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Three Sisters area structure plans receive first reading, public hearing set

The Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village area structure plans under consideration by Canmore council represent 80 per cent of the developable land left in the community.

CANMORE – Canmore council is looking to the community to provide feedback on two major applications that would set the framework for future development in Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV).

The developer has applied for approval of two area structure plans (ASP) for the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek subdivisions, which represent 80 per cent of the developable land left in Canmore. Both plans were in front of council on Tuesday (Feb. 9) and received first reading, with a public hearing set for March 9. 

Mayor John Borrowman noted the magnitude of the development application in front of council for consideration and asked the community to provide feedback and solutions to what is proposed if aspects of the plans do not meet the expectations of residents. 

"At this time, I am prepared to support this bylaw at first reading and I look forward to hearing from the community about the strengths and weaknesses they see in these area structure plans before proposing any possible amendments at second reading," Borrowman said. 

"I am not opposed to carefully planned development on Three Sisters lands that are outside the established corridors when that development meets our community needs." 

He said there are a number of aspects to the plans that need to be carefully considered, including undermining, wildlife protection, environmental sustainability and the nature of affordability in the housing proposed. 

Councillor Vi Sandford said she had a better understanding of the plans after the seven hour council meeting and discussion. 

"Hopefully the public will take an opportunity to watch this comprehensive [meeting video] in advance ... and hear some of the answers we heard today," Sandford said. 

Coun. Joanna McCallum said she would "cautiously" support first reading and appreciated that the developer brought forward both plans at the same time, which is what council asked to happen in 2017. 

"I do have some things that are attractive to me, but there are things that also concern me," McCallum said. "I look forward to hearing more about what the public has to say."  

TSMV president David Taylor said the approach taken in developing the planning documents has been comprehensive and involved several years of stakeholder and community engagement.

"Drafting these two ASPs has been no small effort," Taylor said. "The submissions before you presents a clear vision for TSMV's remaining developable lands and this vision is informed by the voices of community members who have shared their ideas and input with us over the past five years."

Also an owner of the company, he acknowledged there is opposition to the development plans on those lands. He said Three Sisters drafted these plans using Canmore's Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and other planning documents to put forward a plan that aligns with council's vision for the future. 

"We know there are members of the community who do not support these ASPs and we respect their voices we have tried to be clear about things we are not open to changing in these plans and why," Taylor said. 

"We also know there are many community members who want to approve these plans. It is our point of view that these plans present an opportunity for Canmore.

"I have shared with council and the community that TSMV wants to do this right and we will follow the MDP and I believe we have." 

Specifically, he pointed to issues with affordable housing, economic diversification, climate change and human wildlife coexistence, adding that he believes the plan contains thoughtful and innovative solutions to these issues. 

Town of Canmore development planner Joshua Welsh went over the legislative context within which council, the community and TSMV find themselves.

The first of which is the Natural Resource Conservation Board (NRCB) decision in 1992 that granted the company that owned these lands at the time development approval to construct a recreation and tourism project. 

"This [NRCB] application and the subsequent approval helped to provide approval of a concept in development on Three Sisters' lands, knowing full well the detailed planning processes would follow and go through the municipal approval process," Welsh said. 

"The NRCB decision assured development would take place while providing a general sense of what type of development would follow guided by the municipal process and that is what brings us here today." 

TSMV director of strategy and development Chris Ollenberger said the application and its supporting reports provide a comprehensive vision for what is planned for those lands while at the same time addressing important considerations like affordable housing, climate change and human wildlife interaction management. 

"The ASPs enable development to proceed in a cohesive and considerate manner and set the framework to delve into future detail as development phases progress into more detailed planning stages," Ollenberger said. 

"A number of development considerations are present within the plan area that required thoughtful approaches to inform the land use concepts to ensure the communities will be safe and can meet the technical requirements of development."

Three Sisters Village

There is an ASP that was approved for the resort centre area in 2004. It proposed a second golf course for TSMV, which has been abandoned by the developer. 

Instead, the company is proposing increased residential development, an indoor recreational district and innovation district, along with a village centre area and hotel and spa district. There are plans to install a wildlife exclusion fence around the Village area.

The Village, however, is one of the most heavily undermined areas in Canmore, which was part of the rational in the past to develop a golf course. There are recently updated provincial regulations for developing on undermined land in TSMV that set out what level of mitigation is required and requiring a second engineer to sign off on the undermining plan for each parcel of land. 

But there is significant concern in the community about the safety of developing on undermined lands. 

Other risks identified in the planning areas are wildlfire and steep creek flooding. 

