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South Canmore development heads to public hearing, with hesitancy

“It’s important to hear from the community that the test set out in our Municipal Development Plan for considering these types of changes are being met by the proponent's proposals, in particular the community benefit of a care facility balanced with the type of development being proposed."

CANMORE – A potential development in South Canmore will head to a public hearing to help determine whether it moves forward, but not without reluctance shown by Town council.

While members of council said they looked forward to hearing from the public, the hints of doubt were clearly shown when first reading was given and a hearing set for May 24.

Council passed first reading – with Coun. Wade Graham and Coun. Jeff Mah opposed – to potentially amend aspects of the Municipal Development Plan and land use bylaw for the proposal.

“It’s important to hear from the community that the test set out in our Municipal Development Plan for considering these types of changes are being met by the proponent's proposals, in particular the community benefit of a care facility balanced with the type of development being proposed,” Coun. Tanya Foubert said.

Coun. Joanna McCallum said she supported first reading from a procedural fairness perspective, but noted concerns related to potentially amending the growth boundary and the type of housing proposed.

“I do have some large concerns, just because there’s a test doesn’t mean we have to throw out all or any of our planning rules in terms of the larger planning perspective, which states you don’t really move your growth boundary unless you’ve hit the walls of development,” she said. “It’s like a hidden reserve of land.”

Both Graham and Mah questioned whether the palliative care facility will benefit locals, the need to amend the growth boundary and the potential impact on wildlife.

Mah said the plan has potential, but not in its current format.

The privately-owned land at 800 3rd Avenue is 8.27 hectares (20.4 acres) and is at the end of 3rd Avenue. The owners – Jan and Bernie McCaffery – bought the land in 2018 and are proposing six homes and a palliative care facility.

If approved, the district will have four sub-districts. One would have the six-bed palliative care facility, another would be for three residential lots and the third would be for two residential lots. The final sub-district would have one residential lot.

Public engagement was held by the landowner in the first part of 2022 along with four virtual open houses and a website. The virtual open houses had about 230 participants.

Among the concerns expressed were increased traffic, impacts on wildlife, expanding the growth boundary and environmental impacts.

The McElhanney report stated only six per cent of the land will be used for development and the remainder will be open space. It also wrote that it would bring resolution to a parcel of land that has seen other applications from 39-100 residential units.

“This proposed application is less intrusive than previous applications and has the potential to act as a transition zone to Spring Creek Mountain Village,” the McElhanney report stated. “This proposed application will also provide the appropriate land use to allow for a palliative care hospice facility which would be a significant public amenity to the community.”

It included a sustainability screening report, a technical memo, what-we-heard report from public engagement, an environmental impact statement (EIS) and a third-party review of the EIS by Management and Solutions in Environmental Science.

The six homes would also have accessory dwellings for the rental market.

However, Town staff advised against the accessory dwellings because they were nearly 33 per cent larger than the existing land use bylaw regulations of 80 square metres or 40 per cent of the house, whichever is the lesser of two.

Bill Marshall, the architect for the project, said he was disappointed with the staff recommendation, particularly with the need for all forms of housing.

“We need housing of all sorts and we shouldn’t secularize or pick fights against those who are providing larger homes or have the ability to provide slightly larger units for accessory dwelling units,” he said.

“I don’t believe people should be penalized for the opportunity of being able to afford something. What we should do is encourage them to build the homes and the accessory homes that they can afford to provide.”

The Town’s senior planner, Alaric Fish, said the range of housing proposed is between 500 and 1,100 square metres, while 325 square metres is the maximum size allowed in most parts of Canmore.

There were also concerns expressed on the area permitting homes to be 12 metres in height, but Marshall and Bernie McCaffery said the plan was 9.5 metres and they were open to amending the bylaw further.

The area also permits some staff accommodation, but there were no plans at the moment.

McCallum said what is proposed for housing doesn’t align with the Town’s community vision.

“Our most recent housing needs' assessment tells us very clearly continuing to build single detached dwellings in our community is never going to bring us any closer to our affordability goals,” she said. “I appreciate there’s a request for a range of housing, but we already have a lot of this kind of housing and these will not be affordable to people who have regular jobs in Canmore.”

Marshall said the “modest residential” was to help offset costs that would come in servicing the palliative care building.

“We love the mountains. We love the environment. … Our first thing was to find the public good to do this and we chose palliative care. We’d certainly support anything to protect the environment in its entirety,” Bernie McCaffery said.

The 0.8 hectares of land for the palliative hospice would be donated by the owners.

In a letter to the Town, the Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley supported the proposal and the ability to establish a hospice in the region.

“The board determined that the innovative approach being planned will result in a world class rural palliative care model where patients and their families will be able to choose how their palliative end of life care is to be provided,” wrote Julie Hamilton, the chair of the society’s board of directors.

“This model will be integrated seamlessly with existing palliative care, long-term, cancer and acute care delivery programs based in Canmore and Banff.”

Rosemary Boulton, part of the society’s leadership team and communications committee chair, said they have been in talks with Alberta Health Services but have yet to receive a contract.

She noted if it were to proceed, there would be 25 full-time employees. She also said there are two palliative care beds in Canmore and one in Banff, but are acute care beds that have been retrofitted.

“The goal is to provide care for members of the community in the Bow Valley, so they don’t need to be driving into Calgary to access palliative care,” Boulton said.

She added the society has looked at more than 30 sites in the past seven years, but the land donation – as well as “significant donors” ready to help – will make the palliative care centre possible.

“It’s a significant donation and it’s millions of dollars we won’t need to fundraise,” Boulton said. “As a not-for-profit society, that’s significant. I hope everyone will keep that in mind.”

While the EIS had the project resulting in negligible impacts, the third party disagreed and that “cumulative effects on wildlife and corridors and that existing conditions are only going to worsen in the future.”

However, at the April 19, 2021, Environmental Advisory Review Committee meeting, it found the EIS met the terms of reference outlined for the project, but they were concerned with the “gradual, incremental erosion of habitat within and adjacent to the town boundaries.”

A Strava map shown by Keenan Rudichuk, the applicant’s biologist for the EIS, highlighted the common use of the lands by people. However, it was noted by both Town staff and Rudichuk that Strava was only a snapshot of people using the land since not everyone uses the app.

“If those houses were to be constructed, human footprint as far as regular incursion and disturbance into habitat being used by wildlife will be concentrated to the palliative care centre, the parking lot, to the driveways of the buildings,” Rudichuk said.

However, Kopach – an ecologist with Management and Solutions in Environmental Science and the third-party reviewer – said it may just redirect traffic to other areas instead of stopping it.

“Canmore has significant cumulative effects on the corridors throughout the region. Both physical disturbance and human use. … The Strava map showed there’s no designated trail, but there’s a lot of use," Ropach said

He said elk used the area, noting elk in Canmore are comfortable with people, while wolves typically avoided the area.

Kopach, who has previously worked as a third-party reviewer on the 2012 and 2020 area structure plan applications for the Three Sister lands and most recently on the lower Silvertip project, said the cumulative effect on wildlife is significant.

The land is both outside the Town’s growth boundary and is considered a wildlife habitat patch, per the Bow Corridor Ecosystem Advisory Group, but is zoned for future development under the land use bylaw.

A staff report to council added how most wildlife corridors or habitat patches are publicly and not privately owned.

The staff report noted it will bring in additional tax revenue, but will also have the Town increase water and wastewater services as well as improve the roads for emergency services.

“I want to hear from the public. I have some concerns,” Coun. Jeff Hilstad said. “I think some is done well and some I’m not convinced on yet. I’d like to go to the public and hear what they have to say.”