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Council in Alberta mountain town of Canmore rejects second proposed development

Town council in a popular Alberta mountain community has rejected a second proposed development project that raised concerns about wildlife, affordable housing and taxes.

Proposed Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek projects would have almost doubled town's population

A public hearing on the two developments took seven days and heard from more than 200 people concerned about the possible effects on the town and on wildlife in the area. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Town council in a popular Alberta mountain community has rejected a second proposed development project that raised concerns about wildlife, affordable housing and taxes.

The proposed Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek projects in Canmore, west of Calgary, would have almost doubled the town's population in the coming decades.

The two proposals included about 80 per cent of the town's remaining developable land.

Council had already rejected Smith Creek in a unanimous decision last month. On Tuesday, it rejected the Three Sisters Village plan in a 6-1 vote.

"I'm disappointed," said Mayor John Borrowman, who was the lone vote in favour of the second proposal. "I saw this as an opportunity to bring some balance to our community. Now that balance will continue to be uncertain, until some future time.

"But I certainly will accept and support the decision of council."

Borrowman later told The Homestretch he voted in favour of development for the benefits to the community.

"I was quite interested in the large amount of affordable housing that was committed to by the developer in the restructured plan, and also the future balancing of our residential and commercial tax split."

Borrowman said the commercial development could have helped shift some of the tax base for Canmore's roughly 15,000 residents.

"We have very strong tax base. The goal was to shift that commercial residential split, so that more of the tax base would be paid by the commercial sector," he said. "Right now our residential taxes are carrying more of the load than than we would prefer."

Hundreds expressed opposition to development projects

A public hearing on the two developments took seven days and heard from more than 200 people concerned about the possible effects on the town and on wildlife in the area. Hundreds of others wrote letters opposed to the projects.

Councillors said they couldn't support the Three Sisters proposal despite amendments that were made to improve the overall plan.

"It's far and above better than it was when it first came to us," said Coun. Jeff Hilstad. "But I do think there are still areas that need to be addressed that just can't be addressed through amendments."

Coun. Vi Sandford said she still had concerns about wildlife, as well as growth in the town.

"The footprint size and the scale and the scope of this (plan) is still a concern to the community," she said.

"We need to be planning and building for the future with this long-term project."

Sandford added the land is developable in an appropriate way, but the latest proposal didn't achieve that.

No one from the company overseeing the development immediately returned a request for comment.

'Huge outpouring of concern'

Experts had said the two proposals to provide homes for up to 14,500 added residents and tourists would have added more pressure to an already busy valley.

Karsten Heuer, a wildlife biologist, said he was elated by Tuesday's decision to reject the development.

"We were reminded that democracy still works in Canmore," he said in an interview. "It was a huge outpouring of concern in the last five months."

Some residents, he said, are now discussing whether it would be possible to raise enough money to purchase and take control of some of the land for conservation.

Mayor Borrowman said Canmore benefits from having robust debates like this one, which went on for six days over Zoom.

"We've always been a very engaged community and people were very informed, and I think it's one of the great things about Canmore is how involved our community is," Borrowman said. "And we have so many people in Canmore that are very well educated and spent a lot of time reviewing all of the plans and providing counsel with very well informed perspective ... we had a lot of feedback."

Heuer and others have raised concerns about development in an area used by wildlife to move around in the Rocky Mountains.

The wildlife corridor — and how wide it needs to be to allow animals such as grizzly bears, elk and wolves to move efficiently — has been debated ever since a 1992 environmental assessment found it to be an important area.

With files from The Homestretch.

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