Inside the 1992 NRCB decision

Photo by Kristy Davison.

Photo by Kristy Davison.


Oh man, not another acronym.

Unfortunately for all of us, the 1992 NRCB decision is key to understanding just why development in Three Sisters is so controversial and why developing it wisely is so challenging. We worked with Ron Casey, Canmore's Mayor from 1998-2001 and 2004-2012, and MLA for Banff Cochrane from 2012-2015, to answer your questions and make this as painless as possible.

Read an overview of the NRCB Decision (with Mr. Casey's highlights, for your viewing pleasure).

So, what is this NRCB thing I keep hearing about?

NRCB stands for the Natural Resources Conservation Board. This is a board appointed by the Alberta Government to review various types of projects; including recreational or tourism projects that are expected to attract more than 250,000 visitors per year and for which an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been ordered by the Minister of the Environment. In 1992, the proposed Three Sisters project exceeded these thresholds and was required to be reviewed. 

What does the NRCB do?

The board provides for an impartial review process to determine if projects are in the public interest when social, economic and environmental effects are considered.

What jurisdiction does the Board have?

The board can only determine if the project is in the “public interest”. It does not have the jurisdiction to act as an ongoing regulator for projects they approve, to ensure their recommendations are followed. The board is accountable to the Alberta Legislature, the approval of applications requires cabinet authorization.

What was the plan that Three Sisters presented that triggered the 1992 NRCB review?

The plan presented by Three Sisters in 1991 included 2,560 acres of land in the Bow Valley and Wind Valley (the valley you would walk into if you went straight south from Dead Man's Flats). The proposal included four golf courses (in addition to Stewart Creek Golf Course that had prior approval and was not reviewed by the NRCB), 2,425 hotel rooms, 6,085 housing units, 700 staff housing units, and 1,200,215 square feet of commercial space that included retail, convention, restaurants, hotels and other attractions.

Total population increase was estimated to be 15,000.

What did the NRCB approve?

The Bow Valley portion of the application, including the golf courses, was approved. But the Wind Valley section, where most of the hotel/resort development was proposed, was excluded.

Because the hotel/resort development portion of the overall project (Wind Valley) was not approved, the board did not have a plan presented that would show the hotel/resort component relocated to the Bow Valley; so they could not approve an amended plan for the Bow Valley. However, Three Sisters could proceed with changes to the Bow Valley plan in the future, providing the Town of Canmore agreed.

Does the Town retain any planning authority on Three Sisters Lands?

Yes. Three Sisters could request changes to their plan “but detailed timing, and specific land uses, and population densities may be changed with the approval of the Town of Canmore”. The Board stated that it had “no desire to see the interest of residents and stakeholders thwarted by sterilizing the effectiveness of the public process in local planning.” 

Has the plan for the Bow Valley changed?

Yes. Currently all golf courses in the plan have been removed (Stewart Creek golf course was not part of the NRCB approval) and hotels (1,500 rooms) and commercial uses (over 400,000 square feet) have been added; as well, population densities, locations and proposed land uses have been altered from what was presented to the NRCB.

Who is going to pay for all the infrastructure costs?

During the NRCB hearing, Three Sisters stated they would “bear any capital costs of the town's infrastructure that” were “attributed to the project and not recovered by provincial assistance.” They undertook to “provide any necessary front end capital costs not provided by the province”.

The reality, however, is that the town continues to front end infrastructure costs in anticipation of the Three Sisters project and assume long term debt to that end.

What did Three Sisters propose (to the NRCB) for the housing component of the project?

Three Sisters suggested that 70 per cent of the homeowners would be permanent residents and 30 per cent would be weekend properties. They also stated that 50 per cent would be “low cost” housing, 30 per cent would be “mid range” and only 20 per cent would be a “higher price range”.

How much of the Three Sisters vision (plan) has been completed since 1992?

One 112-room hotel, which was originally a Marriott Hotel and is now a World Mark Canmore-Banff Hotel, has been completed. The only other commercial space to be built is a small local development in the Three Sisters Creek area. Residentially, Peaks of Grassi, Three Sisters Creek, Cairns on the Bow and Stewart Creek have been built and are substantially complete.

What does Three Sisters have approved that they can begin construction on immediately if they wish?

Currently Three Sisters has land use in various locations that allows for a wide variety of development to occur. With land use in place and a wide variety of permitted uses there is nothing preventing Three Sisters from moving forward with the approvals that are in place. These areas encompass 70+/- acres of land within the Stewart Creek and Resort Centre planning areas that would allow for 375,000 square feet of commercial development, 150,000 square feet of resort commercial and 1,229+ units of resort accommodation (condo). Of course, there are many other uses that can be developed on the 70+ acres of land available. This represents the majority of the “resort” lands on the Three Sisters property. 

Do more Planning approvals need to be considered now?

Most of the lands sitting with development approvals on them are mixed use in nature (residential and commercial) and they can be built on immediately. Because Three Sisters originally proposed a resort development to the NRCB — and to the community — it would make sense that this commercial/resort component should be substantially completed prior to opening up more land for development. 

Canmore Commons