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Development significant topic for Canmore candidates

Development is a polarizing issue in all communities, but the Three Sisters Mountain Village area structure plans highlighted its priority in the community as election candidates weigh in on the path forward for affordable development.
20210514 Spring Creek Construction 0071
A construction worker works on the foundation for the Jack Pine Lodge building in Spring Creek on Friday (May 14). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – Development in every community is a polarizing discussion.

While some people focus on prioritizing a specific type of development and others are fearful of change, some worry about environmental impacts and some look forward to the types of growth that can take place in a community.

Though each community is unique in its own way and housing issues may seem relevant only to their corner of the country, Canada – like much of the world – is experiencing a worrisome supply shortage in homes that have led to a significant increase in costs.

As the Oct. 18 municipal election nears, the issue of affordability and housing remains a priority for residents.

At a municipal level, communities are largely hamstrung by provincial legislation, which can handcuff towns and cities that are seeking to prioritize certain type of housing, specifically more affordable units.

In Canmore, the Three Sisters Mountain Village area structure plans had an overwhelming response from residents, largely in opposition of the plans, before it was voted down by council.

Though amendments to the Three Sisters Village ASP would’ve seen 20 per cent of the housing constructed added to the Canmore Community Housing (CCH) inventory, it was deemed not the right fit for the community, but is before the province’s Land and Property Rights Tribunal.

The question remains, however: How will Canmore grow into the future?

With a laundry list of guiding documents – though only the land use bylaw and municipal development plan are statutory – the vision of a council can direct the growth of a community for generations to come.

In the public discourse, there has been a push for an update of Mining the Future. The 2006 document helped guide the creation of the municipal development plan in 2016 and a new plan would take the bulk of the council term to receive public feedback, get council approval and meet any potential legal challenges.

The Town has several guiding documents, including Mining the Future, Signposts to Sustainability and the Climate Action Plan. However, the two statutory plans are the land use bylaw and the Municipal Development Plan.

Incumbent councillor Joanna McCallum emphasized Mining the Future was established to help guide the MDP, meaning the active vision for the Town is only a handful of years old.

She said the incoming council should take a “bold approach” for approving development on land controlled by the Town. She gave the example of Whistler, which has a community housing authority that has created planned neighbourhoods of mixed community needs.

“Leveraging the provincial borrowing offered during the Olympic bid would be one way to secure financing with the local business community benefitting from the building. It would be a long game, but this vision would benefit the community at large for generations,” she said.

McCallum added that while the community has struggled with growth, it has led to many people arriving in the town who now call it home.

“We know that building certain kinds of development will not meet our goals as a community, but there are levers a council can pull to harness growth and its impacts. For instance, our recent housing needs assessment states that continuing to build single detached dwellings will not bring us any closer to our affordability goals.

“It then behooves decision makers to consider more compact forms of development to approve that are less appealing to certain kinds of buyers. What we must face is that individual choices directly contribute to that growth and that perhaps we might need to make choices that better benefit the whole instead of the individual.”

Mayoral candidate and former councillor Sean Krausert highlighted affordability is more than a housing issue. He wants to continue to enhance Canmore’s affordability and accessibility programs, food security and temporary emergency shelters.

If elected, he said he would pursue a clampdown on illegal short-term rentals to add them back into the rental inventory, expand the amount of non-market units built by CCH and work with developers to increase the affordable component in new developments.

“Growth in the community is needed in order to achieve greater affordability as well as additional commercial development to service neighbourhoods further from the downtown core,” Krausert said. “However, this growth must be balanced by protection of the environment, taking a moderate approach to population increases, and looking at all activities through the lens of climate change.”

Jeff Mah said the incoming council should put a pause on new short-term vacation rentals and work with developers to establish an incentive program to create affordable housing units that also maintain the character of Canmore.

He added the Town should explore bringing in additional revenue, such as paid parking for visitors, which can be used towards affordable housing.

“Affordable housing is a hot election issue – both federally and locally. However, our provincial government must rewrite legislation so municipalities can make meaningful change," Mah said.

Former councillor Hans Helder said it’s important for a municipality to see if CCH’s mandate is helping the appropriate people.

He said it’s key to engage “employers, developers, builders and employees in very specific discussions on solutions for each segment is very important,” but also working more closely with Banff, the MD of Bighorn and Lake Louise since affordability is a Bow Valley issue and not just Canmore.

“I would work towards ensuring that the community understands that their concerns have to be addressed within the confines of the legal framework. That means that council has to establish the parameters of any consultation process before asking for input," said Helder, who was on council from 2010-12. "This input can then be effectively applied to legally possible solutions.”

Longtime Catholic school board trustee Vijay Domingo proposed looking at tax breaks for property owners who rent to locals and further emphasizing the need of developers to build at the most efficient design possible.

He said a focus on supporting CCH is a need to aid residents find housing options to stay in the community.