The Village area is 169 hectares in size and the ASP sets out the development plans for the next 30 years. The number of residential units allowed in the Village is 3,000 – as per prior planning approvals. However, a proposed density bonusing toolkit would allow a maximum of 5,000 units.

Residential development would be in the form of medium to high density projects – like townhomes, stacked townhomes and apartment buildings.  

There is 602,000 square feet of retail and commercial space proposed and 75 hectares, or 40 per cent of the plan area, is set aside as open space.

The projected permanent and visitor population at build out would be between 5,500 to 10,000, according to Ollenberger. However, he noted that number is based on maximum occupancy of all visitor accommodation and tourist home units, as well as residential dwellings. 

Ollenberger said TSMV used the Town's integrated transportation plan and climate action plan to prioritize walking, biking and public transit over the private automobile. 

Welsh noted that when it comes to the Village area, what is proposed is a departure from what was envisioned in the past within the Town's development planning documents.

"One of the concerns we have identified is that currently the Land Use Bylaw and the Municipal Development Plan stipulate that resort centres, which is what this development intends to be, are intended to be predominantly commercial," he said. "We view this development as predominantly residential." 

Smith Creek

The Smith Creek ASP proposes an estimated residential unit range of 1,000 to 2,150 units. The estimated population at build out is between 2,175 to 4,500. There is 199,000 square feet of commercial and industrial development proposed and a school site. 

Included in the plan are lands that are currently a rock quarry and are outside the municipality's urban growth boundary. In order for it to be developed, TSMV would have to amend the MDP, which sets out the process required to adjust that growth boundary. 

The residential housing proposed is low to medium density. Ollenberger said 70 per cent of homes would likely be single detached dwellings or semi-detached. 

A development cap of 50 per cent of the developable area is in place in the plans. If builders wanted to increase density, they would be required to use the density bonusing toolkit. 

Density bonusing toolkit

The density bonusing toolkit proposed in the ASPs provides incentives to builders to provide affordable housing, public amenities or to build a higher level of energy efficiency than is currently required, in exchange for more density. 

"The number of built units can only be increased ... when sustainable building and green energy practices, above what is required in Canmore's Land Use Bylaw, are incorporated into each development," Ollenberger said. "The incentives move future new development toward net zero well in advance of changes expected to the building code." 

Welsh said one of administration's unresolved concerns around the application is the cumulative effect of the increased density for the development, and that it is above what was set out in the NRCB approval. 

"It is integral that the Town consider carefully these increases in numbers," he said. 

Adaptive management and monitoring plan

While the wildlife corridor design is not something that council is able to change, as it was approved by the province last year, council expressed concerns about how the increased density in the area would affect wildlife. 

TSMV's plans to manage wildlife is to use fencing in both areas to separate developed areas from the surrounding corridors and habitat patches. There is also an adaptive management and monitoring plan proposed that would be in place into the future to collect data on wildlife movement and conflicts and respond if the fencing proves to not work as intended. 

In addition to fencing, the management plan includes education, signage, attractant management and providing high quality outdoor recreational opportunities to keep humans out of the designated wildlife corridors. 

Welsh noted that there are 100 mitigations proposed in the environmental impact statement, which was subject to a third-party review process. 

"Many of the mitigations remain untested in the context of this development, including the wildlife fence, as the data to verify acceptable impacts is unavailable and will be collected through the future planning phases," he said. 

Affordable housing

"Addressing the housing needs and gaps in the existing housing market in the Bow Valley is an important issue to Three Sisters," Ollenberger said. "Considerable time was spent refining and fine tuning the approach to provide housing solutions for the greatest amount of households and to provide additional solutions for housing in the community beyond just TSMV." 

TSMV has proposed to use 20 per cent of the housing proposed to meet the needs of the community across a spectrum of types. That includes providing land to the municipality from the closure of unused road allowances for Canmore Community Housing's price restricted home ownership and rental programs.

Affordable market rental housing is proposed along with accessory dwelling units. On top of that is the provision of employee housing, which is required for all visitor accommodation and commercial developments. 

There is also entry-level housing, which is defined as being less than 1,000 square feet. By limiting the size of the unit, the theory is it should also limit the sale price making it more affordable for first time homebuyers. 

The public hearing is set for March 9. Go to for more information on how to register as a presenter during the meeting. 


Tanya Foubert

About the Author: Tanya Foubert

Tanya Foubert started as a news reporter at the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2006. She won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best news story for her coverage of the 2013 flood. In December 2018, she became editor of the Outlook.
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