Calgary

3-day hearing in Canmore gives platform for hundreds to speak on proposed developments

A three-day hearing is underway in Canmore to address two proposed and controversial developments in an important wildlife corridor east of the town.

Communities could narrow wildlife corridor and allow town's population to increase, concerned residents say

Canmore's wildlife corridor — and how wide it needs to be to allow animals including grizzly bears, elk and wolves to move efficiently — has been debated for decades after a 1992 environmental assessment found it to be an important area. (John Pomeroy/University of Saskatchewan)

A three-day hearing got underway in Canmore on Tuesday to address two proposed and controversial community developments in an important wildlife corridor east of the town.

The communities under discussion were put forward by Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) and Quantum Place Developments, and are called the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek.

If approved, the communities could narrow the wildlife corridor and allow the town's population to increase. They would also cover about 80 per cent of the remaining developable land in Canmore.

Mayor John Borrowman and several Canmore councillors attended the virtual hearing. There are 40 people registered to present on Tuesday, and 270 in total.

Each is given 10 minutes to speak, and many are against the developments — which also prompted a protestors to gather outside Canmore's civic centre.

Protestors gathered in front of Canmore's civic centre to protest the proposed developments on Tuesday afternoon. (Vincent Bonnay/CBC)

"The main areas, I think, for me is the density," said Canmore resident Mark Hornyansky, who presented in opposition of the communities on Tuesday.

"Adding 8,000 to 14,000 people in that area, to me, it seems like way too much, way too dense. And once you commit to that density, you can't go back. I think it should be cut back."

Paul Clarke, who works with Shift Consulting on behalf of TSMV, told CBC News earlier this month that the projected increases to the town's population were based on maxed-out visitor accommodations. 

"The projected population increase for both visitors and permanent residents is between 7,700 to 14,500 people," Clarke said in part.

"These estimates are based on conservative occupancy rates used for infrastructure design — however, they also assume 100% occupancy of visitor accommodation units, including all hotel rooms (this may occur at peak periods)."

Also on the other side of the issue was resident Chris Conner, who talked about the need for more affordable housing, which would be included in these projects.

Conner said that he is a civil engineer and can't afford to live on his own.

"There is a big gap between the programs available to us and the housing stock, and I hope this development can address that," he said.

Wildlife corridor ongoing worry for conservationist

Central to the discussion surrounding the developments is Canmore's wildlife corridor — and how wide it needs to be to allow animals, including grizzly bears, elk and wolves, to move efficiently.

It has been contested for decades after a 1992 environmental assessment found it to be an important area.

In June 2018, Alberta Environment and Parks under an NDP government said the wildlife corridor would be too narrow under another Quantum Development proposal. But it was reworked by developers and approved by the United Conservative government early last year.

The proposals for the two developments now under consideration have since become subjects of a heated debate.

One of the main issues of concern is that the wildlife corridor goes through town — a worry echoed by local experts that include Hilary Young, bottom right, who is the senior Alberta program manager with the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative. (Town of Canmore)

One of the main issues of concern is that the wildlife corridor goes through town — a worry echoed by local experts that include Hilary Young, who is the senior Alberta program manager with the Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative.

At Tuesday's hearing, Young said in early 2019, Y2Y approached TSMV for a series of discussions to explore alternative corridor designs that would "maintain wildlife connectivity and TSMV's goals."

The meetings concluded with an impasse, she said, while in summer 2020, Y2Y hired a Calgary-based planning group to develop modified designs to offer suggestions that considered the developer's desired outcomes and the "needs of nature."

"We shared our suggestions in the report with TSMV, and they chose not to incorporate any … of our suggested changes," Young said.

Project strengths, unresolved concerns presented by council

The hearings on Tuesday also featured a presentation from Josh Welsh, who works in community planning with the Town of Canmore, that summarized the strengths and issues regarding the developments plans.

The strengths cited in the presentation included an increase of affordable housing and the development of public transportation.

The unresolved concerns cited by the town included the large scale of the plans and preserving the ecological integrity of the area.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation are also concerns, as increased buildings and transportation will increase the town's annual greenhouse gas emissions, Welsh said.

Welsh also talked about the displacement of wildlife as a consequence of the developments, which would be projected to double human use within wildlife corridors and animal habitats, he said.

"Coordinating the monitoring of human use with town wildlife monitoring will be needed, in order to help quantify cumulative impacts imposed upon wildlife," Welsh said.

The town said that due to the overwhelming response from the public, the hearings could go beyond its Thursday wrap-up date.

But once they come to an end, the plans for the developments will proceed to a second reading by Canmore's town council, who can reject the plans, ask for changes, or approve and move it on for a third reading.

With files from Colleen Underwood and The Canadian Press

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