“We need to promote a passion for our local community and local residents and make that a focus of our culture and conversation on a regular basis. While we are a tourist destination, we need to balance that with the importance of being a local mountain community.”

Council candidate Wade Graham called the vacant house issue in Canmore a pandemic that needs to be addressed.

He suggested examining a permanent resident rebate program – a vacancy tax – which would need provincial approval under the Municipal Government Act and continue to lobby the province for resort municipality status.

“We have far too many homes that nobody actually lives in and sit vacant for much of the time. … I am confident that we could make some positive headway on this issue with either of these two tools.”

A further priority would also be pushing for a living wage to help residents remain in the community.

“I am a small business owner and understand difficulties that businesses are up against providing a living wage, but I also see the potential for a more vibrant and stable community

should businesses choose to make these investments.”

According to a staff report from the Jan. 19 committee of the whole meeting, the living wage for Canmore residents as of 2020 is $30.97 per hour for each parent in a family of four. It was a dramatic increase from the $22.76 in 2017.

The 2017 figure decreases to $19.06 when transit, CCH housing and food programs are added in, though not all residents in need receive such supports.

Jyn San Miguel noted the difficulty in living in Canmore due to the high costs, but a greater emphasis should be placed in upgrading social programs to help generate quality jobs within the community.

Incumbent councillor Karen Marra said she would continue to support the initiatives that exist with vital homes that provide below market prices for residents, but also look for potential partnerships in the development and business community to create a variety of supply.

“Support for local programs are key,” she said. “Canmore is such a desirable place to live and we will eventually fill our boundaries over the next 30-plus years, so listening to community input, following our guiding documents and making adjustments along the way will be key to our future as a town.”

Jeff Hilstad, also seeking re-election, echoed the importance of continuing the support for CCH and other affordability programs such as the Good Food Box and free Roam Transit.

He also pushed for continued work with developers to add to the affordable housing supply, but a key initial step for the incoming council will be its strategic plan that is used when making decisions, budgeting and identifying key strategic priorities in the four-year term.

“Council must also work with developers to incorporate as much affordable housing as possible in future developments. As municipalities cannot mandate affordable housing under the current Municipal Government Act, we have to ask developers to play a part and supply affordable housing under their own volition.”

Mayoral candidate Vi Sandford also stressed the importance of continuing to support affordability programs, but highlighted the purchase of a parcel of land from the New Life Christian Centre to add to CCH’s inventory and accessory dwelling units being permitted throughout town to add to the rental market.

She noted CCH and Bow Valley Regional Housing offer price-restricted housing that also leverages provincial government support.

“Mountain communities are highly desirable places to live across the globe. Most of the land inside Canmore’s urban growth boundary is privately owned or allocated (ASPs) and zoned for development, transportation corridors, parks or utility right-of-ways,” she said. “Thoughtfully considering future growth outside the urban growth boundary is one way to limit growth. Densification is a way to control sprawl, but in a free market system, density does not assure affordability.”

Many candidates also pushed for the zoning powers of a municipality to be used in aiding with housing.

Jeff Laidlaw, one of three mayoral candidates, said the Town should review its zoning for the existing built up regions and see if it can achieve the goals of Canmore.

“Areas like south Canmore allow much higher densities for redevelopment,” he said. “When initially implemented, the intent was to help prevent sprawl, but we got the sprawl and that higher density zoning is now being used to gentrify neighbourhoods.”

Laidlaw suggested looking at a low-rise apartment rather than a parcel of land for a single family home.

He also said a “revisit, refresh, review and refine” of Mining the Future is important, but if elected, would want to hear more from the public, council and staff.

Council candidate Christoph Braier said zoning is equally important, and has been used by past councils to create secondary suites, lane houses and garage suites to provide additional options for residents.

“Apartments on top of new commercial and public buildings should be the norm, especially near transit hubs, a proven solution in other countries.”

Canmore local Tanya Foubert said the Town’s comprehensive housing action plan, which was last completed in 2011, is in need of an update to better understand the market and community needs.

An update would also aid in the master planning for the Town-owned land along Palliser Trail – the largest remaining parcel of land owned by the municipality – for future affordable housing.

“An updated housing action plan will create the guiding vision for the future of affordable housing in our community. This vision should set the parameters for expanding our community’s affordable housing supply.”

Foubert also said it’s important for the community to understand the limitations of a municipal council when it comes to the provincially legislated MGA, which can slam the door shut on unrealistic ideas.

“But even before the next council considers mechanisms to manage growth, the first step is to consistently track and share statistics around development and growth in Canmore. We can use the Community Monitoring Report as a resource to better understand development and growth in our community, as well as find solutions,” Foubert said.

“An informed council and community will be better prepared to make good decisions for our future.”

Rob Seeley was the lone candidate who didn’t respond prior to the Outlook’s deadline.