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Canmore planning commission approves mixed-use development

The 10,000 square foot building behind Nutters and Home Hardware will include four employee-housing units and 68 parking stalls

CANMORE – A new two-storey, mixed-used retail development project will soon replace the undeveloped land behind Nutters and Home Hardware in Canmore.

The Town’s planning commission approved the 10,000 square foot project, which includes four employee-housing units and 68 parking stalls, at a meeting on Wednesday (July 31).

“Nutters has been in this location for a long time, so this is a great opportunity for them to move into a new home,” said Ben Gardner, principal architect for Gardner Architecture.

“It also presents another opportunity, for the future, to take a look at what the existing building is.”

According to Gardner, the current building has served the tenants well, however it is about 40 years old and Nutters needs a larger space.

In order to approve the project, the planning commission had to approve three variances, including a variance to the floor area ratio (FAR), roof form and parking.

According to the Land Use Bylaw, development projects within the general commercial district must meet a minimum and maximum floor area ratio to ensure development in the town centre optimizes the land.

In this case, the proposal increased the floor area ratio from the site’s current ratio, however, the proposal was still not in compliance with the Town’s Land Use Bylaw.

While Gardner acknowledged that the proposal fell short of the regulation, he said he didn’t want it to preclude future development of the existing building on the site.

“We really want to make sure that we have an opportunity to create something amazing at this intersection in the future,” said Gardner, referring to the intersection of Railway Avenue and Main Street.

Darlene Paranaque, the only member of the planning commission to vote against the proposal, questioned why the proposal did not try to maximize the site.

“I’m hesitant to support a development that is below the minimum FAR because it’s a missed opportunity to optimize the site given its location,” said Paranaque.

Gardner said they don’t currently have a plan in place to upgrade the existing building or to replace it, but wanted to ensure that there was enough space under the FAR cap for future development.

“There’s definitely some potential for upgrades in the short term, but thinking about the long term, this is a very key intersection,” said Gardner. “It’s going to require a fantastic development and if we eat all the FAR in this development, we won’t have a lot in the future.”

Unlike other projects where there wasn’t enough parking included in the plans, this project will provide eight more stalls than required.

As a result, the commission had to approve a variance because the land use bylaw discourages creating parking in excess of the minimum standards by more than 10 per cent.

According to the staff report, the 68 stalls proposed by the architect is a 13 per cent variance to the minimum requirement.

“While we are over parked to those standards, we are under parked to general retail standards,” said Gardner. “Most retailers are looking for 4.5 stalls per 1,000 square feet of area, we’re closer to 3.5.”

Paranaque also questioned whether the proposal took into consideration the walkability of Canmore before including the extra parking spots.

“Additional parking is correlated with increased traffic,” said Paranaque.

Gardner said they took into consideration the pedestrian experience, which is why plan includes 44 bicycle stalls, well above the 12 stalls that are required, as well as a pathway connecting one end of the site to the other.

“Our primary consideration is to make sure the business plan of our tenants would work, so they have to be able to serve all customers whether they are walking, biking or driving,” said Gardner.

According to the plan, the parking lot will be connected to the courthouse at the rear of the site and there will no longer be access to the laneway behind the building where some have taken up overnight parking in vehicles. 

The four units of employee housing will create nine beds in three, two-bedroom units, and one, three-bedroom unit. All of the units will be located on the second floor of the building.