CANMORE – Two long discussed planning matters that could address affordable housing and downtown development are one step closer to reality.
The potential creation of a public policy planner position would see work begin on the Palliser area structure plan (ASP) and the downtown area redevelopment plan (ARP) in 2022.
Both plans have been discussed at length, but cost, staff timing and provincially legislated mandates of responding to private submissions in a specific timeframe have left both plans on the backburner for several years.
“I believe this policy planner would be integral for the work in the downtown with the ARP,” Mayor Sean Krausert said. “The MDP (Municipal Development Plan) says the downtown is the heart of the community and all other commercial developments have to be complementary to it. We don’t know what’s complementary to it until we know what it is, and I think we need to move ahead with that work.
“Affordable housing is one of our No. 1 priorities and I suspect it will be No. 1 when we come out of strategic planning. In order to do that, we need to have the plans laid out for where that housing can go in Palliser is one of the key areas. We can’t move ahead with any development until this is done. Putting it off by a year or two is a year or two too long.”
If it proceeds, the Palliser ASP has long been the desired location for future affordable housing units in the town.
The lands run adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway and have already seen some residential buildup, but remain largely undeveloped.
With land at a premium in town and the housing market skyrocketing in costs, it could be the future for housing in Canmore. Among the strategic goals for Canmore Community Housing is to work with the Town on the master planning for the Palliser lands in late 2022 or the middle of 2023.
“It’s necessary for the success of our community moving forward. … In the future, I wasn’t opposed to this (policy planner) position coming from taxes. This is going to be a role that will benefit our entire community,” Coun. Tanya Foubert said. “These are plans for places that are downtown, which is the heart and soul and jewel in our crown, but it is the entire community’s benefit from this work. The Palliser lands are our future housing.”
Coun. Joanna McCallum noted the importance of the land for future housing, particularly following the vote against the Three Sisters Mountain Village two ASPs in the spring. She added with the planning department having been “gutted” in the 2011 budget and never fully recovering, internal projects have also taken a backseat to external ones that have to be completed in a specific timeframe.
“I really think this role is important and I hope and pray it doesn’t slide into paid work and it stays in a community-focused position because it’s really important this position leads the community through the downtown (ARP), through our Palliser area structure plan. … I fear we’re on the precipice of not being able to address some of our concerns in our community if we do not act now. I mean this year, not waiting, not pushing it forward. I mean right now.”
The downtown ARP has also been pushed back for several years. It was scheduled to be addressed until COVID-19 brought a halt to significant amounts of local internal planning matters.
It had been re-scheduled to be re-examined in 2023 or 2024, but the new position – if approved by council – will bump it to the forefront.
“It’s something we heard a lot during the campaign. It’s important to the downtown area and it has been kicked down the road a few times,” Coun. Jeff Hilstad said. “The previous council had to do it because of COVID, so it’s nice to see it coming back now.”
Foubert said with the development pressures in the community – which were heavily voiced during the municipal election campaign and the TSMV public hearings – people are going to continue to want to live, invest and build in Canmore. By moving forward with the downtown ARP, it will help guide the next generation of planning in the core of Canmore.
“We can’t just say no we don’t feel like processing development applications. We legally have to and there’s a process. … When we’re talking about making decisions in the downtown, this is going to be a better tool when we have things coming forward for consideration in our approval processes,” she said.
The planning position would stagger the workload of the two planning matters.
The finance committee recommended council approve the planning position for $132,000, while the Palliser ASP would be $100,000 and the downtown ARP forecasted at $160,000. The bulk of the money would come from reserves, but it would also see about $103,000 redirected from the art trust.
Though the art trust would see the Town’s contribution halted for one year, Krausert said it has a healthy balance of $242,500. Payments are still scheduled for future years, which would see the trust hit $287,000 in 2023 and $322,000 in 2024.
Sally Caudill, the Town’s general manager of municipal services, said a component of the cultural master plan would see a grant program created, which would be funded by the art trust.
However, the grant program has yet to be finalized and will come before council in 2022. A per capita amount of the Town’s tax contribution to capital will also see a further $90,000 aid public art projects.
“I would be sad to see this go, but as a one-time blip it is sustainable,” she said. “Once the new grant program comes to council, you’ll get a new sense of your questions on the longer term implications.”
Hilstad said he supports the planning position and moving forward on both the Palliser and downtown planning, but wanted to make sure council didn’t get into a habit of “attacking the art trust fund.”
“I feel it’s a place we tend to go to more often than not when we’re looking to save some money,” he said, noting the prior council halted one payment during its term.
Though the committee highlighted the importance of the art trust, it was adamant in the importance of getting the ball rolling on planning in the downtown, but especially in the Palliser lands.
“I see this as the next step to the area where we have the largest amount of land within CCH control to bring about affordable housing,” Krausert said. “So much of the rest of the land in town is in private hands and is subject to what comes forward from the owners and what we’re able get in respect to contribution.
“We can actually deal with these lands and put great emphasis and a large number of units. We need to get going on this because time is not our friend.”