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Town of Canmore approves Safe Parking program

“It is a very difficult situation, not only for our community, but for a number of similar communities."
Sam Boyle, 26, works on his roaming home in Vanmore in Canmore on Tuesday (May 28). RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – Vanmore will soon be dispersed across the Town of Canmore as the municipality approves a new program meant to accommodate those who live in their vehicles.

The Safe Park pilot program was approved in a unanimous vote at council's regular meeting Tuesday (Feb. 4) and will see both municipally owned and private parking lots offer parking spaces for vehicle dwellers between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. for a $10 per night fee.

“As I begin to outline this model, I think it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve designed this model based on the data collection from 2019, as well as research into best practices and innovative solutions that other communities have implemented to try and mitigate van dwelling,” said Tara Gilchrist, the Town’s FCSS supervisor.

“The goals of the program are to provide a seasonal, safe, affordable and regulated parking stall for employed vehicle dwellers in Canmore. It’s also to implement a program that minimizes the negative community perception of vehicle dwelling.”

The Safe Park program will see 50 parking stalls dispersed across privately owned and municipally owned lots, with each to offer five stalls for vehicle dwellers. These stalls would return to regular parking use between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. to accommodate the Town of Canmore’s paid parking program, which will operate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and would be regularly monitored by security. Any issues would then be enforced by bylaw.

The program would also be seasonal running from early May to early October. There was no plan for vehicle-dwellers who remain during the winter.

The Town has proposed the following municipally-owned lots be used for the Safe Park program; behind Panago Pizza, behind the economic development building, behind artsPlace, at the backside of the Canmore Recreation Centre, and the Elk Run baseball diamond site.

“We’ve got 10 lots required – five of which would be municipal lots and five would be privately owned lots,” said Gilchrist.

“The municipally-owned lots chosen are based on proximity to residential properties, proximity to washrooms, and the historical use of certain lots for vehicle dwelling in the past.

“It’s important to note that these lots will be filled sort of one at a time, so we will choose a privately owned lot, fill it to capacity, and then a municipally-owned lot, fill it to capacity, and also be aware of various needs and timing of some of the locations of lots."

To be a participant in the program, there will be specific eligibility of users, which Gilchrist explains will predominantly depend on employment.

“These are the minimum requirements – we may have negotiations with private owners that adds some additional requirements, but at the very minimum people need to be employed in the Bow Valley, they need to have a valid drivers licence, a valid vehicle registration, and valid insurance,” she said.

Participants would be required to work up to 20 hours a week.

Gilchrist said porta potties and bear-safe bins would be added to lots that aren’t already in proximity to them. Appropriate signage will also be added to indicate which stalls are used for the program, as well as to indicate program times and regulations.

In terms of the privately-owned lots, Gilchrist said preliminary conversations have already occurred with Trinity Bible Church, Save-On Foods, and Our Lady of the Rockies church.

In addition to this, people will be asked to sign an agreement with the Town that would outline guidelines users would agree to follow. Those guidelines include proving eligibility for the program, specifically proving employment, on the 15th and 30th of every month followed by a payment for using the lots, respectful behaviour, using the washroom facilities provided, entering the lots at 8 p.m. or after and leaving by 9 a.m. the following day.  As well, users would be required to use the bear-safe garbage bins, keep any equipment or supplies inside their vehicle, respect any wildlife, refrain from criminal behaviour and park outside of the downtown core between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“In order for those elements of the program to be successful there’s a few things we really need to have in place,” said Gilchrist.

“First and foremost is a program coordinator. That program coordinator will be responsible for screening and approving – or declining – participants and they also will be doing the bimonthly renewals. They’ll act as a point of contact for our community partners, to the bylaw services team, and to the private security company we will be doing late-night and evening patrols.”

Gilchrist said the program coordinator would also be responsible for following up on any guideline violations, which would likely include bylaw, as well as tracking data.

Administration also recommends that the Town create a camping bylaw, which would prohibit overnight camping anywhere in Canmore that falls outside of the Safe Parking program’s approved lots.

Though not yet confirmed, administration has also reached out to Wapiti Campground. If it goes through, the campground would offer 10 subsidized sites at a higher cost – $15 to $18 per night – but the Safe Park program rules and eligibility criteria would still apply. 

However, the Town is waiting to hear if the province is going to continue to lease them the land. She said she’s fairly certain it will be leased, however, they’re waiting for the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism to “put its rubber stamp on it.”

The budget for the program is $110,000, but Gilchrist indicated it would be cheaper than that. Currently, it’s estimated to cost $79,940. However, she said the final costs will depend on utilization and some costs will be one-time costs that would lower the overall cost of the program in coming years.

Anticipated costs are for staffing at $16,500, security patrol at $14,600, garbage bins at $9,600, porta potties at $22,240, signage and stall marking at $14,00 and a legal review at $3,000.

Councillor Karen Marra moved that the parking spaces for the Canmore Rec Centre be moved to the front parking lot to accommodate sports camps and other activities that often take place there. However, the motion failed in a 5-1 vote.

Meanwhile, Councillor Vi Sanford said she would be happy to support the motion to implement a Safe Park program in Canmore.

“This is our third year of moving through dealing with summer parking and I know that administration has done a lot of work and a lot of data collection,” she said.

“The report itself really shows how much internal discussions has been with the town – we know there are issues we need to address in the community.”

Mayor John Borrowman echoed Sanford’s sentiments, indicating he believes it’s a good solution for vehicle dwellers attracted to mountain living.

“It is a very difficult situation, not only for our community, but for a number of similar communities,” he said.

“By and large the people I spoke with in other locales acknowledged how Canmore was addressing this shared problem was inspiring them towards similar sorts of approaches, so a) I’m really happy that our administration has taken on this challenge and come up with a really positive approach, and b) I recognize that Canmore is helping to set some new standards, if you will, for other mountain towns and resort municipalities that are addressing very similar issues.”

Visit for more information the Safe Park pilot program.

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