Photo by Stephen Legault.

Town Planning

Click here for definitions of words commonly referred to in this section and on this site.


Planning the Canmore way

The following is a glimpse into the practices of the Town of Canmore in the past 20 years:

In order to ensure that the community's needs and vision are being represented, and be confident that the town is within its legal rights when making decisions regarding development, there's a process that's followed for every development proposal. The following diagram shows the accepted hierarchy for planning:

  1. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) is the overarching document that guides all municipal planning in Alberta.
  2. Each town has a Municipal Development Plan (MDP) that guides development based on the community's values and needs, which is required to adhere to the rules of the MGA.
  3. When an Area Structure Plan (ASP) is submitted for a development, it must meet the legal requirements of both the MDP and the MGA.
  4. Public input is sought at every stage of the process above the blue line (see diagram below). Land use is the last stage, at which point council's approval is final. At the stages below the blue line, a proponent can seek an appeal on council decisions.
  5. Land-use bylaws and subdivision and development permits must adhere to the rules of all of the documents above them in the hierarchy.

The Municipal Government Act (MGA)

Municipalities such as Canmore get their planning authority from the province through an overarching document called the Municipal Government Act (MGA). It's one of Alberta’s largest pieces of legislation and provides a governance model for cities, towns, villages, municipal districts, specialized municipalities and other forms of local government.

The MGA also lays the foundation for how municipalities operate, how municipal councils function, and how citizens can work with their municipalities.

*It is currently under review to reflect current Alberta issues.


Section 619 of the MGA is also referred to as the "Canmore Clause."

It's one of the revisions that was made to the MGA in 1995 that unfortunately confuses whether the municipality or the province has ultimate authority in decision-making. Section 619 complicates development approvals because, if it were to apply, then the town would be required to approve, within 90 days, any application that's consistent with the 1992 NRCB decision. 

To further confuse things, Section 619 was not enacted until many years after the 1992 NRCB decision was handed down on Three Sisters lands and nothing in the act suggests that the clause is retroactive. As well, the decision report does make it clear that Three Sisters requires the approval of the Town of Canmore for any of their plans in the Bow Valley. Clear as mud, right?

In the act: Section 617

Among other things, Section 617 of the MGA is one that pertains to many of the issues related to development that town planners and council work to address every day. It provides municipalities with the legal right to challenge the property rights of individuals “to the extent that is necessary for the overall greater public interest.”

You may have heard this topic come up at public hearings that relate to all kinds of development, large and small.

Municipal Development Plan (MDP)

The Municipal Development Plan (MDP) is a document that guides the community’s long term land use plan by integrating the community’s vision (in Canmore, it's based in Mining the Future — also known as MTF — a community-wide process that gathered extensive feedback and was adopted in 2006) with day-to-day and year-to-year town planning and council decision making. The document includes policies to deal with cultural, economic, environmental, social and governance issues from a land-use perspective. 

Because of its basis in community feedback and direction, the MDP can and should be the first document that the public and council turn to when a major land-use decision is being proposed to help them determine whether the proposal fits the town’s vision (MTF), as well as the spirit and intent of MDP policies. 

Developers, speculators and investors in Canmore have often submitted area structure plans (see description below) that are in conflict with the MDP, hoping they can interpret or change it in order to have their developments approved. In many cases, they have been successful.

Because the MDP is subject to interpretation, it's important that council and the public understand and enforce the intent of its policies and that decisions are guided by the Mining the Future Vision for the town. For the reasons listed above, development applications that require changes to the MDP often meet with resistance from the community.

Area Structure Plan (ASP)

Area structure plans are “statutory plans” that municipalities can adopt when doing land-use planning for larger undeveloped areas (these usually will constitute at least one or more “neighbourhoods”). Statutory plans, or ASPs, of this scale must be adopted by municipal bylaw. 

Section 633 in the MGA describes the minimum contents of an ASP, the final one stating that an ASP “may contain any other matters the council considers necessary.” The provision gives the town the ability to exercise discretion in regard to what they require from a developer in an ASP application. The requirements are normally set out in a terms of reference approved by council.

In rare circumstances, it's possible for the planning department and council to actually amend the MDP in order to make it consistent with an ASP that has been previously approved. But since the MDP is a community document, it is important that consultation with the community should be done prior to the approval of an ASP that is not yet consistent with the MDP.

The Process

Click here for a step-by-step breakdown of the process required to bring an ASP to life.

Land Use Bylaw

After an ASP has been approved, the Land Use Bylaw regulates and controls the use and development of the land and buildings within the new community.

It provides details on land use, zoning and site design and is one of the main ways to implement policy plans, such as the Municipal Development Plan. It's the last stage in the process that allows for public consultation, and is the community's last chance to help shape policies or directions contained in an ASP.

get in the ZONe

Zoning laws specify the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities can take place. For example, an R-1 residential zone might allow only single-family detached homes as opposed to duplexes or apartment complexes. On the other hand, a C-1 commercial zone might be zoned to permit only certain commercial or industrial uses in one jurisdiction, but permit a mix of housing and businesses in another jurisdiction [Source].


What you are allowed to develop on your property depends on its land-use zoning. If a proposed development is not listed as a use in the Land Use Bylaw, the developer can be required to go through the process of amending the bylaw to rezone the property first.

As you can see, a zoning classification is not set in stone. You should never assume that because you live in a residential zone that the large empty lot next to you cannot be changed to address the town's needs as they evolve. Zoning laws can be, and have been, relaxed and exceptions have been made.

Click here to find information about Canmore's Land Use Bylaw.

Subdivision and Development Permits

If you are planning to build, modify or change a structure, or change the way you are using your land, a development permit may be required.

The approving authority for a development permit may be administrative (town planning department), the Canmore Planning Commission, or in rare circumstances, council.

At this stage in the game, an individual or developer that is not approved would make an appeal to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board for approval of variances or the development permit.