❌ double our population
❌ see urban sprawl stretch to Dead Man’s Flats
❌ force us to expand our urban growth boundary
❌ blanket an area zoned for wildlife conservation with development
❌ further congest our streets and trailheads,
❌ conflict with our declared Climate Emergency, and
❌ further stress a continentally significant wildlife corridor
The Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) is a company that proposes a development so big it will forever change the fabric of Canmore. It will blanket a huge area used by wildlife with thousands of homes, tens of kilometres of streets, and a commercial complex. Similar proposals for this same place have been denied by Canmore’s Town Council before, and the attempts to develop this land have a long and checkered history.
It all started in 1982. Want to learn more? Canmore Commons has compiled a complete timeline of Three Sisters ownership and development.
Contrary to what TSMV says, your municipal taxes are likely to go up, not down, if the development proceeds. That’s because so many roads, sewers, water lines and other costly municipal infrastructure will be required to support development that doubles the size of Canmore and sends it sprawling all the way to Dead Man’s Flats. It would be good if TSMV bore the capital costs of such infrastructure, as was the original deal in the 1992 NRCB decision, but, that hasn’t happened. Instead, the Town of Canmore has and continues to assume infrastructure costs (and long term debt) for TSMV and other developments, and passes the costs on to you, the municipal taxpayer. That’s why the average residential municipal taxes have increased between 58% and 74% over the last 10 years! No wonder we’re losing young families and people who actually work here!
There is another way to bring this alarming trend into check: promise ridiculous amounts of commercial development. Unlike residential development, commercial taxes often exceeed the actual infrastructure costs and can subsidize (and bring down) residential rates. Not surprisingly , TSMV is promising the Holy Grail on this front: 1,050,000 sq ft of commercial space, which is more than what currently exists in the whole Town of Canmore.
Making promises is one thing, delivering on them is another. TSMV’s track record on this front is dismal: Except for the Stewart Creek Golf Course, a moderate sized hotel (Worldmark -112 rooms) and a small mixed use development (Mountaineer’s Village at Drygas Gate), little of the commercial development they have promised on already approved ASPs has happened. Meanwhile, they’ve built more than 3,000 residential units, because that’s what’s makes them the most money (and causes your taxes to go up). Sound unfair and unjust? That’s because it is!
Canmore is the least affordable place to live in Alberta and amongst the most expensive in Canada. Situated between Banff National Park and the City of Calgary, our accessibility, scenery, abundant recreational opportunities, clean air and water, and wildlife make our town not just an attractive place to live, but also to own a recreational property. The demand for second homes has driven house prices and rents beyond the reach of most workers and their families. Tragically, around 30% of Canmore houses sit dark and unoccupied while many of the people who work, shop and go to school struggle for a place to live.
Several initiatives attempt to address this issue but they have been woefully inadequate. The Town of Canmore set a goal of 1,000 affordable units back in 2005 and only has 260 units 15 years later. We need a radical new approach if we are to avoid the fate of similar towns with similar pressures. TSMV lands are our last chance to get it right and that includes making up for a longstanding, community-wide affordable housing shortfall. 10% or even 20% is not enough; 50% is what’s required. Innovative funding and partnership models could get us there. But doing so is going to require courage and vision.
Canmore is a beautiful, friendly, and welcoming place to live: it is big enough for all the necessary amenities, but still small enough to unexpectedly encounter friends, artists, local Olympic heroes and our mayor and councillors on the streets. We value our wild neighbours and work hard to coexist with them. We strive to retain young families and the workers who drive our local economy as real estate prices continue to soar.
Weaving such a community fabric takes deliberate effort and is built on a foundation of the past efforts of citizens and elected representatives who stitched together guidelines, bylaws, agreements and policies which make our community the special place it is today. Unfortunately the latest proposals from Three Sisters Mountain Village ignore many of these past efforts.
Developing in the mountains has risks and costs, especially on the Three Sisters property. One risk is undermining: more than 3,000 km of underground roadways and tunnels riddle the property from Canmore’s coal mining days. In 2010 a sinkhole opened up and swallowed a public trail in a newly developed Three Sisters neighborhood. The short term fix cost Alberta taxpayers $600,000. The long term plan is to replace it every 25 years. Canmore taxpayers will have to foot the bill.
Another long term taxpayer liability is maintenance of the 8-foot-high wildlife fence Three Sisters proposes to erect around its new developments to mitigate for the effect of 14,500 more people on the adjacent wildlife corridor. Should we even be considering such development if that’s part of the deal?
Is it reasonable for taxpayers to assume such risks and liabilities so developers can make their money and move on to the next project? Who really benefits?
Canmore sits in one of the most constricted and developed parts of a continentally significant wildlife corridor that locally connects Banff National Park to Kananaskis Country. Severing such a connection results in less accessible food for animals, fewer den sites, and limited mating opportunities. Such “habitat fragmentation” is the process by which species go extinct.
We know from numerous studies that good wildlife corridors need to occur on slopes <25 degrees and are a minimum of 450m wide. Unfortunately, the wildlife corridors around and through the proposed Three Sisters development site don’t meet these minimum standards.
There’s more: Three Sisters wants to build a residential development in an existing wildlife corridor that leads to the most used highway wildlife underpass in the area (over 450 animal crossings/year). They’ll build a replacement wildlife underpass but only so it aligns with a Steep Creek hazard area that they can’t develop anyway. They’re also proposing to develop an area meant to buffer a wildlife corridor with open space, and want to convert an area zoned for wildlife conservation into commercial, industrial and residential development.
The good news is the Town of Canmore, through its regulatory powers, can reject or ask for significant adjustments to the proposal if enough concern is expressed.
Canmore’s mean annual temperature is anticipated to rise 1.9°C over the next 30 years with broad consequences for glaciers, winter snowpack, streamflow, wildfires, forest pests, and regional ecosystems. Like many jurisdictions, the Town of Canmore declared a State of Climate Emergency and developed an Action Plan that commits us to reduce our 2015 Greenhouse Gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
Reaching this goal will take strong and courageous leadership. Are the scattered, car-dependent neighbourhoods proposed by TSMV part of that sustainable pathway? What about all the new second homes that will be heated all winter for occasional use? (54% of Canmore’s GHGs are from heating buildings). And how about the huge volumes of cement TSMV proposes to pour underground to mitigate undermining hazards? (global cement production creates more emissions than all of Canada)