January 20, 2016 6:30 pm

Canmore approves Peaks of Grassi urban reserve rezoning amid community outcry

A developer plans to rezone a four-acre chunk of forested urban reserve next to the Peaks of Grassi neighbourhood in the town's southwest in order to build 27 homes including town homes, duplexes and detached homes.

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Town council in Canmore, Alta. has approved a landowner’s proposal to rezone a four-acre chunk of forested urban reserve next to the Peaks of Grassi neighbourhood in the town’s southwest, despite outcry from residents.

The residents group said the neighbourhood is “disappointed that council would take this urban reserve land out of protected status” and said it “strongly believes that it has been wronged by this decision and that the public has not been afforded its right to a fair and objective process” in an email to Global News.

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“I’m personally upset that they’ve approved market housing in an area where they previously deemed it was built out,” residents group spokesperson Tom Boone said.

READ MORE: Peaks of Grassi residents rally against Canmore developer amid housing shortage

Landowner Lawrence Hill’s updated plan, which can now be submitted for application, is to build town homes, duplexes and detached homes. The proposal that had previously been submitted in February, and defeated by town council, only included two perpetually-affordable homes–homes that are below market price.

The new plan proposes seven such homes, which is “proportionally the greatest private commitment made to date in Canmore,” according to the council agenda.

Hill told Global News in November there would be a total of 14 affordable homes and townhomes and eight duplexes with mandatory secondary suites that would be rented at below market rates.

Mayor John Borrowman said Wednesday the planning approval for development will also come to council, and this proposal sets the maximum limit of what will be built. He said there are still a number of approvals required.

Homeowners had been assured by realtors, the town, and neighbour Hill, who is one of the original developers in Peaks of Grassi, that the land would stay undeveloped.

READ MORE: Showdown over land use in Canmore

However, Canmore town council and the mayor say they’re in the midst of a housing crisis and consider the development a potential solution, despite concerns the houses are in a high-risk area for flooding.

“Does it make sense for people buying their first house to buy in an area of high flood risk? That seems to be a question the town should be wrestling with,” Boone said in a past interview.

But the mayor said Wednesday that town council believes all concerns regarding flood potential have been addressed, and risk can be mitigated using specific construction techniques.

Mayor Borrowman said he empathizes with the people in the neighbourhood, acknowledging their disappointment, but saying “a lot is being offered” in terms of overall benefits to the community.

“Canmore is dealing with some very serious issues,” he said. “It’s not just affordability, it’s availability. People interested in renting – finding rentals that are available and don’t get sold out from under you – is a challenge.  The charge for rental units is really high.”

“The sooner we have habitable units, the better.”

Boone said the community is in the process of obtaining legal advice on appropriate next steps.

With files from Global’s Mia Sosiak

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