Canmore struggles with future development, human wildlife coexistence in 2017

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It was a rocky road through 2017 for Canmore, with future development of the community one of the most talked about issues of the entire year.

As early as January, indications were that Three Sisters Mountain Village would submit two major development applications at one time – an amendment to its previously approved resort centre plans and a new plan for its Smith Creek area.

The developer owns the largest chunk of undeveloped land in the Town of Canmore’s urban growth boundary and has, through a 1992 Natural Resources Conservation Board decision, the rights to build enough housing to double the population of the community to 30,000 in the future.

But one of the requirements of the NRCB decision is that wildlife corridors be established in order for development to move forward and in January, TSMV submitted an application to Alberta Environment and Parks to delineate the final corridor on its lands.

For the first time, AEP engaged in a public consultation process on a wildlife corridor application. Although the government tasked the developer with hosting it, sparking concern in the community about the process.

Canmore-based Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and other wildlife and land conservation groups opposed the proposed corridor size and alignment.

Throughout the year, AEP’s director of the South Saskatchewan region Roger Ramcharita made two requests for additional information from TSMV and by year-end a decision had not yet been reached.

In March, QuantumPlace Developments, which represents TSMV, submitted its area structure plan for Smith Creek and an amendment to the resort centre area structure plan to the Town of Canmore for approval.

However, due to the fact a corridor decision had not been reached yet, it withdrew the Smith Creek application, as it was immediately adjacent to proposed corridor.

When the resort centre ASP went before Canmore council for first reading, it was defeated unanimously without going to public hearing. Council indicated the vision put forward did not match its vision for the future development of that resort commercial area.

But future development in Three Sisters was not the only debate over what should be built, and where, that Canmore residents grappled with.

Two other proposed infill developments stirred debate in the community over the appropriateness of their locations – one of which was the old daycare lands located at 11th Avenue and 17th Street. The municipally-owned land was proposed to be developed as perpetually affordable housing, a program created and operated by Canmore Community Housing Corporation.

The process to rezone and subdivide the land saw debate over whether it was an appropriate location for affordable housing, or should be left untouched. Approvals went forward, however, and eventually Canmore-based Distinctive Homes was chosen through a competitive process as the developer.

At the same time, council approved rezoning land it owns on Palliser Trail and partnering with a private sector company – Northvew REIT – to develop a purpose-built rental building.

Other major development news in 2017 included the idea of a gondola and casino in Silvertip, although no applications for either have been made, a new Catholic church for the community on Palliser Trail and the possibility of two new rental apartment buildings in the Kananaskis Way area.

The Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce officially launched itself in 2017, bringing a new player to the table in the business community. The chamber’s first year was dedicated to building membership, but by the end of the year it had launched an Innovate Canmore process to try and attract more interest from the tech sector.

By March, it was becoming abundantly clear that the City of Calgary’s Olympic bid exploration process would need to involve representation from the community of Canmore as it began to analyze the prospects of hosting another games in the valley in 2026.

By the end of 2017, the exploration process had transitioned into a more formal bid committee with an expectation that Canmore Mayor John Borrowman, along with other officials, would go to PyeongChang in February as part of a delegation. Council also approved $200,000 to hire consultants to help guide the municipality through the process.

Canmore’s Main Street was closed to construction for part of the year, in order for road construction and deep utility work to be completed at the entrance of Spring Creek Mountain Village. The new design, when it was completed later in the year, represents a new style for the community’s streets that incorporates more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

The summer for Canmore residents was absolutely dominated by two major news stories – the Verdant Creek wildfire burning 25 kilometres away from the Bow Valley sending smoke and ash into town for part of July and all of August, and bear 148.

While the fire never actually threatened the community, the anxiety of residents around the possibility of a wildfire reaching the Bow Valley was palpable. Those with respiratory conditions were most affected by the smoke, which at times obscured the sun it was so thick.

Bear 148, on the other hand, became a rallying point for those in the community concerned about how human use is affecting wildlife movement and, in particular, the Quarry Lake recreational area.

The popular swimming hole, which is a reclaimed open pit mine, its adjacent off-leash dog park and the general area surrounding it were a hotbed of activity in summer. Bear 148 had made her way to the Quarry Lake area several times in summer, crossing from Banff National Park, where she spent most of her time, and entering the jurisdiction of Alberta Parks wildlife managers and then into Fish and Wildlife territory when she entered Canmore’s town limits.

Fish and Wildlife managers trapped the grizzly in July and returned her to Banff, but when she returned, instead of closing the popular human use areas to activity, relocated her to northern Alberta.

It wasn’t until September that residents discovered what the beloved bear’s fate would be – she was shot and killed by a hunter in B.C. as part of a legal hunt.

The bear’s fate highlighted the fact that in the Bow Valley issues remain to be addressed around human-wildlife interactions. As a result of the public outcry at her removal, Mayor Borrowman and MLA Cam Westhead initiated a roundtable to begin bringing together relevant government stakeholders that manage wildlife with municipal officials to try and find solutions.

The issue of wildlife goes hand in hand with dog ownership for a community like Canmore and plans by the municipality to establish several new off-leash dog parks to reduce human and off-leash dog presence in wildlife corridors came forward in September.

A group of homeowners in Hubman Landing opposed the amenity and had lawyers appear as a delegation to present their concerns about having an off-leash park too close to their homes.

One Canmore resident had a grisly discovery as they found an elk gut pile just metres from homes in the Larch neighbourhood, sparking calls for the province to consider reviewing the boundaries of where bow hunting is allowed in relation to the community’s own boundary.

The end of the summer season led directly into a fall municipal election campaign and one that had much debate over the future direction of the community. Borrowman announced his intention to seek re-election only after fellow council member Ed Russell declared his candidacy and Ron Casey, who sat as mayor and MLA before being defeated by Westhead in 2015, threw his hat into the ring.

Casey quickly, and without much comment, withdrew his name from the mayoral race before nomination day.

Borrowman defeated Russell on election day, and Councillors Joanna McCallum, Rob Seeley, Vi Sandford, Esme Comfort were re-elected. New councillors Jeff Hisltad and Karen Marra joined them to form the next council.

Canmore’s planning department began the tough job of enforcing its own Land Use Bylaw when it comes to illegal nightly vacation rentals in the community this summer. While community members have been making complaints about this specific type of use, until this year the rules were not necessarily being enforced due to the complexity of the issue and the way the regulations in the bylaw are written open them up to easy appeal.

But it was clear that community members, and some neighbours, were at their wits’ end with respect to the issue. By the end of the year, administration with the Town of Canmore were beginning to proactively enforce the bylaw in the community and promised changes to the bylaw in 2018 to help address the issue. Those found to be running illegal bed and breakfasts were issued $2,500 fines and cease use orders.

Contractors working on the expansion of the Bow River Seniors Lodge were charged with breaching the occupational health and safety act in relation to a gas explosion in 2015.

Charges against APM Construction Service, Ground Zero Grading and two individuals were filed in Canmore Provincial Court in relation to the incident, which significantly damaged 14 homes, causing several families to have to rebuild their homes from the ground up.

Residents of the Bow Valley can expect a new electoral district when they head to the polls for the next provincial election. A new Banff-Kananaskis riding was proposed as part of the electoral riding changes considered for the entire province.

The change in name included a change in boundary, with Cochrane no longer part of the riding and the T’suu Tina First Nation.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook