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EDITORIAL: Returning with all information key for Canmore employee housing discussion

EDITORIAL: To make informed decisions, information is essential in considering all options.

To make informed decisions, information is essential in considering all options.

While the private sector is designed to make quick – and sometimes rash – decisions, governance at the public level is designed to be a slow crawl of receiving as much information as possible prior to council members putting their hands in the air to finalize a direction.

Efficiency may be a buzzword in the private sector, but methodical fulsome debate and considering all options is not only a necessity for public governance but a vital aspect of democratic decision-making as opposed to a race to the finish line.

Though people may complain about the patience and time-consuming nature it takes to reach such decisions, when it comes to the responsibility of coming to a resolution, elected officials owe it to their constituents and the community to have all information on hand.

When Canmore council meets Sept. 5, the polarizing topic of employee housing in the municipality’s light industrial area will once again return to chambers.

Having already been postponed at its June and July meetings, the clarity will aid in what will be the direction going forward.

Town staff are recommending council provide direction to make amendments to Canmore’s land use bylaw and Municipal Development Plan to discourage employee housing in industrial districts.

An alternative motion aims to have council direct staff to return with potential amendments that could suggest policy amendments for possibly allowing employee housing in industrial districts.

It could mean there simply are no protections for employee housing to maintain as such in light industrial areas, greater resources are needed for increased municipal enforcement or it could lead to more debate.

Either direction will eventually lead to a public hearing, meaning nothing will be set in stone after Sept. 5, but a step in a direction will be given.

Regardless of the decision ultimately made by seven council members, it’s imperative for all information to be available.

In Banff, employee housing is often explored by both businesses and the municipality, but the Town also has federal legislation with the need to reside as additional protection in maintaining employee housing units as its purpose and avoiding the fear of having those units switched to illegal tourist accommodations.

Similar tourism-based communities in British Columbia also have added protection from provincial law that Alberta municipalities simply lack and are unlikely to receive any time in the future.

Council already has at its disposal the retail gap analysis and light industrial and commercial land review report compiled by a consultant, which emphasizes the need to maintain second-floor commercial and light industrial space given its desperate need in Canmore with the vacancy rate for such spaces hovering at or below one per cent.

However, a significant number of individuals and organizations in the business community have expressed that such second-floor space is often unusable for anything but storage and is better utilized for employee housing.

Employee housing in Canmore’s light industrial area has been a polarizing topic for at least a year-and-a-half since the Town’s planning commission gave approval for such units in the Bow Meadows Crescent area in May 2022.

Behind the scenes, it has been an issue for far longer as applicants have expressed interest in exploring its possibility.

When a community is facing a housing crisis – as the majority are across Canada and much of the world – it’s essential for all information to be brought to the table. The tug-of-war over the future of employee housing in Canmore’s light industrial area deserves clarity, but not before all information is available for a decision.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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