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Tribunal orders Town to approve Smith Creek, Three Sisters Village ASPs

The Land and Property Rights Tribunal has ordered the Town of Canmore to adopt both the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village area structure plans.
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Homes near forest area in Stewart Creek at Three Sisters Mountain Village on Thursday (April 1). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

The Land and Property Rights Tribunal has ordered the Town of Canmore to adopt both the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village area structure plans.

The tribunal released its decisions Tuesday (May 17) morning and found that both ASPs were consistent with the 1992 Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) decision.

“We are pleased with the decision of the LPRT today,” said David Taylor, the president of Three Sisters Mountain Village Properties Limited (TSMVPL) in a media release.

“Our team worked hard on applications that will create development that is good for Canmore, good for Three Sisters, and aligned with the NRCB decision that permits development of our property. The LPRT decisions show the value of the work of our team.”

The release added TSMVPL will be “carefully reviewing the decisions” and look forward to moving forward with development of the lands.

A spokesperson for the Town said they reviewing the decisions and will provide a comment when it’s appropriate.

The LPRT’s decision paves the way for the two ASPs to proceed, but the Town will have the option of legally appealing both decisions.

The 56-page decision for the Three Sisters Village ASP noted it was consistent with the NRCB decision. The findings of the tribunal stated the Village ASP is consistent with the NRCB approval, “the Town does not have authority to deny it.”

The LPRT further noted how the Town can change certain details under the NRCB approval, but it doesn’t allow the municipality to “refuse the project altogether if it complies with the NRCB approval. Section 619 requires the Town to approve the application to the extent that it complies with the NRCB approval.”

The tribunal also highlighted how the NRCB decision has no expiration or a requirement for development to be completed in a set timeframe.

While there were numerous amendments made to the Village ASP at second reading, most notably prioritizing commercial development and mandating 20 per cent affordable housing, the tribunal disagreed with the process of coming to the amendments.

“The amendments to the ASP were not subject to rigorous study and should not be incorporated,” the decision stated.

“The LPRT agrees that the ASP was prepared after numerous reports, and the amendments were proposed without a similar level of study. In any event, the ASP as amended was not passed. Under those circumstances, the LPRT determined that the ASP as originally submitted should be ordered.”

It also added the attempts to shift commercial and residential development were “not feasible and is poor planning practice to require commercial space to be built before market demand exists to support it.”

Land and Property Rights Tribunal Three Sisters Village area structure plan decision by Greg on Scribd

The tribunal agreed with TSMVPL in regards to Smith Creek ASP in its 51-page decision. Similar to its decision on the Three Sisters Village ASP, the tribunal stated the Town doesn’t have the authority to deny the Smith Creek ASP if it’s consistent with the NRCB decision.

It also found that while the Thunderstone lands aren’t mentioned in the 1992 NRCB decision, its inclusion in the 2018 terms of reference “constitutes the Town’s approval of the changes, as contemplated in the NRCB approval.”

The tribunal also found the wildlife corridor had received the required Alberta Environment and Parks approval, which noted it was consistent with the 1992 NRCB decision.

It found the NRCB had concerns about the potential impacts on wildlife, but “the LPRT is satisfied that the review by AEP was thorough and diligent.”

The tribunal concluded its decision on Smith Creek by emphasizing it had heard no evidence that countered the work completed by TSMVPL in finishing the required work for the ASP.

“There was no evidence disputing the reports and witness testimony, and the reports were prepared by qualified professionals; therefore, the LPRT accepts the evidence of the appellant’s witnesses that the Smith Creek ASP is consistent with the NRCB approval,” the decision stated.

Land and Property Rights Tribunal decision on Smith Creek area structure plan by Greg on Scribd

TSMVPL launched the appeal last spring under Section 619 of the Municipal Government Act.

The clause directs a decision to be made 30 days after the close of the hearings, but both TSMVPL and the Town agreed to give the tribunal more time in rendering a decision.

The hearings were held in March and lasted 15 days, with more than 110 hours of testimony and thousands of pages of evidence presented to the tribunal.

It focused on affordable housing, the 1992 NRCB decision, the wildlife corridor, undermining and the future growth for Canmore.

During the Smith Creek ASP hearing, Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative, the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the NRCB were all granted limited intervenor status. The Three Sisters Village ASP hearing only had the Town and TSMVPL give testimony.

In a media release, Y2Y stated they were "deeply disappointed and concerned" by the decisions and pointed to a recent study that outlined the ASPs would impact the connectivity of wildlife such as grizzly bears and wolves.

"Unless overturned, this decision will cause harm to the lands, and wildlife movement and habitat of an important part of the Yellowstone to Yukon region," the release added. "Keeping these lands connected and intact is in the best interest of Albertans now and into the future. Connectivity provides the best chance for some of our most cherished and threatened wildlife to thrive."

There are still several legal challenges taking place regarding the TSMVPL-owned lands.

TSMVPL launched a $161 million lawsuit against the Town and the previous council in December.

Thunderstone Quarries has also filed a $63.5 million lawsuit against the Town since it owns lands that are part of the rejected Smith Creek area structure plan.

TSMVPL filed for judicial review for both the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village ASPs, which have been granted by the Court of Queen’s Bench. Neither reviews have a timeline to be heard.

The Smith Creek ASP proposed an estimated population of 2,200 to 4,500 people and includes between 1,000 and 2,150 residential units.

The ASP had upwards of 75,000-square-feet of light industrial and business space and about 125,000-square-feet of retail and commercial space for local services.

Three Sisters Village ASP could lead to between 3,000-5,000 residential units – depending on the bonus density – and between 5,500 and 10,000 visitors and permanent population. There would be up to 602,000-square-feet of retail and business space and about 188,000-square-feet of indoor recreation and entertainment, with 75 hectares of open space and 10 per cent of the housing deemed affordable.

The ASP covers an area of about 169 hectares (417 acres).

The Outlook will update this story as more information becomes available.