Alberta mountain town will try to appeal development order by provincial tribunal

CANMORE, Alta. — A popular Alberta mountain community will try to appeal a decision by a provincial tribunal ordering it to allow two major developments that would almost double the town's population in the coming decades.

Town council had rejected the proposed Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek projects in Canmore, west of Calgary. But the Land and Property Rights Tribunal of Alberta ruled in May that both developments could go ahead.

Council voted Tuesday to direct its administration to apply for permission to challenge those decisions in the Alberta Court of Appeal.

"Council is not anti-development, but we need development that is aligned with what our community needs," Mayor Sean Krausert said.

The two proposals on Canmore's eastern edge include about 80 per cent of the town's remaining developable land and raised concerns about affordable housing and wildlife.

The decisions by the tribunal, however, found both developments met the parameters set out in a 1992 review on the Three Sisters area by the Natural Resources Conservation Board.

David Taylor, president of Three Sisters Mountain Village Properties Ltd., said his company took every step necessary to make sure the plans fit with the 1992 ruling.

"If the court does decide to hear this appeal, TSMVPL absolutely believes that the court will conclude that the (tribunal) decisions are reasonable," he said in a statement.

"The development of Three Sisters' lands were determined to be in the public interest by the NRCB, and the (tribunal) agreed that our … plans are consistent with the NRCB decision." 

During Tuesday's council meeting, Krausert said the 1992 decision "recognized the interests of the local community and maintained the discretion of the municipality to decide how land in Canmore would be developed, neither of which was recognized in the (tribunal) decisions." 

Three council members weren't allowed to vote because they are named in a civil lawsuit by the same developer, but the decision to pursue an appeal passed 4-0.

"This is an incredibly difficult situation," said Coun. Tanya Foubert. "Given the questions of law and jurisdiction that remain, I am in favour of seeking leave to appeal.

"The NRCB board itself, in its 1992 decision, expressed that it had no desire to see the interests of local residents … thwarted by the sterilization of the effectiveness of the public process in local planning matters."

Coun. Jeff Mah, who was publicly opposed to the developments before he joined town council, added it was a major decision he spent a lot of time considering.

"The future we are looking for is a place where all our residents can thrive with sufficient affordable housing," he said. "These proposed (projects) do not provide enough for our community and, if anything, will exacerbate our livability challenges."

He said council also needs to consider how it affects the environment and what residents want for their community.

A public hearing on the two developments last year took seven days and heard from more than 200 people concerned about possible effects on the already busy town and wildlife in the area.

Mah added that the 1992 decision was made a generation ago and the town is still struggling to find an equitable way forward.

"Our community needs development," he said. "We cannot live in a time capsule. However, the development that occurs must be the right kind."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2022.

— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary

The Canadian Press