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Undermining review to begin for Canmore's Staircase lands by new owners

“We want to cut as few trees as possible and our goal is to actually if we do cut a tree down, we’re going to plant two more on the property. We want to keep it as green as possible and make it as safe as possible.”

CANMORE – An area of land that was once the cause of a contentious legal battle between the Town of Canmore and Three Sisters Mountain Village Properties Limited has a new owner and is undergoing undermining review.

Prospector Canada LLC, a group of investors and developers, will have the review start in February to see what’s possible with the roughly 9.9-hectare parcel of land that’s zoned for future development.

“Once we get the mining assessment done and we’re able to become more engaged in what we’re planning to do, the doors will slowly open,” said John (Jay) Third, the operator of Summit Projects and a partner with Prospector Canada LLC.

Third, a longtime Canmore resident, said the intent is to keep the parcel that’s close to Quarry Lake as natural as possible. However, with the last undermining review done by Norwest in the early-2000s, he noted until the review is completed and results analyzed, it’s too early to announce what could be done with the land.

He said the intent is to keep it as one large property, while there are “dreams and aspirations” but until the undermining assessment is finished and costs established for potential mitigation it the group isn’t going to get ahead of planning.

“The intent is we want to keep it as natural as possible and it’s also adjacent to community infrastructure like (Quarry Lake). It’s adjacent to Alberta Highway 742, so getting into Kananaskis for people is easy and it’s also near bus lines,” Third said. “It’s an untouched piece of land. There’s 25 acres of property and how many parcels of land are 25 acres that are zoned for future development, which means there’s limited uses on the property. Our intent is we’re not going to change the zoning either.”

Under the Town’s land use bylaw, future development zoning has discretionary use to allow accessory buildings, intensive or extensive agricultural use, outdoor athletic and recreational facility, campground, open space and public buildings.

The land also has a path that was built by the Town without TSMVPL’s knowledge, but Third said any potential for the land would attempt retain a path.

According to planning applications on the Town’s website, the area has an application for tree cutting and to look at public safety, firesmarting and undermining testing.

It notes the application complies with the land use bylaw, meaning no amendments are required at this time to the zoning of future development district.

As part of the undermining review, Third said some trees will have to be removed but it will be “an absolute minimum.”

As part of the review, Third said some former miners still living in the community will have a role in the assessment.

“We want to keep the site as treed as possible. I’m a longtime resident, went to high school in Canmore, grew up in Canmore, I work in Canmore, so we understand the sensitivity behind cutting trees. … The intent is where there’s some undermining areas we want to go in, make safe access for the actual study,” he said. “Once we have that report back, then we’ll be able to better determine how we’re going to go forward with the property itself.”

The Staircase lands were another contentious part of the legal dispute between TSMVPL and the Town. The process was drawn out from late 2019 to early 2023 when the Court of King’s Bench ordered the Town to redesignate a parcel of land to all have similar zoning.

TSMVPL ask the Town to have all the land zoned the same after it had been changed by the Town, but a drawn out back and forth between the two sides had TSMVPL ask for the parcel to be rezoned from natural park district to future development.

TSMVPL had a land survey completed by McElhanney that showed the lands were one parcel and shouldn’t be zoned for public use, but differing opinions between the two sides had Town staff tell TSMVPL to seek a legal route if they wanted it rezoned.

When heard in court, the former Court of Queen’s Bench ordered the Town to buy or rezone the land.

“Canmore was obligated to undertake the remedial steps of purchasing or redesignating the land within six months of the effective date of the [2020 land use] bylaw,” wrote Justice Glen Poelman in the court order.

Town council directed municipal staff to seek buying the section of land, but the two sides were drastically off one another’s belief of the land’s value.

After the one attempt, council ultimately voted to rezone the parcel for future development.

Third said Prospector Canada LLC took control of the land in late 2023, but talks between the groups and TSMVPL had been happening the past few years.

“We want to be stewards of the land like most developers. We come with good intentions to keep it as natural as possible and that’s really the goal,” he said. “We want to cut as few trees as possible and our goal is to actually, if we do cut a tree down, to plant two more on the property. We want to keep it as green as possible and make it as safe as possible.”

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