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Canmore downtown plan continues, pedestrian zone ‘wildly popular’

“It’s been wildly popular as a seasonal fixture to our community. It’s something I really appreciate and a lot of the community certainly does.”

CANMORE – The redevelopment plan for Canmore’s downtown is entering its next phase.

Following a public engagement period of several months, the next phase will have Town staff draft policy options and return to the community for additional engagement.

But early indications show unlike Canmore’s neighbour in Banff, the pedestrian zone has been popular with residents and visitors in the mountain community.

“People want to see a downtown that’s focused on people and pedestrians, not vehicles,” said Joshua Cairns, a senior policy planner with the Town, of what was heard from community feedback. “This is our Town Centre. It’s where people come together, it’s where they engage – that was the top priority.

“[There was] lots of love for the seasonal pedestrianization zone of Main Street.”

Though the pedestrian zone in Banff has been polarizing throughout its community – with it heading to a plebiscite Aug. 12 to have it continue or end after more than 1,000 residents signed a petition – the opposite has been true in Canmore.

The public engagement process had 87 per cent of respondents say Canmore’s pedestrian zone was a positive and Main Street should have more space for people and permanent public spaces.

In addition, 111 people unprompted said the pedestrian zone should be year-round, Cairns noted.

Though it was largely supportive, he added concerns were heard that focused on the pedestrian zone impacting people driving from one side of the valley to the next through town and the accessibility for people getting to work or shopping downtown. He said part of the area redevelopment plan process will be looking at transportation aspects.

Coun. Wade Graham echoed his support for the seasonal Main Street closure, but also said a year-round closure was “an idea I’m keen to explore.”

“It’s been wildly popular as a seasonal fixture to our community," said Graham. "It’s something I really appreciate and a lot of the community certainly does.”

Cairns emphasized the engagement was broad, with open-ended questions focusing on what people wanted to see for the future of downtown rather than specific targeted questions.

“There’s a lot of nuances there and people have different ideas, but I think a lot of those ideas will come out in the options phase where we actually bring something forward that will reflect the feedback and then we can hear from people in very specific detail,” he said.

A staff report stated more than 1,600 direct interactions were made, including 467 through an online survey. The Town used both in-person and digital means to engage residents and held pop-up concerts in collaboration with the Canmore Folk Music Festival in February along with sessions with school-aged residents.

“Since the ARP will guide change downtown to the year 2050, its implementation will impact the next generation of our community,” stated the staff report. “As a result, we set out to do engagement differently by bringing different voices into the decision-making process. We crafted innovative tactics to reach a broader audience while still providing more traditional methods for the public to share their perspectives.”

The report noted engagement heard people wanted a year-round vibrant place that’s walkable, offers places for people to gather and diverse options to shop.

The report outlined six core values such as the downtown having a unique character that’s easy to navigate and is vibrant throughout the year. It also offered “10 big ideas” ranging from having Main Street being pedestrian-orientated, providing more housing, using surface parking lots for other options and expanding connections to have the Bow River and Policeman’s Creek be part of downtown.

Feedback also found people accessed downtown by walking and cycling followed by driving and public transit.

The What We Heard report stated 91.5 per cent of respondents were Canmore residents, with 60.3 per cent working in Canmore, 42 per cent being aged 45 and under and 21.5 per cent being business owners.

“What the plan’s going to do is support the continued evolution, growth, change and ultimately the long-term vibrancy of downtown or the Town Centre – the mixed-use core of Canmore,” Cairns said.

The downtown ARP was launched last year and is expected to return for council consideration in spring 2025. Its goal is to provide planning vision for the next 25 years for Canmore’s downtown.

A briefing was previously given to Canmore’s committee of the whole in October, outlining the steps and processes.

The first phase launched the ARP, while the second phase ran until spring for public engagement and research for the plan. The third phase will run until the summer with additional community engagement and refining potential options.

The final phase will be development of a draft plan, ahich will return to council in spring 2025.

The ARP has long been discussed, but pushed back several times and ultimately postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was given priority earlier in this council term when a public policy planner position was established in the 2022 budget.

The role’s first responsibility was the Palliser Trail area structure plan and then shifted to the downtown ARP.

The plan has it running from the Spur Line Trail in the north, the Bow River to the west, Railway Avenue in the east and 5 Street to the south. Cairns said the study area was bigger than just the commercial downtown area since nearby residential could be impacted and vice versa as the plan is developed.

Cairns added after questions from Graham and Coun. Joanna McCallum that with both density and maintaining mountain views being key takeaways, it will be a balancing act but looking at a larger fulsome scale rather than a site-by-site view.

“If you distil them down to their root, they might come off as competing, but we are looking at a large area of land with a lot of different streets, a lot of different unique characteristics,” he said. “When we’re looking at how to distribute density, there’s still opportunities to acknowledge the nuance behind that. … I think what we heard from the community is Main Street being a key one, that feeling you can be at a restaurant or walking down the street and have that sense of connection to the mountains, those are still things we can work with while still opening up new housing opportunities, new commercial opportunities in key spots as well.”

A virtual workshop had 22 stakeholders from 14 community groups such as Tourism Canmore Kananaskis, Downtown Canmore BIA, Canmore Young Adult Network and Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association.

Canmore’s Downtown BIA partnered with the University of Calgary’s Urban Labs to run its own engagement process to help with the BIA’s input for the ARP.

A portion of the public engagement also sought feedback from students in grades 7-9, with youth largely enjoying a car-free Main Street.

Mayor Sean Krausert said he had heard from Indigenous people “they’re very much interested in having spaces they know are distinctly held for them to do ceremony when they feel the need to do ceremony without having to ask permission or book space.”

Cairns said the Town gave formal invitations to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and area Indigenous peoples and will do so again and are looking at having a multitude of uses for public space downtown.

The Town Centre Enhancement Concept Plan was adopted by council in 1998. It gave recommendations to be brought in subsequent years for the downtown, but Town staff previously said a new and updated plan was needed as tourism has increased, population and affordability issues have increased and the pedestrian zone is now a permanent fixture for several months on Main Street.

“If we’re doing this plan for the next 25 years, there’s going to be different stakeholders, residents, different aspiring residents, youth that are living downtown in the future as adults, so we want to hear from everyone to try to make this a downtown that works,” Cairns said.

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