A long-discussed development plan for lands in South Canmore is not perfect, but the majority of council ultimately felt the benefits to the community outweigh potential cons.
The 8.27-hectare privately-owned piece of land at 800 3rd Avenue, split into four sub-districts, was narrowly approved for the development of four homes, as well as a proposed six-bed palliative care facility, with considerations for a conservation easement in what is known wildlife habitat.
As per the municipal development plan (MDP) and land use bylaw, three homes to be built within one of the two sub-districts approved for residential lots must be of similar size to what is permissible with other low-density residential districts in Canmore. However, the one home to be built within the other residential district on the site, of larger lot size, must be within 8,072 square feet, a cap the applicant felt appropriate given the area’s lot size.
Coun. Tanya Foubert said while she struggles with the idea of building larger homes in a community that’s in a housing crisis, there is a definite need for palliative care in Canmore and applauded the work various community members have undertaken to push for such a facility.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this role, it’s that you can’t always get what you want, but you can get some of what you want if you work together,” she said at a Tuesday (June 6) council meeting. “It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is.
“I know [this discussion’s] been long, we’ve pushed back, there’s been debate, but at the end of the day, I think this leads to a better decision for our community in the future.”
During a public hearing in May 2022, shortly after the application was proposed, a maximum building height was proposed at 12 metres. This has been reduced to 9.5 m. No building cap size was previously discussed.
The 0.8 hectares of land for the palliative hospice would be donated by the landowners, Jan and Bernie McCaffery, who also intend to build a home on one of the approved residential sub-districts, while about 90 per cent of the lands would be left in their natural state.
The fourth sub-district was initially proposed for residential development as well, but through discussions between council and the McCaffery’s, it was determined it would be best left undeveloped.
The landowners maintain that their intention has always been to limit human activity on the site by restoring its status as private property. However, many of those living and visiting Canmore do not treat it as such, instead using it as a public recreation area.
Previous proposals on the land – which were refused by different councils of the day – were for between 39- to 100-unit residential applications. But this was deemed too intrusive an option to wildlife and the environment, and contrary to intent to preserve the area from heavy public use.
“This piece of land has represented a quagmire of sorts, a problem that keeps coming back to council. The reason it’s a problem is because there’s these contradictory forces. It’s zoned future development, it’s privately owned, it’s outside the growth boundary and it’s located in a wildlife habitat patch,” said Mayor Sean Krausert.
“These forces have really caused some complexity of how to deal with this land … I believe that the test for removing the growth boundary is met, there’s a community benefit. I believe that, through this very low-density development, we are in fact enhancing environmental protection.”
Krausert added he appreciates the changes proposed by the landowners in response to the many questions asked by council. The amendments discussed between Town staff and the landowners began after a 2022 public hearing, which lasted about seven hours. The application has returned to council for consideration three times, but primarily to extend the opportunity for Town staff and the landowners to continue discussions.
He also noted the advice of an environmental expert, who stated the development, which will deter people from freely exploring the area, will enhance environmental protection.
“It will form somewhat of a barrier, then through conservation efforts, hopefully we can reduce the amount of human use in the area,” said Krausert. “As in most cases, the problem with protecting our environmentally sensitive areas is that people and their dogs and whatnot, tend to be the ones that are causing the main disturbance.”
Those opposed to development plans, Couns. Wade Graham, Joanna McCallum and Jeff Mah, said they feel strongly that the final MDP, including the addition of a proposed palliative care hospice and environmental protections, does not add enough community benefit to warrant expanding the Town’s growth boundary with the trade-off of building more large homes.
“We are in a housing crisis and homes of this size, I don’t feel are appropriate in this day and age,” said Coun. Graham, who also proposed a bylaw amendment to reduce the building cap size to 3,500-square-feet, which was voted down by those in favour of regulations in the MDP.
“I am not saying no development on this piece of land. I am saying I would like to see a more modest, a much more modest development proposed.”
McCallum echoed Graham’s comments in a final note before council went to third reading.
“I feel like we continue to keep our side eye on spaces like our habitat patches and our wildlife corridors and perhaps places that aren’t suitable for housing like industrial lands, to accommodate the housing that we want as opposed to the housing that we need,” she said.
“I’m really disappointed today. I’m really disappointed that it was so easy for us to move the urban growth boundary after having defended it so valiantly over so many years; me personally, for the last 12 and-a-half.
“I just want to remind council that we do have a limited land base and that we need to live within our lands’ means, and that means having really tough conservations, and I don’t know that we had that conversation today on this particular project.”
Mah, who agreed with what was said by his fellow councillors in opposition to the development, noted that “being on the losing side of this,” he wishes the palliative care group success in fulfilling that part of the project.
The proposed development states that if a palliative care facility is not able to be built, the sub-district will revert to the landowners and it will remain in a natural state. The developer, Spring Creek, has stated they are not in a position to support servicing the palliative care facility, so the landowners have said they will bear the cost of all site servicing for the proposed development.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 14, 2023