CANMORE – Three Sisters Mountain Village represents 80 per cent of the developable land left inside the town of Canmore's municipal growth boundary and plans for what that may look like in the future have been made public.
Two draft area structure plans for Three Sisters (TSMV) were publicly released at the beginning of September for public consideration and feedback before the company formally submits them for approval to the municipal government.
TSMV chairman David Taylor said the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek area structure plans (ASP) are high-level statutory planning documents that set out broad parameters for future development in each area.
"At a high level, this has given us a master plan of how the overall remainder of our lands will be developed," Taylor said. "We have put these ASPs out in draft form so the residents have access to all the information we are giving to the Town and they can make comments and understand what to expect with our proposed developments, look at the reports and see what the impacts may be."
While the two ASPs are separate documents, elected officials previously expressed a desire to have both submitted for consideration and approval at the same time.
QuantumPlace principal Chris Ollenberger said while TSMV's property includes the recently approved wildlife corridor, the ASP focuses on the land outside the corridor and determines what should happen there.
"There will be mitigations and recommendations from the environmental impact statement, that has undergone an independent third-party review by the Town of Canmore, to make sure the development works with and respects the wildlife corridor," Ollenberger said. "But the focus is on the development and how to do that correctly and properly."
The plans include maps that show where land use concepts are expected to be developed and the layout of roads within each subdivision. Sections that deal with parks and open spaces, transportation, affordable housing and utilities also form part of the framework for development.
"The next level of detail would come at land use and subdivision," Ollenberger said.
Each plan is expected to guide how the community develops and evolves over the next 10 to 30 years.
With efforts underway at the municipal level to diversify the economy, Ollenberger said the innovation district in the Village and space set aside for light industrial at the eastern end of Smith Creek will support that work.
"It opens up more areas for commercial tax base and employment," he said. "Having an innovation district will allow different ideas to evolve."
In 2004, council approved an ASP for the resort centre lands – now Three Sisters Village – that included a golf course.
Taylor said there were a number of economic reasons to abandon pursuit of a second golf course for Three Sisters – Stewart Creek Golf Course has been in operation since the early 2000s.
"The market has evolved over the last 18 years, so that has allowed us to see where Canmore has gone and helped facilitate a better understanding and ASP," he said.
Instead, significantly more residential development is proposed for the village area, with a focus on more compact forms of housing like duplexes, townhouses and condos. Other land use concept areas include a spa and hotel district, the main commercial area of the village centre, an innovation district and indoor recreational opportunities.
For Smith Creek, there is dedicated space for outdoor education, an industrial/commercial district and the potential for a new school site.
Ollenberger said the changes envisioned are real improvements, especially with areas dedicated to support the further economic diversification efforts of the community.
That includes a focus on ensuring humans are acting appropriately on the landscape and managing human use in the nearby wildlife corridor. Ollenberger said by providing approved and appropriate outdoor recreational opportunities and trails, there is dedicated space for human use. Combined with better signage and management of the corridor, the goal is to improve connectivity for wildlife.
However for Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative senior Alberta program manager Hilary Young, there are still some major issues with how proposed development will affect wildlife movement throughout the region.
"The science on wildlife movement has not changed since the last ASP was submitted in 2017," Young said. "We still feel very strongly that development extends too far up the steeper slopes and it would narrow the effect of the wildlife corridor around Smith Creek and the Three Sisters Village area."
She said if the corridor is not designed properly resulting in too steep or narrow spaces for animals to navigate, it will not be effective and is not reflective of the best available knowledge.
"Despite the best efforts to consider mitigating conflict, what this will do is introduce more conflict into a valley that already has conflict," Young said.
For TSMV, approval earlier this spring by the provincial government of the alignment for the last corridor to be established on its lands was an important step forward. Given that the province has jurisdiction over wildlife management, no further measures are needed from the municipality according to the developer.
Young argued that council has a role to play in ensuring the proposed development works with the community's values, as set out in the 1992 Natural Resources Conservation Board decision.
"In Canmore, our values revolve around coexisting with wildlife," she said. "There are mechanism the Town could ask for, including conservation easements on developable lands, that could effectively add width to the corridor."
The originally approved golf course would have acted as a buffer for wildlife movement, however with it removed from the plan and more residential development planned for the village area, there are concerns for how that will affect wildlife.
"We really do need extra width [for the wildlife corridor] and the golf course would have provided that," Young said. "Golf courses are not ideal, but they are better than hard development all the way up to the steep slopes."
For TSMV, it is important to get the foundation for future develop right with these two proposed ASPs and continue to build upon that through subdivision and land use.
"This is the start of a big project and we want to get through this and make sure it is done right," Taylor said. "If it doesn't work for the Town, it doesn't work for us. And if it doesn't work for us, it doesn't work for the town."