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Dem bones,dem bones, dem dry bones

Editor: Send sympathetic thoughts to our Town council as documents for the Three Sisters Area Structure Plan approach a page total surpassing that of War and Peace.


Send sympathetic thoughts to our Town council as documents for the Three Sisters Area Structure Plan approach a page total surpassing that of War and Peace.

I may label the computer folder holding them “dem bones” as we see yet another attempt to resurrect this development. This ASP is very much a skeleton, devoid of the flesh which would generate conservation, economic and social benefits for the Town.

Attention has focussed on the proponent’s obligation to provide a fully functional wildlife corridor. Those with long memories will remember 2002, when Three Sisters was given approval for the Cairns development as recompense for joining the Town and Province in the so-called 2002 Golder process to secure the wildlife corridor in the Resort Area.

In 2013, the Cairns is secure, but we discover that the developer’s commitment to the Golder 2002 land use sequencing has no substance. Instead, we are assured that a wildlife corridor is a narrow, fenced chute pressed against steep mountain slopes, and, whenever possible, on provincial rather than TSMV land. I’m surprised that, in addition to a fence, they haven’t recommended the Town hire a group of cowboys to herd the wildlife quickly past.

The developer’s sustainability screening report (SSR) in late March wasn’t even a full skeleton. It set out the presumed benefits of the project on the philosophy that bigger is better, and none of the costs.

Recent filings include a fiscal impact analysis (FIA) that shows elements of net impact, if only to municipal finances. It’s a pretty bare-bones study, offering little encouragement. The FIA estimates taxes the Town would get, and expenditures incurred, for the first year after build out, cumulating everything during construction, and then for 10 years after that. Town administration insisted that two cases be considered – what the developer proposes in the ASP, and what would happen if yet more of the resort accommodation units are shifted to residential.

The ASP proposes the same total number of units as Bylaw 1-98, but a larger proportion of residential units. This continues the trend over time in what Three Sisters developers have proposed.

By way of example, the number of hotel units in this ASP is 75 per cent less than what the developer brought before the NRCB in 1992, but the number of residential units only 1/3 less. Compared to the ceilings in Bylaw 1-98, the ASP proposes an increase of more than 10 per cent in residential units, but only one-third of the hotel units and 75 per cent less commercial space. The FIA shows that the fiscal impact on the Town is negative in the reduced commercial proportion case. Given the steady fall in the commercial share, this is an important result and suggests the very real possibility of an ongoing net fiscal loss to the Town.

The “base case” scenario looks better, with a net fiscal gain. However, the gain is small. If the reported cumulative gain is spread over a 20 year construction period and the first 10 years of operation, and we assume an average town population of 20,000, the net gain per person per year would be $62, hardly the financial boon expected from a project which was supposed to expand our commercial tax base.

Moreover, it’s not clear that all the relevant costs are included. The ASP’s estimated corridor fencing costs seem far too low and the FIA seems to assume that the only incremental costs to the Town are the infrastructure and linked costs associated with new residential and commercial construction. But is the Town’s general infrastructure adequate to handle the influx of hotel residents and additional day visitors the project will attract, and where are these costs?

Nor is the crucial issue of timing addressed. Even if final build out is as planned, it is easy to imagine a considerable tax burden on Canmore citizens for the next 10-15 years if residential construction proceeds faster than commercial.

The result seems clear. Looking at the Three Sisters ASP as a taxpayer, we certainly don’t find a glorious resurrected body. Not even a recognizable skeleton. Just a pile of dry old bones.

That is why we need to see this ASP amended so it meets all the Town’s needs, including the conservation of wildlife corridors and enhancement of our quality of life.

Alan MacFadyen,


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