A housing development near the Three Sisters mountains on the eastern edge of Canmore, Alta. is shown on July 2, 2017. A decades-old debate over development in an important wildlife corridor in Canmore, Alta., is back before the mountain town's council in the coming months.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colette Derworiz

Canmore town council rejects one of two developments

CANMORE, Alta. — Town council in a popular Alberta mountain community has rejected one of two proposed development projects that together would have almost doubled its population in the coming decades.

Plans for the proposed Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek projects in Canmore, west of Calgary, covered about 80 per cent of the town’s developable land.

Council rejected Smith Creek. But it approved second reading of the Three Sisters Village proposal with amendments to deal with concerns about wildlife, affordable housing and taxes.

Third and final reading was delayed until May 11.

“I’m not opposed to development as long as it’s outside of the wildlife corridors and meets the needs of our community,” Mayor John Borrowman said Tuesday during the debate.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people at the public hearing that was held … and there was a clear voice of opposition — although many who spoke indicated that they, too, were not opposed to some future development of Three Sisters lands.

“It seems to me that it was the scale and scope of both area structure plans coming together that was really causing the concern by the population.”

The public hearing on the two developments took seven days and heard from more than 200 people concerned about possible effects on the town and wildlife in the area. Hundreds of others wrote letters opposed to the projects.

Borrowman said in an interview that he believes council addressed many of those concerns.

“There were substantive changes made,” he said later Tuesday. “Council really gave it a lot of thought.”

Chris Ollenberger, managing principal with the development company overseeing the proposals, said he was still processing council’s decisions.

“It was a lot of information,” he said in an interview. “We are going to take some time to review those comprehensively.”

Ollenberger said they are still determining whether the rejection of Smith Creek could affect the financial viability of the project.

“It’s disappointing,” he said, “but we’re still processing the reasons behind that.”

Experts have said the two proposals to provide homes for up to 14,500 added residents and tourists would add more pressure to an already busy valley.

Two local experts said Tuesday that they had mixed feelings about council’s decision.

“Smith Creek addresses a third of the population increase,” said Karsten Heuer, a wildlife biologist. “That’s still two-thirds more people.”

Both he and Jodi Hilty, president and chief scientist with the Canmore-based Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, said they are still concerned about development in an area used by animals to move around in the Rocky Mountains.

“It is essentially creating a bottleneck for wildlife movement in that corridor,” said Hilty. “That’s been our issue for a long, long time and continues to be an issue.”

The wildlife corridor — and how wide it needs to be to allow animals such as grizzly bears, elk and wolves to move efficiently — has been debated ever since a 1992 environmental assessment found it to be an important area.

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