Polarizing development project in Canmore sparks heartfelt public hearings

Marathon council meetings live on Zoom may not be considered the most binge-worthy streams for most people, but one in Canmore this week has a lot of people tuning in.

Mayor and council have spent days staring into their screens, listening to impassioned residents carefully lay out their concerns about a massive development proposal for Three Sisters Mountain Village and Spring Creek areas.

Read more: Development in wildlife corridor in mountain town of Canmore back up for debate

“The hearings have been one of the most beautiful displays of democracy I’ve seen in my entire life,” said Wade Graham, a Canmore business owner.

“I’m glued to it. It’s like watching Netflix but it’s a YouTube political presentation and I would have never guessed that, it’s amazing,” said Graham, who shared his own concerns earlier in the week.

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“There are so many factors, undermining is huge, wildlife is huge, wildfire is huge, doubling our population is huge — there are so many pieces to this,” he said.

“Changing our town and the landscape in an irreversible way that we will never be able to undo.”

The project has been decades in the making. It involves about 320 hectares of land stretching all the way to Dead Man’s Flats on the east side. It would include housing, hotels, commercial development and green space.

It has the potential to double the town’s population during peak times, when visitors are included.

Click to play video 'Wildlife corridor development in Canmore advances to public hearing' Wildlife corridor development in Canmore advances to public hearing

Wildlife corridor development in Canmore advances to public hearing – Feb 10, 2021

“The Town of Canmore has been planning to have a population of around 30,000 people since about 1992, so the water treatment plant, the sewage treatment plant are all built with that kind of capacity already,” said Chris Ollenberger, director of strategy and development at Three Sisters Mountain Village.

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2017 Canmore Town Council rejected the proposal and gave Three Sisters Mountain Village a list of things it wanted done before re-applying.

Ollenberger said all of them were fulfilled and he’s optimistic this time around. He said the project, which could last over 30 years, has the potential to inject $100 million into the local GDP.

“There’s no question it would bring hundreds of good-paying full-time jobs into Canmore, it would invigorate the trades,” he said, adding it would create jobs that would last an entire career.

Read more: Contentious wildlife corridor development in Canmore advances to public hearing

But the sheer magnitude of the project has many people worried, including former Canmore Mayor Ron Casey, who is set to speak next week.

“It’s too dense, it’s too large and there’s, really, virtually no positives for the town of Canmore.

“I know they are holding up affordable housing as a carrot but that simply isn’t enough to out weigh the negative effects,” said Casey, adding the environmental implications go against so much of what the community stands for.

If there is one thing everyone can agree on it’s the enormity of the task in front of town council.

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Shane Jonker used to be a Canmore town councillor. He said the community has been anticipating this development for years.

“Council needs to hear the concerns of the people and sift through the noise, we all knew this was coming,” he said.

“I’m relying on them to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water on this.

“It’s a very important project for this community. It’s been anticipated for decades. The notion for nothing occurring there is absurd,” said Jonker, who is also a land developer himself.

The hearings are scheduled to last into next week. Mayor and council are expected to provide reaction at the end.

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