Three Sisters Mountain Village (TSMV) 

The largest piece of private land in Canmore; development on this property has the potential to add dwellings for 11,000 more people and brings into question the viability of the Three Sisters wildlife corridor. 


Summary

  • TSMV encompasses approximately 80 per cent of developable land in Canmore. The Three Sisters property currently includes the unfinished Three Sisters Golf Course and continues eastward all the way to Dead Man's Flats.  
  • The property currently has approvals to build a maximum of about 2,500 more residential units and 1,500 more hotel or "visitor accommodation" units [Source: 1998 Settlement Agreement]. This is enough approved land use to allow building to continue at the current pace for about 15 years.
  • The scope of the development is projected by TSMV to add approximately 11,000 residents, weekenders and visitors to the valley.
  • On this particular piece of property, the Town of Canmore and council do not have the ability to define the wildlife corridor. Instead, because of a decision made by the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) in 1992, the Province of Alberta has the jurisdiction to determine the wildlife corridor on this piece of property. The province is expected to make this decision in 2017.

News

Resort Centre proposal turned down by Canmore town council.

  • The first opportunity by council to address the Three Sisters Resort Centre proposal on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 ended with a unanimous decision to reject it.
  • This rejection means the Resort Centre plans that were approved in 2004 stand. 
  • Three Sisters can revise and resubmit the proposal and in this story in the Calgary Herald, Chris Ollenberger of QuantumPlace said they were "surprised and disappointed at council's decision." He insisted that the plan is not dead yet.
  • In this CBC story, conservationists applauded the decision by council, suggesting it relieves the pressure to build and develop in the Bow Valley. They will continue to press the province to take a look at the bigger picture for wildlife connectivity in the area.

Smith Creek proposal postponed until after provincial decision on wildlife corridor.

  • Three Sisters Mountain Village has submitted an application for the Smith Creek wildlife corridor (the last remaining piece of the Three Sisters corridor that is yet to be determined) to Alberta Environment and Parks for consideration. The proposed corridor details are also available on the province's website, with instructions on how to provide feedback through letter submissions. 
  • Three Sisters' Smith Creek proposal for the eastern edge of Canmore remains on hold until the Alberta government decides on the wildlife corridor there. The draft decision is expected to take 4-8 weeks (from the end of April).
TSMV's proposed corridor map.

TSMV's proposed corridor map.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Coral colour shows GIS mapped >25 degree slopes. TSMV slope line in purple, Y2Y multi-species slope line in blue and 450-metre width in transparent white.


Timeline: ownership and development

TODAY

Under the 1998 Settlement Agreement between the Town of Canmore and TSMV, a maximum number of units which could be built was established on the TSMV Resort Centre and Stewart Creek lands —about 4,200 residential/timeshare units and 1,500 hotel or 'visitor accommodation' units [Source: 1998 Settlement Agreement]. By November 2012, about 1,700 residential units and zero hotel units had been built.  Since then, additional units have been built in the Stewart Creek phase of the project. At the current pace of building in TSMV, building would continue for about 15 years before the maximum is reached. It’s important to note that, according to the Settlement Agreement (AKA the Three Sisters Master Bylaw), the 'cap' numbers are not a guaranteed entitlement and the unit numbers could be amended by a town council in the future, as long as any amendments are consistent with NRCB Decision of 1992.

The approximate maximum number of hotel and residential units allowed, but not yet built [based on the 1998 Settlement Agreement]. Updated estimates as of February 2017.

The approximate maximum number of hotel and residential units allowed, but not yet built [based on the 1998 Settlement Agreement]. Updated estimates as of February 2017.

The map below shows areas of the Three Sisters property that have full approvals from the Town of Canmore to begin development in a mix of residential and commercial buildings. The Resort Centre and Resort Accommodation Districts (in orange) allow for 1,200 more units (the current minimum), and the Stewart Creek area (outlined in blue) allow for another 600 units to be built. 

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Map showing areas of Three Sisters lands that have current approvals to build, but have not yet been developed by TSMV (orange is Resort Centre; blue is Stewart Creek).

As of March 2017, Three Sisters Mountain Village and property developer QuantumPlace have brought two more Area Structure Plans to town council: the Resort Centre ASP Amendment and the Smith Creek ASP (scroll down for details on these ASPs).

These two applications together seek to acquire significantly more land-use approvals above and beyond the developable properties shown in the map above.

