CANMORE – A representative for Three Sisters Mountain Village Properties Limited broke its silence from a paid advertisement in the Nov. 2 Outlook by a minority shareholder that threatened to financially impact the Town of Canmore.
At the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association (BOWDA) monthly luncheon on Nov. 9, Chris Ollenberger, the director of strategy and development for TSMVPL, said Blair Richardson's letter represented individual views and not those of TSMVPL.
“A letter that was authorized personally by one individual does not represent the overall view of Three Sisters as a corporation,” he said during his pre-scheduled talk at the luncheon to give an update on the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek area structure plans (ASPs).
The comments came after Frank Kernick, the owner of Spring Creek Mountain Village – who was also providing an update at the luncheon for ongoing work at Spring Creek – pointedly asked the Ollenberger if Richardson’s views were those of TSMVPL’s majority owners Don and David Taylor.
Ollenberger noted the last two-and-a-half years that saw the Town and TSMVPL go through two Land and Property Rights Tribunal (LPRT) hearings and the Court of Appeal upholding the LPRT’s decisions for the ASPs to proceed has been “a pretty tumultuous period.”
In addition to the legal proceedings, TSMVPL has an active civil suit for $161 million against the Town. Thunderstone Quarries, who own lands in the Smith Creek ASP, also has a civil suit for $63.5 million
He said it had been hard on the community, the Town and TSMVPL, which has seen the last four weeks show particularly high emotions from multiple groups as the ASPs were adopted by council.
“No one is immune to having their emotions and thoughts and concerns be expressed at some point,” Ollenberger said. “We saw that at the Oct. 24 council meeting. We saw that before that with a protest at Don Taylor’s house. We’ve now seen that in a letter [in the Outlook] from a shareholder with Three Sisters.”
Richardson’s paid advertisement in the Nov. 2 edition of the Outlook featured a letter to the community that outlined his lengthy history with the lands for future development.
The letter, however, generated significant discussion in the community, with minority owner of the TSMVPL lands threatening the potential of an ongoing civil lawsuit that could “severely impact” the Town’s financial health.
Richardson added for the last three decades he felt landowners hadn’t “receive[d] the treatment it deserved in line with the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) permit and the project has struggled as a result.”
He further wrote the “Town’s longstanding efforts to thwart Alberta law to end, and they must now respect the Court’s decision and begin to fairly and honestly with Three Sisters in a timely manner for the development to proceed.”
The end of his letter emphasized the ongoing civil case for $161 million would continue and it could potentially “severely impact the financial stability of the Town and resident’s tax obligations.”
He pointed out the Taylors’ – who are the majority owners of the land – had various business projects that created “thousands of job opportunities in Alberta and across Canada while generously contributing to numerous charitable organizations.”
Richardson added the Taylors’ had contributed $10 million in unpaid bills when the lands were purchased in 2000 to avoid bankruptcy proceedings.
“There’s lots of things in the letter that are quite valid and I would say his feelings are valid, just as valid as a protest in front of Don’s house and valid for a councillor to express his frustration and disappointment with the process that took us here today,” Ollenberger said. “I think the important message that would be coming from me, not because it’s personally me, but because I talked to David (Taylor) and I talk to the Three Sisters team all the time about our collective view, so when I say we want to move forward it’s because we want to move forward.”
Richardson’s letter noted he was “deeply disheartened and troubled” when about two dozen people protested outside of Don Taylor’s Calgary home Oct. 22 – two days prior to Canmore council adopting the ASPs per the Land and Property Rights Tribunal order.
There had also been a protest with about 150 people last month when Premier Danielle Smith spoke at the Oct. 12 BOWDA luncheon.
Karsten Heuer, president of Bow Valley Engage and one of the organizers of the Oct. 22 protest mentioned in Richardson’s open letter, said they were taken aback by the advertisement.
He noted the group of slightly more than 20 people were within their legal right to peacefully assemble on the sidewalk across the street from Don Taylor’s home.
