CANMORE – A previously approved 10-unit visitor accommodation development in Mallard Alley will not go ahead as originally planned.
A group of residents won their appeal at the Town of Canmore’s subdivision and development appeal board (SDAB) earlier this month that nullified the planning commission’s prior approval.
The proposed development would have seen a visitor accommodation building replace the house at 706 10th St. – now used as an Airbnb home – with 10-units and a total of 23 bedrooms in the Mallard Alley area of Canmore.
Gordon Schultz, a 40-year resident of Mallard Alley who launched the appeal, said the neighbourhood was surprised by the outcome but hope the developer comes back with a project that better fit the community.
Schultz noted a more reasonable development for the residential area would be similar to 710 or 718 10th St., which features a mix of retail on the ground floor, commercial on the second and residential on the top level.
“We were elated, but we hope what will happen going forward is they’ll bring forward a development to one similar to across the street. … If they came back with something like that, great, where do we sign up?,” he said.
Schultz, who worked in the travel sector, said he and other community neighbours educated themselves on the Town’s statutory documents such as the land use bylaw and the municipal development plan in aiding their appeal.
“If you have a problem in your neighbourhood, get involved and get informed,” said Schultz, who noted about 75 per cent of Mallard Alley homes are lived in by owners. “We informed ourselves, we used the system as it’s available to us. We laid out cogent and reasonable arguments.”
While it puts a halt to the immediate development plans, the applicant can proceed with an appeal to the Court of Queens Bench within 30 days of the SDAB decision.
Chad Russill, the principal with the Calgary-based Systemic Architecture Inc. and representative for the landowner, said on behalf of the landowner they were anxious to have further talks with the neighbourhood on the future of the property.
“As the owner, we are compassionate with the neighbours’ concerns and are planning to engage them for continued discussions as we review potential project revisions and next steps," he said in an email. "This project will make a significant contribution to the streetscape and community as a whole, which parallels (Canmore Planning Commission) commentary on a recent, similar project in the area. The overall desire is to adhere to the land use bylaw, while reinforcing tourism in Canmore, which is the number one economic driver for the Town.
"We plan to assist local business through the day-to-day operation of these visitor accommodations, support the local economy, and be part of the community. We are hopeful that through listening to adjacent homeowner concerns and considering revisions related to their comments voiced during the SDAB Hearing, a positive outcome can be achieved.”
The Sept. 16 SDAB hearing heard from 11 residents after the appeal was signed by 18 locals.
The board analyzed the statutory documents of the land use bylaw and the municipal development plan. They also had verbal written submissions for and against the development and a report from the Town of Canmore’s planning department as evidence.
The board’s findings of fact listed 12 aspects of the plan and had five reasons for denying the development, with the primary one being it needed to have fewer impacts on parking and the neighbourhood because it's in a residential area.
“Parking for the proposed development is likely to be insufficient for the proposed use leading to increased parking on Mallard Alley and blocking of residential driveways,” the board's order stated. “Traffic on Mallard Alley will increase because the sole vehicular access to the proposed development is via Mallard Alley, which is narrow.
“Increased traffic on this narrow road that has no sidewalks is likely to cause safety concerns for residents of Mallard Alley, particularly children. Noise will likely increase in the neighbourhood due to the 24-hour operation nature of the proposed visitor accommodation development, negatively impacting residential homeowners.”
SDAB also found the four minor variances didn't pass the variance test.
“We worked within the system to express our concerns, a decision was made in our favour and now it’s up to the owner to decide what’s next,” Schultz said. “There’s nothing to stop them from coming forward. They could fight the SDAB decision, but we don’t know if that’s the path they may go down.”
The proposed development was reluctantly approved by the planning commission in August. While it received unanimous support from the commission, members voiced their opinions that it looked more like a residential build as opposed to visitor accommodation.
The 10 units would have had a total of 27 bedrooms and parking for 10 vehicles. It would have also included six short-term bicycle stalls.
The members noted at the time it met the land use bylaw requirements – which they are legislated to follow when making decisions – and the four minor variances were small.
The variances were for height adjustments due to the roof, a front yard setback, not having a loading stall and not requiring a street-facing entrance.
The lengthy August meeting went for about two hours and featured a rare in-camera session before approval was granted.
Residents in Mallard Alley voiced concerns about the increase in traffic, the already limited amount of parking available and the size of the project for the neighbourhood.
The Town Centre Master Plan – which Mallard Alley is part of – was established in 1998 and has been earmarked for an update since 2015. It had been put on hold during previous budget considerations and again during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be in effect until at least 2023.
The plan serves as the guiding document for the downtown core.
Schultz said the original development plan would have brought significant extra traffic to Mallard Alley.
“The alley is our only roadway. We have no streetscape on the other side. It can’t handle the type of volume being proposed,” Schultz said.
“We could see 15 to 20 cars on a weekend coming in and out at all hours, along with four balconies off the back, you’ll have a lot more noise. … It just doesn’t fit."