Harvie Heights Road, located in the hamlet of Harvie Heights in the MD of Bighorn. Jungmin Ham/Rocky Mountain Outlook File Photo

There are no sidewalks or streetlights in the sleepy community of Harvie Heights – just how residents like it.

This was the consensus from a recent open house to gather resident feedback on an area redevelopment plan (ARP) for the hamlet of about 163 people, which aims to focus strictly on its quickly growing commercial area.

“A lot of visitors come out here and have been coming out here for many years, and that’s great,” said Howard Hepburn, president of the Harvie Heights Community Association. “We just don’t want to be invaded … there’s some large developments coming up and we have concerns around that and hope that we can preserve the sanctity and serenity and the natural beauty of our community.”

Edmonton-based Invistec Consulting Ltd. was hired by the MD of Bighorn to develop an ARP that balances the wants and needs of residents with new and ongoing development in Harvie Heights.

Hepburn said residents, most of whom are part of the community association, aren’t against development. Rather, they’re for leaving the residential area as is and ensuring any new development aligns with community values.

Of the feedback highlighted to the consultant, residents were clear the ARP should address maintaining integrity of the upper aquifer supplying groundwater to residential wells, overland flooding and flood mitigation from Tower and Harvie Heights creeks, risk of wildfire, preserving environmental buffers, density of development, better signage and an entry treatment strategy for Blue Jay Drive – the only access road to the residential area.

“We get a lot of visitors new to the area driving up Blue Jay Drive into the residential community looking for their accommodations that are in the commercial area,” said Hepburn.

“That’s a big concern because sometimes people are knocking on residential doors looking for their accommodations at one o’clock in the morning with their suitcases. It disturbs the residents and it’s also a hassle for visitors.”

Hepburn said residents would like to see better signage and demarcation of the intersection at Blue Jay Drive that doesn’t discourage traffic, but ensures visitors know the area beyond is entirely residential.

With the roadway being the only entry and exit for residents in the community, there has also long been a want to develop another egress point in case of emergency, such as a wildfire.

“The problem is there aren’t very many places that terrain would allow a new road,” Hepburn said. “There is a spot closer to the Banff [National] Park east gate that is a possibility and we’ve been wondering about that, but it’s through [Bow Valley] Wildland Provincial Park and there’s restrictions around what you can do in a wildland park.”

Louis Kamenka, a resident of Harvie Heights, said there have been times when a tree was knocked down by wind, blocking Blue Jay Drive and emergency access to residential.

“That has happened in the past with trees blowing down and an ambulance not being able to get in for over an hour for someone who had a heart attack that same day,” he said. “We have one way in and out and it’s been suggested that maybe another entrance and exit just for emergencies would be beneficial. We can even have it gated all the time, and if something came up, we could just open the gate.”

Hepburn noted there’s also concern around a potential discrepancy in the MD’s municipal development plan (MDP) and land use bylaw on the designation of what used to be defined as environmental reserves. The MDP defines them as public open spaces/community recreation, while the land use bylaw defines them as public service districts. There are five of these spaces in the residential area of Harvie Heights.

He said definitions should be clearer regarding the specific purposes and restrictions associated with each type of zoning to avoid any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of use in the ARP, which is still being drafted.

“We have concerns surrounding what could happen with redesignation,” he said. “These spaces are necessary for wildlife and for runoff and spring melt and rainwater. They’re natural areas that absorb any moisture or water that falls on the community. They’re important as an environmental aspect.

“The environmental reserves in the community are a bit sloped and heavily treed, so it’s not really an open space and it’s not really suitable for community recreation. There’s a number of these spaces throughout the neighbourhood but we prefer to see them, by and large, just as they are.”

MD of Bighorn interim director of planning and development Wayne Shanks said part of the ARP is garnering feedback from residents to determine what’s working in the community and what isn’t, including any inconsistencies with the land use bylaw and MDP.

He said he believes an ARP should have been in place a number of years ago because of all the commercial use that’s being redeveloped in Harvie Heights.

Seven out of nine commercial lots along Harvie Heights Road have already been developed, with two lots being actively redeveloped or at the development permit stage. All lots are zoned for short-term visitor accommodation and related developments.

Basecamp Resorts received development approval from Bighorn’s Municipal Planning Commission last year and is constructing a new 54-unit visitor accommodation building on one of the lots. In September 2023, MPC issued a development permit at 950 Harvie Heights Road for stacked townhouses accommodating 131 short-term visitor rentals, consisting of 12 buildings, with 180 underground and 13 above ground parking stalls.

All commercial lots are serviced for water and sewer by the Town of Canmore, where all residential lots have their own individual wells and septic systems.

The ARP aims to address uncertainty relating to the proximity of the upper aquifer and the potential negative impact on groundwater supply after residents voiced concern with Basecamp’s earlier excavation for its development of a retaining wall.

Kamenka, who is a geologist, said his primary concern is with defining the boundary of the upper aquifer and ensuring there is a buffer to protect it from any future development activities.

“We have to make sure there’s setbacks from anyone developing and I think the setbacks we’re concerned with is in the commercial zone because it’s creeping up to the southern edge of our aquifer, and that’s a huge concern,” he said.

“It hasn’t after all these years been clearly defined where its boundaries are and we are really concerned if that aquifer gets punctured that it will deplete our water resources for the majority of houses that are getting water from that aquifer.”

A hydrogeological assessment is currently being undertaken by ParklandGEO, a partnering sub-consultant on the ARP.

Invistec also identified opportunities to investigate the feasibility of lower cost of water and wastewater service and stormwater enhancements for the commercial area.

A primary focus of a future traffic impact assessment for the ARP will be to further assess the birdcage – a Trans-Canada Highway off-ramp onto Harvie Heights Road – which is being redesigned south of the hamlet, as well as reviewing access options along Blue Jay Drive.

The MD approved the ARP project in its 2023 budget at $89,000. The final plan is expected to be submitted to council in mid-July.

Feedback from the first open house will be summarized and released to the public as a ‘what we heard report’, with a second open house scheduled for May 13.

Another report, including information from completed technical reports, will be summarized and released from the second open house.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 12, 2024 at 12:59

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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