Today is a very, very good day: The City of Calgary and Sofina Foods have jointly announced an agreement to move the Lilydale chicken abattoir from Ramsay to a new state of the art facility in Calgary’s industrial south-east. This announcement comes after years of hard work and collaboration between my office and the community.
It’s proof that big picture-thinking has practical, tangible results on the ground in the improvement of neighbourhood life. I know when I go on about Great Neighbourhoods, some people feel like I’m too strategic and not tactical enough in my thinking. But I believe we need a big picture goal to get the tactical work done. I also believe that Great Neighbourhoods is all about creating win-win-win situations for communities, the City and industry – like today’s announcement – which would also be impossible without a big picture.
Lilydale has been, for some time, a thorn in Ramsay’s side. The last remaining vestige of the stockyards businesses that provided the original impetus for housing nearby, Lilydale is today a living fossil; the largest chicken abattoir in Alberta in an archaic, massive, inefficient plant (Lilydale is the City of Calgary’s largest private water user) sitting in a densifying inner-city neighbourhood. Make no mistake, while I’m a warrior for mixed-use environments, the placement of heavy industry next to people’s homes is precisely why we began the project of zoning in the first place - separating incompatible uses still and always has, made sense.
Added to this basic incompatibility was a revolving door of corporate ownership that for years pushed for more and more output with less and less investment in, and oversight of, Lilydale and its relationship with its neighbours. As a close neighbour in Inglewood, I was well aware of Ramsay’s chicken factory issue. When I was first elected, I made redressing this problem a major objective. In my first two years on Council, I brought City staff together with community members on a regular basis searching for a tactical win against the stinky, ammonia-leaking, chicken-part scattering factory in their midst. We studied the complicated history of its regulatory grandfathering, we explored the lack of coordination between different City departments in their responses to the various problems the factory created for the surrounding neighbours (parking, transportation, community standards, building code and emergency response), and we prepared a “carrot and stick” approach to remediating immediate problems while developing an ultimate plan for promoting relocation.
Tactically, the situation appeared as bleak to me as it had to my predecessor, Joe Ceci, and the efforts he expended trying to find a solution. While the community took on the role of “bad cop,’ wielding the stick of private legal action against the corporate owners (thanks to the support of EcoJustice), and while Sofina Foods Inc. took over the factory and proved to be a much more responsible and involved owner, I switched gears and focused more on ensuring a City-shaping mission for the SETWAY and then Green Line projects. In the end, it was the Green Line that created both the physical need to relocate Lilydale, as well as the economic rationale for making that move viable for all parties.
So on this very, very good day, we have, thanks to the hard work of the community with the carrot and stick, and thanks to Sofina Foods Inc., a much-improved neighbour in Lilydale. Thanks to the Green Line and its focus on a Great Neighbourhoods city-shaping mission, we have a win-win-win agreement to move Lilydale and its jobs and its tax-base to a much more appropriate place in Calgary, while acquiring its site for both the Green Line and for much needed and desired transit oriented development.
I’m very, very pleased.