgary’s city council is bracing for what is expected to be the largest public hearing in its history, a marathon meeting starting Monday that could stretch seven days and involve hundreds of people speaking against a proposal that would permit rowhouses and townhomes across the city.

If the proposed blanket rezoning fails, the city’s access to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, including money from Ottawa’s Housing Accelerator Fund, could be at risk.

The rezoning measure would allow rowhouses and townhomes in areas now zoned exclusively for single-detached homes. The measure is intended to create more housing supply in the city, which is grappling with an exploding population, affordability concerns and urban decline.

Under the proposal, the new housing units would be required to have front doors at street level, meaning the changes would not loosen existing zoning rules for condo buildings or rental apartment complexes.

The city already permits townhouses and rowhouses in newer communities established over roughly the past decade, and on a case-by-case basis in neighbourhoods zoned for single-detached buildings.

The rezoning debate has become a fierce political fight with national implications. On April 10, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith introduced a bill aimed at stopping municipalities and the federal government from bypassing the province to strike direct funding deals. Ms. Smith said she did this in large part because Ottawa is using the power of the purse to get cities to rewrite their zoning bylaws.

In November, Calgary was awarded a $228-million grant from the Housing Accelerator Fund. The program is designed to increase the number of homes in a city by reducing barriers to building them.

In order to access money from the fund, municipalities must meet federal targets for increasing the supply of housing. When Calgary applied for the money, it proposed the blanket rezoning plan as one possible way of doing that.

The city has already received the first tranche of its grant, but if rezoning is off the table, it will have to rely more heavily on other measures.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said heated opposition to the bylaw amendment stems in part from a communication breakdown.

“There’s been some misperceptions and some miscommunication,” she said in an interview on Friday. “The city is not going to come in overnight and be tearing down homes and putting up something new.”

More than 650 people have signed up to speak at the public hearing, scheduled to start Monday, according to the city’s tally on Thursday. The city has said this is the largest number of any hearing on record. Ms. Gondek estimated that it will take around a week to listen to those submissions.

Calgary had also received 5,515 written submissions about the proposal by Thursday. The vast majority of those comments are against rezoning. Residents have expressed concern that their neighbourhoods will change, that parking will become scarce and that the change will not solve the city’s housing crunch.

Ms. Gondek said any changes resulting from rezoning will be incremental.

She also argued that the change would give property owners more control over what can be built on their land, while at the same time giving neighbours more input. Under the proposal, she said, the public would be able to weigh in on townhouse and rowhouse projects in the development permit stage, giving people more access to information than they have now.

In Calgary, 67 per cent of residential land parcels are restricted to single-detached homes, while 20 per cent allow for single or semi-detached homes and 13 per cent permit more than three housing units, according to data released by the city.

In 2014, Calgary started allowing denser housing, such as semi-detached houses and rowhouses, in areas zoned for detached homes, as long as city council gave its blessing through a land use amendment. City documents say the council ruled on 290 such applications between October, 2014, and May, 2023. Local politicians approved 273, or 94 per cent, of those applications.

Supporters of the blanket rezoning proposal argue the citywide shift would amount to cutting red tape, considering the rate of approval for land use amendment applications. The change, according to the city, would shave four to eight months off housing development timelines.

Calgary Councillor Dan McLean estimates that he has voted in favour of about 80 per cent of the individual rezoning applications that have come before city council since he was elected in 2021. But he said he remains nervous about the blanket proposal because of the widespread backlash.

“The people feel that they haven’t had their say on it,” he said. “They don’t like it.”

The city, he said, should slow down, consider tweaks to the proposal and give people more time to get on board.

Mr. McLean said it is unclear whether Calgary would be at risk of losing federal funding if it rejected the zoning change. But he said he is unbothered by the possibility.

“That’s bribery,” Mr. McLean added. “If some of it has to go back, or all of this has to go back, fine.”

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