“It was very uncomfortable for everybody, including the people assembled, it’s not how we would like to spend our Sunday. We recognize it was over the line for a lot of people in terms of comfort and it was edgy, but we were pushed to that place. … It was legal. It’s our right to peacefully assemble under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Heuer pointed out the protest’s intent was to raise further awareness of the potential significance the development could have on wildlife in the area and the importance of raising attention.
“We recognize it was over the line for some people,” he said. “I respect that and it was a subject we chose to do carefully and it was uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this bullying is pushing the community into some very uncomfortable places.”
The organization launched the Save Grizz Corridor petition – which has more than 2,200 signatures as of Nov. 15 – in an effort to have the provincial government purchase the TSMVPL-owned lands to protect wildlife.
The Outlook has been unsuccessful in reaching Richardson.
Richardson has been a long-time investor on the lands, along with Don and David Taylor. He was involved in an ownership group from 2000-07, when Morgan Stanley Financial purchased the lands and they were managed by East-West Partners in Colorado. It went into receivership in 2009, which saw PricewaterhouseCoopers take over until it sold to Richardson and the Taylor’s in 2013.
Richardson was born in Saskatchewan and now lives primarily in Colorado. He was previously president of Morgan Stanley Japan and vice chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.
Richardson has largely been a silent partner for the TSMPLV-owned lands, but in 2013 he sent an email asking for support for former councillor and longtime Canmore resident Hans Helder seeking to raise $100,000 for Helder’s mayoral campaign against then incumbent Mayor John Borrowman.
Richardson told the Outlook at the time it had been a typo and meant to read $10,000 since provincial legislation required candidates to not open a bank account or file a disclosure statement if they didn’t exceed $10,000.
Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert said the letter showed “there’s hurt and frustration on all sides of the issue,” but that he doesn’t foresee it being an issue between the Town and TSMVPL.
“I don’t see it having impact on the Town and Three Sisters working together because it is not the company line,” he said. “However, I think the community-at-large could easily misunderstand that letter to be the Three Sisters position.”
He added the two sides will continue to work with one another and it's important for all sides to move forward in having the best outcome possible for Canmore.
“Just as I took exception with a planned protest outside of a person’s private home, I take exception with some of the elements of this letter,” Krausert said. “I do not believe the letter speaks on behalf of Three Sisters. I take the letter as the words of a shareholder and not necessarily the position of the company.
“Notwithstanding the letter, the Town and Three Sisters and the community must endeavour to find a positive path forward.”
The lands have seen some ASPs move forward, with both Stewart Creek and the Resort Centre receiving unanimous approval in 2003 in a council led by Mayor Glenn Craig.
While the bulk of Stewart Creek has been built out – with The Gateway mixed-use commercial development underway – the Resort Centre is replaced by the Three Sisters Village ASP.
The last two-and-a-half years have been among the most difficult, with the previous Canmore council voting down both ASPs. TSMVPL appealed and took it to the LPRT, which ruled entirely in TSMVPL’s favour.
The Town received the right to appeal, which led to the Court of Appeal hearing the case last April. On Oct. 3, the appeal court upheld the LPRT’s decisions, meaning the two ASPs would have to be adopted since they were consistent with the NRCB’s 1992 decision.
Canmore council adopted the two ASPs Oct. 24. TSMVPL and the Town had a pre-application meeting for Three Sisters Village ASP Oct. 31 and the Smith Creek ASP application is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks.
Ollenberger said the Town and TSMVPL continue to work together and stressed the company is part of the Canmore community. He pointed out the number of businesses and individuals who have been contracted to work on TSMVPL-owned land as well as people who live there or work for people associated with ongoing projects in TSMVPL-owned lands.
“Three Sisters is part of the community and Three Sisters also wants to be part of that community. It’s going to take us some time,” he said. “We’re not going to get there instantly, but we’re committed to doing it.”