A map of potential developments for 240 acres of land around the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino, focused on providing regional housing and public transit.Submitted Photo

The feasibility of lands for developing regional transit, housing and commercial activities around Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino is under review.

In a couple months, Stoney Nakoda Land Management Ltd. will have initial answers as it maps out a plan to flip a 240-acre site long-designated for commercial development by Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation.

“Really what we’re trying to capture is would you be a consumer of the services here. Would you potentially be a partner to develop those services or that infrastructure here, or might you be on the funding side,” said Darcy Dupont, project management lead with Uplift Consulting. 

Dupont and other planning staff hired to complete feasibility work on what is being dubbed as the Stoney Nakoda Kananaskis Land Development were at Kananaskis Improvement District’s council meeting last week to provide an update on the status of the project, which was first brought to council in March.

Project assessment, including engagement with neighbouring municipalities, other levels of government and organizations is supported by Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation chiefs and council and is underway. Recommendations from this and the feasibility study are expected in February. 

Initial planning is focused on providing housing in the form of staff accommodation, single family units and seniors living facilities and is supported by a vision for connecting the Bow Valley through regional public transit.

Amenities that could follow include retail, restaurants, entertainment, an RV Park and a cultural centre, to name a few.

“This project is meant to be a sustained revenue source for the First Nations (Goodstoney, Chiniki and Bearspaw), it’s meant to do it in a considerate way that allows for tourism, allows for sustainability, allows for that eco-tourism component,” said project development advisor Rich Mackett. “It needs that transportation piece but it is actually more narrowly focused from our minds in terms of what is needed for worker housing and market rental housing.”

It became apparent to project consultants early on that the development is likely to be most successful as a regional project, due in part to the site’s unique location off the busy Trans-Canada Highway and at the gateway to Kananaskis on Highway 40, and also due to much of the area facing similar challenges with housing, labour retention, vehicle congestion and accessibility.

“There’s infinite need for housing and there’s just no opportunity to expand in the Bow Valley region and probably the Kananaskis region without having the proper facilities to house the people that need to work here,” said Mackett. “And there just isn’t the affordability.”

Canmore is the most expensive place to live in the province, and according to the Alberta Living Wage Network, a wage of $38.80 per hour is needed to live in the mountain town in 2023. The town has held this title since 2020. 

The Town of Banff, meanwhile, is also dealing with a housing crisis, and any housing is hard to find in Kananaskis, which, like Banff, also has a need-to-reside policy requiring residents work a certain number of hours to live there. Recently, former KID councillor Anita Szuster was forced to resign her post because she could not find housing after leaving staff accommodations at her last job, separate from her KID role. The councillor that Szuster was elected to replace faced a similar outcome and had to resign. 

In Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation, housing units are being built, but development isn’t keeping up with demand. Forty homes were built by Chiniki First Nation last year with support from federal grants and another 15 are expected to be complete in the coming months. Band members looking to acquire housing face a waitlist of about 200 people or more, which equates to roughly 10 per cent of the band’s population of around 2,000. The entire population of Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation is about 6,000 people.

“What we’re trying to do here is provide the economics and study and the research to underpin that to properly give the Nation the information they need so they can make an informed decision, and that decision is theirs to make,” said Mackett. “We’re not going to impose anything, we’re going to make some recommendations and suggestions on analytics and economics. We’re not going to say ‘build a racetrack, build a golf course’, or to do other things as has been done in the past.”

Establishing a public transit hub, park-and-ride facility, and/or a passenger railway at the location, however, is a major consideration – not as revenue for the Nation but in keeping with connectivity of the region, from Cochrane to Canmore and out to Kananaskis.

“We see the transit opportunity not being necessarily a revenue source for the Nation but definitely being a part of the project site interconnecting market housing, interconnecting workers with Canmore, with Banff, with the Kananaskis area,” said Mackett.

One of the questions in stakeholder engagement asks how municipalities, provincial and federal governments, as well other groups the project team has reached out to might want to participate.

KID Chair Melanie Gnyp asked for clarification on whether this pertains solely to transit or to the project as a whole, which she called exciting but also ambitious. 

Brian Lee, Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino general manager, who is involved with planning the project, said amenities like a theatre, grocery store and others included in early design have yet to be determined and would be supplementary to housing and transit.

“We see commercial development to service that traffic as we create it,” said Lee. “But I think it’s about validating those two core business models – housing is clearly the primary because there’s a demonstrated need within the corridor, everybody knows that. And transit makes it make sense – how do you get people there? How do you get them to work?”

KID council further noted the public transit piece fits with its plans for a transit feasibility study planned next year with the MD of Bighorn aimed at improving accessibility of residents, visitors and workers in the Bow Valley, in addition to reducing vehicle congestion and carbon footprint. 

Dupont said project consultants have met with representatives with the Towns of Canmore and Cochrane and plan to meet with the MD of Bighorn in January.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published on Dec 22, 2023 at 13:45

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

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