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Large-scale Canmore affordable housing set to move forward

“All of those years, those lands have always been slated for affordable housing. … It was always meant to be a neighbourhood with the underpinning being affordability. That was always the intent,”

A four- and six-storey affordable housing project in Canmore will move forward.

Canmore council approved the redesignation of an existing direct control district that will lead to an estimated 144 rental units run by Canmore Community Housing at 100 Palliser Lane.

The approval begins the long-awaited steps at initiating the Palliser Trail area structure plan (ASP) that was approved last year. Permitting and tendering will take place this year, with construction likely to start in 2025 and be finished in 2026.

Coun. Joanna McCallum, council’s longest-serving elected official, noted the land had always been intended for affordable housing but the 2008 recession stalled planned development.

“All of those years, those lands have always been slated for affordable housing. … It was always meant to be a neighbourhood with the underpinning being affordability. That was always the intent,” she said, adding the lands had also been part of the Olympic bid in 2018 that would have added affordable housing.

“Here we are today (May 7) at one of the first large-scale opportunities to approve affordable housing or non-market housing in that neighbourhood.”

The bulk of the public’s concerns were related to parking, given the approval eased the minimum parking requirements for the build. Residents in the area have expressed concern there may not be enough for people as development is finished and more people move to the area.

McCallum highlighted a parking study will be done as part of the development permitting, meaning changes could still come. However, “housing is the backbone of this community.”

Coun. Tanya Foubert, who said she’s lived in the Palliser area for the last 16 years, added ongoing Town-led plans will provide people with more options than simply relying on personal vehicles.

“I do firmly believe how we are planning for parking in the future through this [direct control] district is trying to create those solutions, address the priorities and directions of this council and this community, which is housing people who live here,” she said.

The site plan outlines the project will have 87 one-bedroom, 48 two-bedroom and nine three-bedroom units.

The tentative plans include 29 surface parking spots, 54 belowground parking spots and 216 permanent bike spots. However, specific parking numbers will be finalized in the permitting process.

The four public speakers who were residents of existing Palliser Lane buildings said they didn’t oppose housing, particularly with the needs of the community, but had concerns with the amount of parking, issues on how sunlight to existing buildings will be impacted, the height of the buildings and the need for a pedestrian crossing.

The 15 written submissions were largely split evenly between those in support, against and neutral for the project.

Dan Evans, a resident of Blakiston at 300 Palliser Lane, provided concerns on building height, with the development being for affordable housing and parking.

“The reality of this area of town is that vehicle commuting is a major part of work in the Bow Valley (even if we don’t drive into downtown Canmore). Parking needs to be reconsidered in the current plan,” he wrote.

Garnett Fugle, a condo board member for Blakiston, echoed concerns about parking, height, lost sunlight and the need for a crossing across the Trans-Canada Highway.

“I support the Town of Canmore’s efforts to increase housing availability but urge the Town to find solutions to address the problems that new developments will create,” he wrote, adding potential mitigation would be a highway pedestrian crossing, giving preference for the new builds to people without vehicles and looking at multiple levels of underground parking.

The approval will allow the building height to go from a previous maximum of 16 metres to 26 metres. It will also remove minimum parking requirements “to prevent oversupply of parking on the parcel,” according to Anika Drost, a development planner with the Town, and give CCH more flexibility in establishing parking.

Though it removes the parking requirements, the intention is to have vehicle parking. The change allows CCH to go below the Town’s land use bylaw minimum requirement.

The removal gives flexibility to allow some residential units to not have parking spots, which typically add between $25,000 to $50,000 per stall depending if it’s underground or open air.

Municipalities in Canada have slowly been removing minimum parking requirements, but the federal government’s $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund hastened that by making it a requirement for funding.

Banff council is in the process of removing its parking requirements, which was part of its successful Housing Accelerator Fund application of $4.66 million. The Town of Banff estimates it has a housing shortfall of 700-1,000 units.

Kristopher Mathieu, CCH’s acting executive director, said the sun shadow study examined site lines and possible sun blocking for existing buildings in the area.

He said if the two buildings were reversed, several factors would lead to a loss of 14 units from the project.

“We felt it was pertinent to maximize the density for this site, while also maintaining solar provisions for ongoing energy usage,” he said, noting CCH is looking to add a 210-kilowatt solar farm on both buildings.

“Yes, there are going to be a few times throughout the year where the direct sunlight to the lower floors of the neighbouring buildings will be impacted, but it also provides us with good opportunity to plan solar.”

The existing site has an off-leash dog park and a small playground, which will eventually be relocated as the ASP is built out in the coming years.

A permanent off-leash dog park will eventually be built to replace the existing one in the Palliser area that was built in 2017, but it will be dependent on CCH developing other sites for affordable housing.

“Administration is currently looking at solutions for an interim solution,” said Riley Weldon, the acting manager of planning and development for the Town.

People will be redirected to existing off-leash dog parks at Quarry Lake, Elk Run, Hubman in Three Sisters and Cougar Creek/Highway 1A.

A small playground will also be removed, but space for a neighbourhood park will be built in the future as part of the ASP, said Weldon.

As the Palliser Trail ASP is built out, consideration for a pedestrian crossing over or under the Trans-Canada Highway will also have to be discussed.

The Town’s 2023-28 budget and business plan has $550,000 forecasted in 2027 and $11 million in 2028, but nothing has been council-approved.

The area, however, is a quagmire of roadblocks in existing communications lines, high-pressure gas lines and flood risk. The province also has the ability to expand the Trans-Canada Highway from four to eight lanes, meaning anything built would have to factor in that possibility.

Council was previously shown nine potential designs for an overpass or underpass in 2022. A pedestrian overpass was part of the original Palliser plan in 2000, but has continued to be kicked down the road.

The Cougar Creek underpass was built to address public safety after a person was killed crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, with funding coming from the Town and federal government.

Andy Esarte, the Town’s manager of engineering, said the plans would be to have an underpass built as more development occurs in the Palliser region.

“Our intent is soon as development takes place on the sloped portion of the Palliser lands that that would come with an underpass in place prior to that development taking occupancy,” he said.

Council passed the Palliser Trail ASP in 2023, which is estimated to create 1,300 units, including more than 1,000 affordable units. It would feature mixed-use development to add commercial space and open space such as parks. The entire build-out is anticipated to take 10-20 years.

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