Open house dates and public hearings on these ASPs will be listed on our events page.

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Wildlife corridor concerns

The viability of Canmore's wildlife corridors is already under threat due to urban growth and the relative increase in use that has occurred over the last 25 years. Everyone wants a piece of Canmore, and rightly so; it's a pretty great place to be.

Right now, the provincial government is in the process of deciding the official shape and size of the Three Sisters wildlife corridor that will run roughly from Peaks of Grassi to Dead Man's Flats. What they decide now will affect the health of our local and regional wildlife populations, including grizzly bears, wolves, cougars, elk and deer.

If the province and TSMV's landowners shape the plans around the most current wildlife movement and science data, in line with the internationally accepted best standards for wildlife corridors, there's a chance that the integrity of the corridors and wildlife populations in Canmore and the Yellowstone to Yukon region will be maintained. If not, there's little doubt that the wildlife of Banff National Park, Kananaskis Country and beyond will lose this necessary, functional corridor and the Yellowstone to Yukon vision for healthy connected wildlife populations would be irreparably harmed.

Thanks to decades of research, there's a good idea of what wildlife need to thrive. Now it is a question of how much risk the province is willing to take on their behalf.

Read more about wildlife corridor science here.


Plan to increase Resort Centre footprint

UPDATE: The 2016/17 proposal below for Resort Centre was turned down by Canmore town council on May 2, 2017. Watch the council meeting video (Three Sisters item begins at 1:17:00).

Click to enlarge images

  • 2004: Plans for the TSMV Resort Centre, submitted by TSMV to the Town in 2004. The golf course (in dark green) is considered by all parties to be a buffer zone between the resort centre and the wildlife corridor.
  • 2016/17: Amendments requested by TSMV to the Resort Centre ASP, showing resort expansion covering the current golf course buffer zone, with a fence around the property to allow for development expansion next to the wildlife corridor.

Understanding the Resort Centre ASP Amendment

In 2006, TSMV reached an agreement with the town to establish a conservation easement on a buffer zone separating a critical wildlife corridor from the community's newest golf course [Calgary Herald, December 2006]. This golf course was never completed and has gone fallow, and sees heavy use by Canmore's wildlife populations.

In November 2016, QuantumPlace, the developer working on behalf of TSMV, submitted an ASP amendment application for its Resort Centre development (that originally included the golf course). They currently have approval to build between 1,330 and 2,525 units of varying size and density on the property at this location adjacent to the unused golf course. The amendment would increase that to between 1,600 and 3,000 units, and significantly expand building development on to the current golf course buffer zone (for scale, the Peaks of Grassi neighbourhood is about 450 units, so what is being proposed is a request to add another development roughly the size of Peaks of Grassi to the development footprint, directly adjacent to the Three Sisters wildlife corridor).

The land will require extensive mine shaft mitigation in order to be deemed safe enough to develop, which also raises many concerns for council and local taxpayers who will be on the line to pay for any damages that occur to municipal infrastructure on this land (roads, pathways, etc).

fencing BETWEEN DEVELOPMENT AND THE WILDLIFE CORRIDOR

In order to accommodate more development, a move that would increase the potential for human/wildlife conflict in the adjacent corridor, a fence around the property is being proposed.

"The wildlife fence will be built by TSMV at the time of development, and may be either built prior to, or phased in with, the development. There are a variety of mechanisms being considered for the maintenance of the fence, including an Owner’s Association and/or registering the fence as an easement on private title for land owners to maintain. Currently, Town Administration is investigating the pros and cons of taking on the ownership and maintenance of the fence and exploring potential community tax mechanisms; one possible application could be supporting the fence through a tax borne solely by residents of TSMV." [Source: Resort Centre ASP Amendment Rationale, TSMV 2016].

The maps above show the location and some details about the project, and identify how much more land the submission is requesting to be rezoned (to allow for both residential and commercial). The lands are currently zoned to provide a buffer for the wildlife corridor at a location that's already questionable whether it's wide enough to be effective for the movement of the wildlife that use it.

More Background

The Town of Canmore's website hosts all of the relevant documents that would give you more background on this topic, and TSMV has provided their own frequently asked questions page here.

*This ASP may be revised following Council's request to see both the Resort Centre and Smith Creek plans simultaneously prior to making any decisions about either one (January 2017). An Environmental Impact Statement by an independent consultant (Fiera Biological Consulting) that was completed earlier this year could also have an effect on the requested Resort Centre ASP amendment. It's expected to be resubmitted together with the Smith Creek ASP this spring. We will update this section when it becomes available.

