CANMORE – An unprecedented and long awaited public hearing for Three Sisters Mountain Village began this week as residents gave their thoughts on the proposed development to Canmore town council.
The contentious proposal received an outpouring of community feedback, with 231 speakers registered and the Town of Canmore receiving more than 1,100 written submissions.
Residents were allowed to speak for a maximum of 10 minutes – five minutes for each of the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek area structure plans (ASPs) – to voice opposition or support.
The opening speaker, Kay Anderson, set the tone for much of the public hearing by giving concern to the proposed plan. She highlighted the vast amount of people who registered to speak and sent in letters, largely opposed to the ASPs.
“We heard you when you wanted to hear from the public," she said on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday (March 9).
Anderson, a 17-year permanent resident of Canmore and an administrator of the popular Facebook page Three Sisters FOR Wildlife, said they weren’t against development, but the proposed ASPs would significantly impact the wildlife corridor.
Throughout the first day, several hundred people were consistently watching the live proceedings. In the YouTube chat channel, it was also kept busy with people largely voicing their opposition.
Raymond Haimila, a third generation miner from Canmore, brought forward concerns about the risk of undermining on the lands.
As part of the former undermining review committee from the 1990s, he said scientific research showed much of the lands had significant hazards in building on them.
“The Town of Canmore and its residents really have to ponder this liability limitation when it comes to the risk to the public safety,” Haimila said, also stressing the risk of sinkholes and recommending the Town ask for a $5 million surety bond from Three Sisters if one occurred.
The landowner, Three Sisters Mountain Village Properties, has consistently said the proposed development wouldn’t take place on areas with significant undermined areas that couldn't be mitigated and strengthened .
Hilary Young, a senior Alberta program manager with Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative – a group that protects and advocates for wildlife – stressed the importance of the wildlife corridor with animal migration.
She said the Smith Creek ASP should be rejected due to significant risk, but that Three Sisters Village ASP could go to second reading after “significant design and policy amendments.”
Suggested amendments included giving hundreds of extra metres for the wildlife corridor and to find ways to incorporate the proposed commercial district in the Smith Creek ASP to Three Sisters Village.
Young added the proposed developments would impose on wildlife corridors and create “pinch points” of less than 50 metres, restricting animal movement.
Tim Logel, a developer and Canmore resident, was the first to speak in favour of the project.
With his experience in helping build more than 20 communities, he said the ASPs were “detailed and comprehensive … and world class.”
He noted it’s not uncommon in other communities to face local opposition to development to eventually receiving positive feedback to when work was being undertaken and completed.
“The demand for all types of housing is increasing and recently it’s dramatically increasing and when I’ve gone to other cities that have not kept up with that supply of all types of housing, different income levels and diversity, those cities are struggling and price of the real estate is going through the roof," Logel said.
Former councillor Sean Krausert – who’s also running for mayor in this coming election – said he was taking a neutral position and highlighted the difficulty in ultimately making the decision. He added the proposed plans could be inconsistent with the Municipal Development Plan, particularly with Smith Creek ASP asking for a change in the municipal growth boundary.
Josh Welsh, a planner for Canmore, gave an overview of the ASPs. He said the Natural Resources Conservation Board gave approval in 1992 on the lands for a recreational and tourism project.
The Town also considered the neighbourhood framework design, parks and open space, the transportation network and density bonusing to emphasize green energy and affordable housing were strengths.
The public hearing is expected to continue into next week. Whether in favour or opposition, the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek discussion has been polarizing throughout the Bow Valley.
The ASPs passed first reading in a seven-hour meeting on Feb. 9.
The area comprises 169 hectares (418 acres) and the ASPs establish the development plans for the next three decades. The previous planning approvals allow for 3,000 residential units in the Village, but a density bonusing toolkit allows for a maximum of 5,000 units.
There’s 56,000 square metres (602,000 square feet) of retail and commercial space being proposed and 40 per cent of the plan is set aside as open space.
It would lead to an estimated permanent and visitor population of 5,500 to 10,000, which is based off the maximum occupancy.