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Three Sisters Village development plan heads to third reading, Smith Creek plan defeated

Canmore council approved second reading of the Three Sisters Village area structure plan, while unanimously defeating the Smith Creek ASP on Tuesday. Though council had the opportunity to continue to third reading, that decision, and final approval of the bylaw, was postponed until at least May 11.

CANMORE – Following months of uncertainty, there’s a clearer picture on the future of Three Sisters Mountain Village.

Canmore council approved second reading of the Three Sisters Village area structure plan (ASP), while unanimously defeating the Smith Creek ASP. Though council had the opportunity to continue to third reading, the decision was postponed until at least May 11.

Council voted 6-1 – with councillor Karen Marra opposed – to proceed to third reading of the Three Sisters Village ASP after introducing significant amendments of the original proposal.

“There were a lot of amendments and fairly substantive,” Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said. "I would suggest the amendments that we’ve approved all respond to what we’ve clearly heard from the community and clearly reflect the vision individual councillors have for future growth within the Town of Canmore. This has been a wide ranging conversation throughout the process.”

The Three Sisters Village plan will now head to third reading, but not without concerns expressed by councillors on issues relating to items such as undermining. Council can also make additional amendments prior to any acceptance of third reading.

Amendments put forward and approved by council tackled commercial growth, wildlife fencing, emphasizing the need for affordable and vital housing and Indigenous consultation. 

Borrowman emphasized if the plan is passed through all three readings, the 2004 resort centre ASP that has been approved for nearly two decades would be repealed. Councillors conveyed how the 2004 ASP no longer fits the Town.

The Smith Creek ASP was unanimously defeated as councillors voiced concern over having to amend the Municipal Development Plan, expanding the urban growth boundary, wildlife movement and it being more than a decade until work would begin. The scope and size of the housing was also brought up as being a negative to the Town in the present and future.

Council went one-by-one voicing opposition to Smith Creek and while they showed interest in the commercial aspects, the residential was soundly criticized. The denial of the Smith Creek ASP eases possible population, size and traffic concerns raised by residents.

Borrowman acknowledged after the TSMV plans were defeated in 2017, council asked the developer to include Smith Creek in any future proposals. But the issues indicated by council were many in rejecting the proposal.

There was interest in the commercial component, however, the issues outweighed the positives found in the plan for elected officials. 

“This plan is not expected for another 10 plus years with a build-out of 20 to 30 years. Is it prudent for us to approve it now? A municipality's market needs change, so does our environmental awareness,” Coun. Marra said.

A trio of amendments were unanimously approved for greater inclusion of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation in any development process.

The initial record of submissions from the public had fewer than a handful of concerns regarding Indigenous consultation. But the end of the first day of the public hearing, four members of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation raised concerns that led to it being a lightning rod for discussion.

The amendments invited the Stoney Nakoda First Nation to participate in the development of the monitoring and adaptive management plan and be involved in all conceptual schemes for the plan area, per Town policy.

“I want this to be more than a rubber stamp or a token participation,” said Coun. Esmé Comfort, who brought forward the amendments. “I think our Indigenous friends are used to that and fed up with it and rightly so. I’d like it to be something meaningful.”

Council also directed staff to report back on more information in creating a memorandum of understanding with the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.

The development of the TSMV lands was amended into six phases, designed to allow staff and future councils the opportunity to better gauge the progress of development and its effect on wildlife and undermining.

The phasing would also see the commercial aspects completed before the residential, which was a vocal concern for some residents. The first phase would be a mixture of commercial and residential followed by additional residential in the second phase and the village and spa district would be the third phase.

“It really is critical we see a good amount of commercial early on in the development of the area structure plan. Phase one will accomplish that,” Borrowman said, highlighting it’ll take several years to finish the first three phases.

Council also directed the wildlife fence be completed before any construction begins, as opposed to being done when work began.

Borrowman noted the initial years of the first three phases would give time to see the effects of the fencing and undermining mitigation and whether to proceed with the subsequent final three phases.

Tourist homes were removed as a permitted use. Areas where they were proposed would be considered visitor accommodation instead, a difference that addresses concerns raised by residents over tourist homes. 

Under the Municipal Government Act, the province stipulates an empty homes tax is not allowed, despite it being possible to significantly help municipalities such as Canmore.

“When we first brought tourist homes on, they were meant to be zoning where you may go away for six weeks and rent out your place,” Coun. Joanna McCallum said. “It was to allow for that. It’s actually morphed into swaths of residential housing being purchased … These aren’t really ending up with local people.”

There was also a significant reduction in housing being permitted, such as a maximum of 3,700 residential units if the bonus toolkit is fully realized opposed to 5,000 to “reduce the scale” of the project, Coun. Jeff Hilstad said.

Improvements were also made to the bonus toolkit that sees greater priority placed on affordable housing as well as focusing on green energy if greater density occurs.

A minimum of 20 per cent of all residential units would be required to be affordable or vital housing. The amendment excluded tourist homes, visitor accommodation and employee housing. A new motion also directed that  affordable housing be developed at the same time as residential builds take place, opposed to possible waiting until the end, or not at all.

Borrowman noted under provincial legislation a municipality is unable to force a developer to build affordable housing, noting how affordable housing has been a priority in the community. He added how the Town’s Municipal Development Plan emphasizes more affordable housing.

“One of our jobs as council is to have that vision and look forward 30 or 40 years to what the community is on that future date," he said. "Of 20 per cent of non-market affordable housing, however they are defined, will really help put us where we need to be to be a sustainable community. … We need space where we can develop housing that meets our base needs and we need certainty that’s going to occur. Given that’s been mine and council’s priority for years to provide and promote as much inventory of non-market affordable housing as possible.”

McCallum, who brought forward the motion, acknowledged the limited power of a municipality to enforce it. Though it’s outside their purview under the MGA, she highlighted how the 1992 NRCB decision specified more access to affordable and entry-level housing.

“When the architects of the NRCB decision came forward with the intent of a larger range of housing, they could actually see the way real estate was actually developing in our community. … Over the last 30 years, councils before never thought they’d see the end number we’re looking at right now in our community for a condo, a townhouse, a 60-year-old knockdown in south Canmore. I don’t think that was ever contemplated as being a possibility. I believe this amendment shows the base of what we should be expecting for larger developments like this.”