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Alberta mountain town loses appeal on order by tribunal to allow major developments

The Three Sisters loom over homes in Canmore, Alta., Monday, April 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh The Three Sisters loom over homes in Canmore, Alta., Monday, April 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
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Two major developments that could almost double the population of an Alberta mountain community will go ahead after Alberta's highest court dismissed an appeal by the town.

Canmore town council had rejected the proposed Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek projects, but the Land and Property Rights Tribunal of Alberta ruled in May 2022 that both developments could go ahead.

The town, west of Calgary, had applied for permission to appeal that decision to the Court of Appeal of Alberta and it was allowed to proceed on questions of law and jurisdiction.

"The town has not established a basis upon which we can interfere with the tribunal's decisions," said the decision by three justices released Tuesday.

"The appeals are dismissed."

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 of the Three Sisters area by the Natural Resources Conservation Board.

The 30-page decision by the Court of Appeal said the tribunal made "no reviewable error" in concluding it had jurisdiction to hear the appeals and did not exceed its authority under the Municipal Government Act.

The justices acknowledged, however, that the planning and development issues underlying the appeal have divided the community.

"There are strongly held and divergent views about what development should or should not occur," said the decision. "It is not the role of this court to decide whose view is right."

Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert said the town will respect the court's decision.

"As far as I'm concerned, the town of Canmore has exercised its due diligence in bringing this to the Court of Appeal," he said. "And we live in a system of the rule of law."

Krausert said that means the development will continue through the town's planning process.

"We need to look forward," he said. "We explored the options that were available to us and this is where we've landed. So, you know, we need to move forward from here."

Chris Ollenberger, director of strategy and development for Three Sisters Mountain Village, said it has been a long road and a long process.

"Three Sisters is in the head space of wanting to move onward and forward," he said.

The next stage of the development approvals will go before town council in the next month, but Ollenberger said there are still many more approvals to go through and there won't be any construction before 2025.

The developers, he said, know that Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek have been contentious.

"There are always people that are unhappy with the plans that are proposed and other people who are elated with the plans," he said.

"I've been getting phone calls and emails all day today from a number of Canmore residents, businesses and just interested people saying that they're glad it's over and it's time to move on and move forward."

A public hearing on the two developments in 2021 took seven days and heard from more than 200 people concerned about possible effects on the already busy town and wildlife in the area.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, an environmental organization based in Canmore, said it's disappointed and concerned about the decision.

"These developments will be front and centre in a critical link in the chain of mountains that stretch from Yellowstone National Park (in the United States) to Yukon in the north," it said late Tuesday.

"Keeping this connection strong is a key part of maintaining the values that make Canmore and the Bow Valley special, both ecologically and as a tourism destination. The area structure plans as presented threaten the integrity of this corridor and the wildlife habitat nearby."

Longtime resident and wildlife biologist Karsten Heuer, who's the president of Bow Valley Engage, said in a statement that many locals are furious.

"Our community values wildlife-human coexistence. You mess this area up and you forever mess up two of the world's most celebrated protected areas."

He said it is a key wildlife passage between Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park.

Heuer said some of the residents who spoke out against the project are looking at their legal options.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.

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