Canmore weighs controversial Peaks of Grassi housing development for 3rd time

Canmore town council held a public hearing on Tuesday to let citizens to weigh in on the latest proposal that would see a forested urban reserve turned into a residential development.

Earlier version of plan was struck down by judge last year

Canmore, Alta., residents attended a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a development in the Peaks of Grassi neighbourhood. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Canmore town council held a public hearing on Tuesday to allow citizens to weigh in on the latest proposal that would see a forested urban reserve in a neighbourhood turned into a residential development.

About 100 people showed up for the three-hour hearing on whether or not the land should be redesignated to add more homes in the Peaks of Grassi community on the south side of town, with most raising their voices in opposition to the project. 

"It's bad enough that the town allowed our home in the Peaks to be built within a flood zone. Why would any reasonable council even consider building in this area with the knowledge now available, and to do so, in my reasonable submission, is grossly negligent," said Mark Gruman, who filed the legal challenge against the previous development proposal.

The four-acre site consists of three parcels of land. The developers want to build 27 residential units and 13 secondary suites, with a mix of townhouses, duplexes and single-family homes. Some of the townhouses would be earmarked as affordable housing. 

In 2014 a developer first proposed adding an additional 40 units to the street of 49 homes, which would have contradicted a 1998 settlement agreement capping development in the neighbourhood and leaving parts of the site as an urban reserve. Residents also raised concerns that one of the three plots is on a rocky outcropping and another is in a flood zone.

"Morally and ethically, the settlement agreement exists," said former Canmore mayor Ron Casey, saying he knows the detail that went into the original document because he worked on it. "The developer that sold that site … did so with full knowledge they were breaking that settlement agreement."

The three parcels of land where the proposed development would be built are located on the south side of Canmore. (Town of Canmore)

City council approved a bylaw amendment for the site in 2016, but dozens of residents filed a legal challenge.

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Gates ruled last July that the town breached its duty of fairness by failing to comply with the EIS requirements as mandated.

"I find the manner the EIS [environmental impact statement] requirement was dealt with was so 'devoid of the appearance of fairness that the administration of justice is brought into disrepute,'" Gates wrote in his decision.

Earlier this month, town council received a new application to rezone the area and allow development and approved the first reading. 

One of the few voices in support of the project was Steve Ashton with the Canmore Community Housing Corporation, which hopes to sell the affordable housing units to those in need.

"We have an additional 118 people on our waitlist … CCHC believes the development will have a positive impact on the community," he said. 

Portions of Peaks of Grassi in Canmore are designated as an urban reserve. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Gruman argued that the developer has no intention of building the affordable housing outlined in the plan, suggesting that the plot set aside for affordable housing was one that could not be developed, as it's in a flood zone.

Development has been a hot-button issue in Canmore in recent years, as residents have weighed the need for more housing with a desire to keep a harmonious balance when it comes to human-wildlife encounters. 

Alberta Parks closed the urban reserve in Grassi from July to September 2017 in an attempt to prevent interactions between bears and humans.

Town council will discuss next week what will happen with the application.

With files from Scott Dippel


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