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Canmore council set to discuss, debate housing action plan

A housing action plan for the Town of Canmore could see the phasing out of the tourist home designation, property tax options to incentivize more housing in the community and possible changes to the land use bylaw.
Canmore Civic Centre 2
Canmore Civic Centre on Thursday (April 21). JUNGMIN HAM RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – A housing action plan for the Town of Canmore could see the phasing out of the tourist home designation, property tax options to incentivize more housing in the community and possible changes to the land use bylaw.

The plan, released Thursday (June 1) with the publication of the June 6 council agenda, will be considered by Canmore council June 6 but comes after several workshops between Town staff and council in the last 18 months and the identification of housing being the biggest priority in council’s strategic plan.

Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert said the plan will be a “multi-pronged approach” with several recommendations returning to council in the coming months in areas of land, building homes, tax policy changes, land use policy, enforcement and employee housing.

“This is a wide appeal to the whole community to be part of the solution in some form,” he said.

The release of the plan aligns with the soon-to-be launch of the federal government’s $4 billion housing accelerator fund. The fund is managed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and is set to open this summer. It will run until 2026-27 and has the purpose of adding at least 100,000 new homes nationwide.

The program’s funding is based on the estimated number of residential units built over a four-year time frame, which would align with the soon-to-be presented Palliser area structure plan (ASP). It could also factor in the potential of the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village ASPs, if the Court of Appeal rules in favour of the project moving forward.

The funding can be used towards housing- and community-related infrastructure, but also e-permitting systems and building affordable housing.

The housing growth rate, however, has to have a target of 10 per cent over three years and annual growth rate must be a minimum of 1.1 per cent. A staff report stated Canmore’s annual housing growth rate from 2016-21 was 3.5 per cent.

The program also needs a minimum of seven initiatives for Canmore, with finished projects or ones started before April 2022 not being allowed.

Among Canmore's initiatives would be the Palliser ASP, developing Palliser-area land, updating engineering design and construction guidelines and developing CCH-owned land in Palliser and Stewart Creek.

“We have the housing crisis we need to deal with,” said Canmore’s general manager of corporate services Therese Rogers. “Although we have undertaken many many initiatives the impact of those initiatives have not been significant enough to make a change in the community.”

A staff report stated council objectives of promoting public transit, reducing waste and supporting climate action work align with the federal program.

The report noted Canmore has the highest wealth inequality in the country, per the 2016 and 2021 Statistics Canada censuses, has 26 per cent of homes being non-owner occupied and 34 per cent of households renting instead of owning. The monthly costs associated with housing are 37 per cent higher than the average in Alberta and property values have skyrocketed 80 per cent since 2006.

Of course, the application has to be successful in what will likely be much-sought after funding from municipalities across the country.

“What they’re really looking for are bold, aggressive plans and those plans that are identified the most bold and aggressive to increase housing the fastest and where it’s most needed are the ones that are going to get attention,” Krausert said of the federal fund.

A municipality isn’t designed to be in the housing business, though some have a portfolio of units through organizations such as Canmore Community Housing with the majority of projects taken on by the private sector.

However, Krausert said the housing crisis has forced municipalities to become more involved and discussions will take place with businesses and organizations such as the Downtown BIA, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis and Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association to “form some leadership around employee housing initiatives.”

Ian O’Donnell, the executive director of BOWDA, said developers in the community are willing to be part of the solution, particularly with decades of experience locally in the industry.

“We need to come together and bring the various partners to find some solutions and come together to find those solutions in a balanced way,” he said. “Industry is willing and able to help and BOWDA is certainly willing to be an active participant. We’re looking forward to being part of that discussion going forward.”

O’Donnell noted a variety of housing streams of various price points are important for housing, with there not being “a silver bullet” to solve the housing issue, but that “industry is here to be an active participant.”

Though one of the four aspects of council’s strategic plan is the building of relationships – and reiterated numerous times for addressing the shortfall of housing –recent months have seen contention grow between the Town and organizations in the community.

Several developers and businesses contacted by the Outlook about the housing action plan had no knowledge it was coming forward, nor had been contacted by the Town.

Employee housing in the light industrial area of Bow Meadows Crescent has become a lightning rod between the Town’s planning department and local businesses.

A May 18 SDAB meeting had 16 businesses speak in favour of employee housing, while 13 letters were submitted and more than 30 people were in attendance for what is normally quiet hearings.

The proposed 12 second floor employee units that would’ve added 34 bedrooms at 100 Alpine Meadows were denied by SDAB, but comes after the board approved employee units at 127 Bow Meadows Crescent. The Canmore Planning Commission (CPC) approved 12 employee units in May 2022 at 121 Bow Meadows Crescent.

A staff recommendation on June 6 is recommending council direct staff to return with amendments to the Municipal Development Plan and land use bylaw to “discourage the provision of employee housing in industrial districts.”

In a letter to the editor in the June 1 edition of the Outlook, BOWDA raised concerns about the lack of direction and guidance being given by council to Town staff.

“We urge council to promptly review the Canmore land use bylaw in relation to housing such as that proposed in the Bow Meadows area and render guidance to administration,” wrote BOWDA Chair Brian Talbot on behalf of the board of directors. “The interpretation of the Municipal Development Plan regarding both industrial and housing is in conflict and this needs to be rectified.”

A third-party report commissioned by BOWDA and released earlier this year outlined the lengthy application wait times being faced by industry. The Municipal Government Act deems a development permit needs to be completed after 20 days and a decision before the 40-day mark. For subdivision applications, it’s deemed completed after 20 days and 60 days for a decision.

As of May 31, development permit review timelines in Canmore are between 53 days for low-density residential and 102 days for medium residential density, commercial and industrial properties.

Council will debate the housing action plan June 6. If directed, Town staff could look at phasing out tourist home designation in the land use bylaw. If a tourist home ceased being used for six months, it would revert to residential use.

Tourist homes are permitted to be used for commercial or can be declared for personal use. Depending on the use is the level the property is taxed.

With the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village ASPs waiting a Court of Appeal ruling, it’s not yet known what – if any – impact a change in tourist home classification could have on the plans, which could have between 900-1,300 tourist homes.

“We can only use those tools that are legally available to us. That’s part of the exploration,” Krausert said.

However, a key aspect to policing housing use is enforcement. At CPC and SDAB meetings on employee housing in the Bow Meadows Crescent area, Town staff have expressed the difficult nature of enforcing units not being used for their intended use.

Krausert said they won’t know the level of enforcement needed until they have firm guidelines on what needs to be enforced. But the difficulty in enforcing such properties are compliant could mean a significant increase in staffing for the Town's municipal enforcement.

Town staff could look at finding a way to incentivize property owners to build rentals as well as look at ways to have homes be occupied long-term as opposed to being vacant and potential land use bylaw changes for building heights and parking requirements.

If approved by council, the plan would come with a new capital project of $200,000 for consultants and resources.

“All of these are things to be explored. What we do know across many municipalities, especially North America but across the world, it’s a huge problem where housing stock is used up for short-term rentals,” Krausert said. “We are fortunate here we have it limited to a certain area. … We cannot leave any rock unturned in how we deal with the housing crisis and how we maximize the available housing inventory for residents.”

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