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Lawrence Grassi ARP heads to public hearing

“I believe the concept before us holds potential and I’d like to hear what the public has to say. It’s a difficult issue to separate the owner of the land from the concept given we’re talking about a school board, but we’re really talking about a private land. … As any owner of land they have a right to put forward a proposal and we have to judge the proposal based on what’s put forward.”

CANMORE – A long-awaited development proposal in the heart of Canmore was given first reading by elected officials, paving the way for an upcoming public hearing.

The Lawrence Grassi Middle School (LGMS) area redevelopment plan (ARP) will head to a March 1 public hearing to allow community members to voice opposition or support for the proposed plan that could add 120 new residential units, including 20 affordable houses.

Canmore council unanimously approved first reading on Tuesday (Feb. 1), while voicing some concerns for aspects of the project.

“I believe the concept before us holds potential and I’d like to hear what the public has to say,” Mayor Sean Krausert said.

“It’s a difficult issue to separate the owner of the land from the concept given we’re talking about a school board, but we’re really talking about a private land. … As any owner of land they have a right to put forward a proposal and we have to judge the proposal based on what’s put forward.”

The proposed development would be constructed on 1.5 hectares of vacant land around LGMS. In addition to the 20 affordable homes added to Canmore Community Housing’s (CCH) inventory, there would be 80 townhouses and 20 homes for CRPS staff.

The Town also owns 0.07 hectares of an undeveloped lane that is being asked to be transferred to the school board.

“Every part of this project is building social capital. Within the proposed 120 units, we are providing 20 units to Canmore Community Housing … and we will provide 20 homes for CRPS (employee). That is 40 affordable housing units for 33 per cent of our development,” said Arlene Rheaume, chair of the CRPS school board.

“Retaining and attracting staff is critical for the provision of high quality education and the sustainability of public education in Canmore.”

Lauren Miller, the Town of Canmore's manager of planning and development, emphasized at the beginning of the meeting that the plan is still in the early stages, which is the intent of an ARP.

“We are still evaluating a concept. Some, none or all of the elements of the plan will come to fruition and what does happen with structures on the ground will happen over time and are subject to change,” said Miller. “Think of today’s conversation as an engagement – a marital engagement – we’re establishing a commitment to the future of a given area, but we’re not married yet. Marriage will come at the land use stage where we establish very explicit regulatory frameworks, which we can only reach if and when this plan is approved.”

If the ARP receives all three readings from council, it would still need to return for the land use stage, subdivision plans and development permits, meaning there will be many times elements of the plan would return to council or the planning commission.

A key component of the plan pitched by CRPS is housing for staff and the creation of a legacy fund to help financially sustain the local school system.

CRPS indicated that in the past three to five years there have been no fewer than 25 people accept jobs with the school division, only to ultimately decline after struggling to find housing in the community.

The money from the sale of the townhouses would be directed into the legacy fund. Anyone purchasing a home would be buying the house as opposed to the land.

While the legacy fund could potentially aid the school division financially, several councillors voiced concern over the potential of the province dipping into the coffers.

Both Chris MacPhee, the superintendent of CRPS, and Brian Callaghan, the vice chair of the school board and the former superintendent of CRPS, said neither had seen a case where money was clawed back. MacPhee noted the Ministry of Education has one funding level across Alberta for education and many school divisions hold reserves that are held in property as well as endowments that are untouched by the province.

“I understand historically we haven’t seen a government pillage or raid reserves in the past from school boards, but I’ve never seen a government like this operate in Alberta,” said Coun. Joanna McCallum during the closing remarks prior to the vote. “I think it might behoove the applicants to try and get some written ministerial assurances as they move forward through the process.”

A staff report to council noted several aspects that are encouraged in the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) such as infill and redevelopment, affordable housing and construction in existing neighbourhoods.

The report also highlighted that if ultimately approved, it would be one of the largest percentage of affordable housing added to CCH’s inventory. MacPhee told council Canmore residents would have the first right to the homes.

A Jan. 10 letter from CCH stated the board was supportive of the plan and the 20 affordable housing units.

The plan first came to the public in December 2020. The final plan was submitted to the Town last December. The report stated 40 comments were received, with 27 raising concerns, three asking for information, five in support and five asking for as much affordable housing as possible.

Concerns ranged from the density and height of buildings, additional traffic, lack of parking, impact on wildlife and loss of green space.

Chris Sparrow, a consultant on the project from MTA Urban Design Architecture Interior Design Inc., said a priority has been made to make the project multi-modal to fit the municipality's transportation master plan. He added future aspects of the planning will examine how the project will meet the Town’s climate action plan.

“There will be additional consideration, particularly at the development permit stage, but we may also address them at land use as well,” Sparrow said.

Most of the parking is also planned to be covered parking and above ground.

With the public hearing set for the beginning of March, the public will now have an opportunity to inform council on the proposed development.

“I’m interested in whether or not the community sees this as meeting the goals and the vision that we’ve set out in our Municipal Development Plan as a community,” said Coun. Tanya Foubert.