Three Sisters development to come to council this spring

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Plans for Three Sisters Mountain Village will likely come to a head this spring as they are set to go before council, prompting some locals to raise concerns about how it will change Canmore.

The developments, which have been in the works for decades, have been reinvigorated in recent years after the land was repurchased by local developers Don Taylor and Blair Richardson.

They hired development company, Quantum Place Developments, to oversee the work.

“We’ve submitted both Smith Creek and the Resort Centre,” Chris Ollenberger, managing principal for Quantum Place, said in February.

An application for the Smith Creek wildlife corridor has also been sent to Alberta Environment and Parks. There was an open house on March 16, which was hosted by Three Sisters Mountain Village with representatives from the province in attendance, to gather feedback on the proposal.

The comments gathered there will be processed by the developer and sent to the province, but there's also a chance to submit feedback directly to the province through its website until Apr. 20 when a draft decision is expected.

A final decision is expected from Alberta Environment and Parks by mid-May.

Both the Smith Creek and Resort Centre plans were scheduled to go before council in early April, but the town has now scheduled first reading of the Smith Creek and Resort Centre plans for May 2.

A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 23 and 24, before any final decision is made.

The two Three Sisters developments make up about 80 per cent of the remaining developable land in Canmore and could add up to 11,000 residents, visitors and tourists to the town — which some worry will inextricably change the mountain town.

Ollenberger said the Resort Centre plans will be first up. The plans for Smith Creek, which is in the middle of some key wildlife corridors, will follow.

“It really depends on the work and the energy of the Resort Centre for the whole project to work,” he said. “It works as an overall whole, and the Resort Centre was always the focus anyway.”

The area structure plan amendment proposes expanding the resort on to former golf course land — a recognized buffer zone between the Three Sisters development and wildlife corridor.

The proposal includes wildlife exclusion fencing to reduce potential conflicts between people and animals that make their way through the Bow Valley.

Concerns have long been raised about the size of the wildlife corridor by both residents and environmental groups.

Ollenberger said they submitted a slightly tweaked plan from an earlier version.

“It’s over 600 (metres) physically,” he said, suggesting their calculations show it is now 470 metres wide at the thinnest spot in the corridor.

A local conservation group, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, said the measurements of the wildlife corridors are a challenge.

“The guidelines we go by say it has to be 450 metres minimum with a 25-degree slope line,” said Stephen Legault, Y2Y's program director for Alberta.

The organization has mapped out the entire Bow Valley and come up with what they’re calling the 'reasonable-person' line.

“A reasonable person would draw a line here,” explained Legault, noting it gets tricky to draw that line in areas where the slopes are above 25 degrees. “There are some places where it’s not as obvious, which is where the debate occurs.”

Map showing areas (in yellow) above 25 degree slope on the Three Sisters Lands. Map provided by Barbara Bertch.

Map showing areas (in yellow) above 25 degree slope on the Three Sisters Lands. Map provided by Barbara Bertch.

Map showing Y2Y's suggested effective corridor width of 850m. Map provided by Barbara Bertch.

Map showing Y2Y's suggested effective corridor width of 850m. Map provided by Barbara Bertch.

Map showing Y2Y's "reasonable person's line" [in black] with 450m corridor. Map provided by Barbara Bertch.

Map showing Y2Y's "reasonable person's line" [in black] with 450m corridor. Map provided by Barbara Bertch.

As a result, he said they would like to see any development based on a precautionary principle.

“If you are in doubt, err on the side of caution,” said Legault, noting the lives of wildlife such as grizzly bears and wolves will ultimately depend on it. “If you make a mistake, you can’t go and un-develop something.

“What we believe is that there is very limited options in the remaining Three Sisters land that would still leave room for wildlife and the longterm viability of that wildlife corridor.”

The corridor is used by wildlife such as grizzly bears, cougars and elk to move between Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country.

“Over the course of a year, you might see an animal use a wide variety of habitat and terrain,” said Legault. “Over the course of 10 years, we know they need these big spaces to move through.

“Everywhere in North America where we have not allowed that movement to occur, animals have gone extinct.”

 
Colette Derworiz