A view from above showing the Resort Centre, Stewart Creek and Smith Creek proposed development areas on the Three Sisters Property. The Trans-Canada Highway runs diagonally across the map, for reference. Map from Smith Creek Terms of Reference Doc. Click image to download.

A view from above showing the Resort Centre, Stewart Creek and Smith Creek proposed development areas on the Three Sisters Property. The Trans-Canada Highway runs diagonally across the map, for reference. Map from Smith Creek Terms of Reference Doc. Click image to download.


Development at the mouth of the Wind Valley at Dead Man's Flats

UPDATE: Three Sisters' Smith Creek proposal remains on hold until the Alberta government decides on the wildlife corridor there. The draft decision is expected to take 4-8 weeks from the end of April, 2017.

Understanding the Smith Creek ASP

Opportunities for public engagement are available at the Smith Creek page of the Town of Canmore website. Click the button below to find dates set for readings and public hearings and more.

In order for the Smith Creek proposed development to be considered by council, the Three Sisters wildlife corridor must first be delineated by the Province of Alberta. This is the final piece of the corridor that remains to be decided, and the size and shape decided by the province will have a great impact on the future of Canmore's wildlife, economic stability and local culture. Opportunities to give feedback to the province as they consider all perspectives on the corridor are available on their website. Click below to send your comments:

Roughly a dozen citizens, town planners, and town councillors from the Canmore community were engaged in the Smith Creek ASP planning process (this group is referred to as CAG, or the Citizens Advisory Group). The vision of this process was to create a plan that would be more reflective of the community's needs and concerns, and would result in a more smooth planning process for this historically contentious development.

Whether it's been successful in doing so is still debatable. Karsten Heuer (a local wildlife biologist who has been involved with shaping Canmore's wildlife corridors from the beginning and who is the former president of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative), spent a year on the Citizens Advisory Group but ended up stepping away, saying:

“It was meant to be a collaborative process. But after eight months it’s been nothing more than a witnessing process. And I don’t like what I’m witnessing.” 

In the Homes section of the Calgary Herald, here's how the development was described:

The largest portion of land — some 800 acres — is planned to be reshaped and developed as an area called Smith Creek. Behind a locked gate back of the 10th green of the Stewart Creek golf course and stretching east to the Deadman's Flats area, Smith Creek will be a community dedicated to the live-work-play-coexist vision that will be created by the partnership. The four creeks that pass through the property will add to the overall vision.
“The largest use of this land will be for wildlife corridors that will stretch right across the Bow Valley corridor,” said Chris Ollenberger of Quantum Place. [Note: The 1992 conditional approval of the NRCB for the Three Sisters property requires TSMV to provide functional wildlife corridors on their property to the satisfaction of Alberta Environment].
But that will still leave plenty of room for 1,000 homes (up to 2,500 people using average census data for occupancy) — everything from single-family to four storey wood-frame walk-ups and from office space to light industrial lands [Source: Calgary Herald].

Development proposed in the Smith Creek ASP. Click to enlarge.

The proposed development would exceed the area approved for development by the NRCB in 1992 and require the rezoning of 132 acres of land from its current status as 'Wildland Conservation' to allow for development at the far east corner of the proposal. Therefore, in order to accommodate the Smith Creek development plan, the Town of Canmore would need to amend and expand it's own Growth Boundary (to allow development beyond the current 'Future Growth' borders at the far east end of the property).

Canmore's Municipal Development Plan states:

MDP Canmore re UGB

In order to accommodate this development request for Smith Creek, the Municipal Development Plan, which is the community's vision for Canmore, a legal document that was updated in 2016, would need to be amended again. If residents believe it's worth extending the borders of our Growth Boundary at this time, even though the town has 20 years of developable land in its residential and commercial inventory, and if it's believed that the development will bring a net benefit to the town in all of the ways listed above, then the applications could be considered for approval by town council.

However, the Town of Canmore has decided that "the MDP amendment will be considered concurrently with the application to amend the Resort Centre ASP and the Smith Creek ASP," without inviting public feedback on the MDP regarding the need to extend Canmore's growth boundary in order to accommodate this proposed development at Smith Creek.

TSMV has provided their own frequently asked questions page here.