By the afternoon of Oct. 24, Canmore council will adopt the Smith Creek and Three Sisters Village area structure plans.
As has been stated numerous times in the past three decades – it was never a question of if development would occur but when.
The lands had long ago been purchased – multiple times – for such an outcome and the Town had equally planned for such a scenario eventually taking place, having annexed the lands from the MD of Bighorn in the late 1980s.
While Oct. 24 gives a specific date for adoption, the next phases of development will be more fluid as there’s still subdivision phases and planning and development permits, meaning shovels in the ground won’t take place prior to 2025 at the earliest.
But the legacy of the 1992 Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) decision to the Court of Appeal’s upholding of the Land and Property Rights Tribunal (LPRT) is a winding road of sharp left turns, head on collisions and getting stuck behind the person doing 30km/h in an 80km/h zone.
From different owners, previous court cases, a receivership and other ASPs in the area being approved, the drama has been stacked on top of one another.
However, it also highlights the failure of the community to understand the full grasp of the situation or think strategically about the ramifications of potential outcomes. It’s one that has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and left no doubt on how things will proceed.
By pursuing the appeal route, council has now been handed a scapegoat in the courts, the LPRT, the NRCB and the province.
However, in doing so it ignores the weak argument pursued at the appeal court, the confusing and limited showing at the tribunal hearings and a simple ignorance of provincial and private property laws that have been branded in statute and common law for decades and centuries.
Blaming the province and the courts is an easy way to hide from the faults of local decisions. While the province sets the rules, the system is designed for local government and developers to work together.
It’s during that period that all sides are able to work towards common interests, and to follow council-approved planning documents and the Municipal Government Act (MGA) – which is at the top of the food chain – and in this case, the NRCB.
Fair or unfair, municipalities are ultimately playthings of the province and sometimes they need to be reminded as such.
Municipal governments have protection under the law, but so too do private landowners.
The decision now makes an uneasy marriage between both the Town and TSMVPL, having gone through significant legal action – with a large civil suit remaining – in the last two-and-a-half years.
But while people may hope for another outcome or another glass to break in case of emergency, there are simply none.
What the decision does is wrest much of the control from the municipal level. There is no longer a lack of clarity, there is no longer a what-if scenario, there is only the answer the project will move forward.
The NRCB, the LPRT, the Court of Appeal, the former Municipal Government Board, the province – even the municipally-approved 2018 terms of reference – have left no doubt.
It also gives precedent for the retrospective nature of Section 619 in the MGA. Long gone are the attempted amendments to the Three Sisters Village ASP at second reading in 2021, and so with it 20 per cent of affordable housing of the entire project that forecasts between 3,000-5,000 residential units.
Only the original ASPs as submitted stand.
When you keep telling the blackjack dealer to lay down another card, eventually you’re going to go past 21.
Council members and the public may feel it’s unfair, but the first responsibility of any council decision has to be to follow the law. Not only its own guiding documents, but above all, the MGA and any provincially-approved plans and those issued by provincial authorities such as the NRCB and LPRT.
Though it may seem unfair, it can also be a lesson to any serving or future politicians on the reach of the decisions they may make today, tomorrow or throughout their time in office have on other potential outcomes.
All actions ultimately have consequences, and today they’re being felt.