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Town of Canmore's first common amenity units approved

“As we’ve learned over time, we can’t require someone to build employee housing or staff accommodation or even affordable housing. What things we can require and control is the form, which adversely has an impact on all those things but mainly around affordability."

CANMORE – The first common amenity housing units – intended to give another option for staff housing in Canmore – will be constructed in Teepee Town.

Approved by the municipality's planning commission, the six units are part of a redevelopment of a site on 1st Avenue, which also includes 13 townhouses.

The common amenity units were ushered in during the land use bylaw amendments in 2019 as a potential way for developers to construct housing for employees, which is in short supply in Canmore.

“As we’ve learned over time, we can’t require someone to build employee housing or staff accommodation or even affordable housing. What things we can require and control is the form, which adversely has an impact on all those things, but mainly around affordability,” said Marcus Henry, the Town’s supervisor of planning and development.

“It’s to provide an alternative form of affordable housing in town, because while we can say we want to see more employee housing, it’s all dependent on the funding of the developer and the form of the building.”

Dale Hildebrand, the applicant of the property for Arbus Mountain Homes, noted the intent of the common amenity units is to sell or lease to employers to supply employee housing. The units will have condominium bylaws to prevent any change of use.

He said in studying how employees come to the community and region, it was found many initially come and live in short-term accommodations for a few months. They either leave or decide to stay longer and possibly become long-term residents in Canmore.

“We’re trying to build a community project. We have a unique opportunity in that we have four continuous 50-foot lots available in Teepee Town. … We could’ve said we’re going to build four fourplexes since it’s in the bylaw and it’d be under construction by now,” Hildebrand said. “We did a lot of research and we heard loud and clear that Canmore needs and wants more affordable housing and more employee housing and we tried to address that in this proposal.”

The 19 units will replace the existing three homes on the site.

The development will include one four-unit townhouse and one five-unit townhouse built facing 1st Avenue. The remaining two townhouses would be for two units and have three-unit common amenity units.

The common amenity units will each have a washroom, while there will be a common living area and a shared kitchen.

In developing the type of use, Henry said the Town looked to similar communities such as Banff, but wanted to provide an option in the land use bylaw for types of use.

“We knew out of the gate we weren’t going to solve all the employee problems in town," he said. “What we wanted to do was provide an additional option that could allow for various built forms from a building design perspective, floor layouts and we wanted to have that option in there, which allowed the development community and the developer some sort of discretion to come up with what that looks like. That’s why the definition isn’t as detailed as others because you want some flexibility.”

The project will fall under the Teepee Town area development plan and designed as part of the Teepee Town comprehensive redevelopment district. The approval has 10 general conditions and 29 specific conditions the developer has to meet.

While it is a change from many of the existing developments in Teepee Town, it aligns with the ultimate vision for the area in the Municipal Development Plan, the Teepee Town ARP and the land use bylaw.

“That’s why policy documents like our Municipal Development Plan and the Teepee Town ARP are so important because they do set the direction for the town over a short-, medium- and long-term time,” said Riley Wenden, a development planner with the Town. “As Teepee Town slowly redevelops, it will be in alignment with that policy direction and in accordance with our land use bylaw. … I foresee this development fitting in the long-term.”

The site was approved for four variances in maximum density, eaveline height, building step back from the eaveline and canopy protection.

The sustainability screening report gave the project a score of 105, meaning it will have a “significant positive impact on the community” largely due to the potential of employee housing.

“It’s no secret affordability is one of the biggest issues in this community and it’s refreshing to see someone tackling that,” said Florian Jungen, a commission member. “It seems all anyone wants to develop is visitor accommodation, so that’s a major factor in my way of this application.”

Though there were concerns with the amount of parking, it was highlighted it fits with the Town’s transportation master plan that emphasizes more active modes of transit.

“The more parking you provide, the more you encourage that type of travel,” said Kristen Faber, who did the traffic study for the project on behalf of the applicant.

Coun. Tanya Foubert, council’s representative on the commission, also stressed the importance of having more land for housing.

“We tend to get stuck on parking a lot. I like to turn my mind to what is the highest and best use of land in our community and I think it’s putting roofs over people’s heads, not asphalt underneath tires,” she said.

Members of the commission expressed a hope that more common amenity units will return for approval.

“Change is really scary to a lot of people. It’s a normal feeling and a normal response. … The direction The town is going with our community is different. We’re moving away from cars and trying to walk and bike more and take the bus,” said Cheryl Walker, a commission member.

“I think everyone is stuck in their ways with having a car and being able to go wherever you want whenever you want to go. I think it’s interesting and inspiring to see people who want to put more roofs over people’s heads and create things like this that don’t exist in our community.”