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Virtual meeting explores concerns, opposition to proposed Three Sisters Mountain Village development

Opponents of the proposed Three Sisters Mountain Village development voiced their displeasure and concerns during a two hour virtual panel discussion hosted by Bow Valley Engage on Tuesday (Feb. 23).

CANMORE – Opponents of future proposed development in Three Sisters Mountain Village voiced their displeasure and concerns two weeks before a public hearing is set to occur to provide feedback on the controversial application to Canmore council. 

At a virtual meeting Tuesday (Feb. 23), five panellists discussed concerns ranging from the community impact, wildlife corridors, the possible financial implications of the proposed build and the prospect of safety risks due to undermining in the region.

Held by Bow Valley Engage, a group of local residents against the potential development, the two-hour discussion had 844 attendees and 159 questions and comments, according to organizers.

“This is admittedly a very complex and multifaceted issue and it’s an issue that deserves a lot of attention from residents,” Karsten Heuer, a wildlife biologist in the Bow Valley region for more than two decades, said of the proposed development.

“This proposal in its entirety has the power to forever change our community.”

During his presentation, Heuer emphasized they weren’t against development, but the current proposals were “completely unacceptable.”

Heuer, who spoke on the potential wildlife corridor implications, said if it went ahead it would bring a “monumental” change to the town.

He stressed any approval under the existing plans would shrink the wildlife corridor well under the recommended one-kilometre gap recommended under the Bow Corridor Ecosystem Advisory Group's wildlife corridor and habitat patch guidelines for the Bow Valley. It could shrink to less than 100 metres at some sections, he said, having a significant impact on wolves and their paths of movement.

"We are getting close to cutting these animals off and the best remaining viable movement rates actually exist on the side of the valley that proposes to double the size of Canmore," Heuer said.

TSMV has also proposed a second underpass under the Trans-Canada Highway as part of its mitigation plans for wildlife movement north-south across the valley.

Chris Ollenberger, the managing principal of QuantumPlace Developments, said the new underpass is only a “slice of a picture,” and is post-development. If approved, the across valley connection would be shifted to the east and a new wildlife underpass would be built under the Trans-Canada Highway, but the old one would remain in place as well.

“It takes time for animals to get used to it and start using it. The intent is to leave the old one while they get used to the new one and there’s no point in taking out the old one when they do," Ollenberger said, noting their environmental impact statement that was also reviewed by the town and a third-party supported the work.

Roderick de Leeuw, a longtime Canmore resident and former manager of financial services for the Town of Canmore, said every area structure plan promises commercial development since council can be “swayed” by it, as it generates more taxes than residential development.

However, he said historic trends reinforce that the promised commercial assessment is unlikely since residential builds are more lucrative.

He recommended the Town tie in commercial development along with the pace of residential builds, making the construction of new homes only possible if a level of commercial development takes place.

Without it, de Leeuw said it could lead to a “significant net negative fiscal impact for the Town’s finances and continue to put pressure on the municipal tax rates.”

Ollenberger said the municipal impact fiscal assessment broke down the expenditures and it wouldn’t be contingent on maximizing commercial development.

A 12-minute video on undermining was also shown before the question and answer period for the public.

The village is on a heavily undermined area in Canmore – estimated to be more than 3,000 kilometres of underground mining routes – and provincial regulations were recently updated for developing on such lands. The changes required a second engineer to approve the undermining plan for each parcel of land.

The presentation highlighted the risk of sinkholes, such as the 2010 one near Dyrgas Gate that proved costly to fix, and the limited liability held by engineers and developers if an insurance claim was made.

Under the Canmore Undermining Review Regulation in the Municipal Government Act, engineers are liable up to 10 years and as high as $5 million per insurance claim. A developer has the similar $5 million per claim, but only for two years. The presentation warned that the Town would likely get stuck with expensive costs once the liability expires for the engineer and developer.

Ollenberger said the majority of the undermining was done at a traditional 20 degree slope, with fewer than five per cent taking an arch-like shape and weakening the ability of the land to hold structures. He noted they are able to mitigate the previously mined land to strengthen it, but since the areas with the most concern with respect to undermining are “relatively isolated” and expensive to mitigate, those areas do not have buildings proposed on them.

The proposed development of the TSMV lands has been a hot-button issue in Canmore since it was first considered in the early 1990s, as it could significantly change the Town and landscape.

TSMV has submitted two area structure plans (ASP) for approval – for the Three Sisters Village area and Smith Creek. The Village area was originally approved for development as a resort centre and included a golf course, a plan that has since been abandoned. 

Canmore council passed first reading Feb. 9 during a seven-hour meeting and a public hearing is set for March 9 at 9 a.m.

The proposed development represents roughly 80 per cent of the developable land remaining in Canmore.

The area comprises 169 hectares (418 acres) and the ASPs establishes the development plans for the next three decades. The previous planning approvals allow for 3,000 residential units in the Village, but a density bonusing toolkit allows for a maximum of 5,000 units.

The bulk of the builds would be medium to high density projects such as townhomes, stacked townhomes and apartments.

Under the plan, there’s a proposed 20 per cent of the housing set aside to meet various needs in the community.

There’s 56,000 square metres (602,000 square feet) of retail and commercial space being proposed and 40 per cent of the plan is set aside as open space.

It would lead to an estimated permanent and visitor population of 5,500 to 10,000, which is based off the maximum occupancy.

-With files from Tanya Foubert, Rocky Mountain Outlook