Plans to use lands from an abandoned golf course project to add more development to Three Sisters Mountain Village’s resort core are being challenged by at least one local conservation group.
The Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) conservation initiative, which has been around since 1997, held a community conversation on the plans to develop Three Sisters last Thursday (Sept. 29) at the Canmore Senior’s Centre.
Stephan Legault, Y2Y program director, said additional development proposed for the resort centre on the abandoned golf course lands would affect the nearby wildlife corridor.
In fact, Legault remarked that the original concept in the Resort Centre Area Structure Plan for the golf course was that it would provide additional space for wildlife movement on the fairways, adding development would not be appropriate to keeping the corridor functioning.
“We have a valley that is one of the most heavily developed places in the Rocky Mountains that still has functioning wildlife movement corridors,” he said. “The question is, how much more development can we have here and still pride ourselves on maintaining these functional corridors?”
Canmore biologist Karten Heuer said a lot of work by the local conservation community in 2002 was focused on making sure the corridor next to the resort centre functions. He said by opening the door to development in that area, gains made in that prior process may be lost.
“One of the things being potentially proposed is … undoing a lot of this effort that was done to protect that corridor,” Heuer said.
The area planned for the resort centre has an area structure plan in place, approved by council in 2004. In order to change how TSMV plans to use the former golf course lands, an amendment to the planning document is needed, which requires council approval and a public hearing. The range of units proposed for development in the resort centre is 1,600 to 3,400 and the development includes a significant hotel, spa facility and recreation space.
Chris Ollenberger, with development company QuantumPlace, in charge of TSMV’s development applications, said by adding more development on the former golf course lands in the resort centre, it makes the development more financially viable and possible.
Ollenberger said the ASP amendment has not yet been submitted by QuantumPlace to the municipality, and an open house is planned by the developer for Oct. 18 with details of the proposed changes.
For Legault and Y2Y, functioning wildlife corridors through the Bow Valley is critical to the overall mandate of the organization for people and wildlife to thrive on the landscape from the Yukon all the way to Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.
He said the Bow Valley is really a test of the commitment Y2Y has to achieve continental-scale wildlife connectivity and movement.
“This conversation has been going on for an extremely long time, since 1992,” Legault said. “In many ways, 1992 was the defining point in the conversation on whether or not we will be able to make decisions in the Bow Valley that would lead to the connection of landscapes around the Bow Valley with one another.”
It was in 1992 that the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) decision on development in the Three Sisters lands was made. The decision provided the developer with guaranteed development rights in terms of unit totals, appointed the provincial government as the decision making authority on wildlife corridor locations and the municipality as the development authority.
Legault said in 2016, the municipality and community are facing the final decisions on the Three Sisters lands with the Smith Creek area structure plan (for the remaining undeveloped lands in sites 7, 8 and 9) and the resort centre ASP changes.
On the southwest side of the Bow Valley, wildlife still has to navigate through human uses in order to travel from Banff National Park into Kananskis Country. That include the Canmore Nordic Centre, the Rundle forebay, Quarry Lake, Peaks of Grassi subdivision and then the extent of the Three Sisters lands – in total an eight kilometre distance.
The valley is, peak to peak, 10 kilometres wide, with four kilometres at the valley bottom and Legault said the wildlife corridors on the landscape represent less than half a kilometre of space on the edge of the valley for wildlife.
“The decisions we have made over and over again in Canmore and the Bow Valley have created a situation where this is the conversation we are having,” he said. “These are our last decisions on this landscape. It is not a lot of space, there wasn’t a lot of space to start with, and there is much less today for wildlife to survive.”