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Banff community plan review getting underway

“Public engagement is a crucial component to help us understand the community’s existing and desired future needs, aspirations, and vision, and to learn what residents and stakeholders value about their town."
Banff Town Hall 1
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – Work is set to begin on shaping Banff’s future vision with the long-awaited review and update of the community plan – an economic, social and environmental blueprint for the national park townsite’s future.

At a meeting Monday (Sept. 26), council endorsed the Banff Community Plan scope of work and approved the terms of reference and makeup of a steering committee to help guide the review of the plan.

Randall McKay, the manager of strategic initiatives and special projects for the Town of Banff, said public and stakeholder input from both within and outside the community is key to the success of updating the existing plan, which is now 14 years old.

“Public engagement is a crucial component to help us understand the community’s existing and desired future needs, aspirations, and vision, and to learn what residents and stakeholders value about their town,” he said.

The 10-member steering committee will be made up of three public members, one representative from an environmental organization, one person representing the business and tourism industry, one member from Parks Canada and two council members.

The steering committee’s membership will be rounded out by McKay and Darren Enns, who is the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff.

McKay said the purpose of the steering committee, which will be appointed by council following a call-out for those interested to apply, is to provide the Town of Banff with “meaningful input and recommendations.”

“I want to emphasize this group is important,” he said.

“They’re not to write the plan, but certainly to guide and advise administration, and even council, on issues that arise, that might be sensitive that need to be looked at further or studied.”

The Banff Community Plan, also known as a municipal development plan, is the Town’s primary long-range planning document and outlines goals, objectives, principles and planning philosophy for the community’s future.

Mayor Corrie DiManno said this is the municipality’s most important master plan that will help shape the next 10 years.

For DiManno, environment, quality of life, affordability and transportation are major topics, but she said it’s also important that residents get involved to voice their priorities for change and ways to make the community better.

“I think it goes back to that concept of ‘we live where the world visits’ and we have seen the challenges as well as the benefits of living in a tourism-based community,” she said.

“I think with tourism rebounding post-COVID, a lot of those challenges have risen back to the surface and I think that will probably be a topic of discussion for residents.”

A key focus of the updated community plan will be alignment with other plans and policies that set strategic direction in matters relating to social planning, environment and sustainability, mobility and transportation, land use, urban design, culture and heritage, housing and affordability, economic prosperity, tourism, and recreation, trails, and open space.

“New policies and strategic direction will be added where needed, based on findings and recommendations from various studies and plans completed over the past decade and those currently being drafted,” said McKay.

The five-part process includes project initiation and background review; forecasting and analysis of issues; targeted engagement and policy development; revising and updating the plan; and plan approval.

Administration hopes to have a draft ready for a council decision within the last three months of 2023.

Banff’s community plan would not come into full force until the federal minister responsible for Parks Canada signs off on it.

Administration recently met with Parks Canada staff to review the draft scope of work following the release of the new Banff National Park management plan in August, which includes policy direction for the Town of Banff.

“No major concerns were expressed,” said McKay.

The timeframe for the review and update of the community plan will happen concurrently with the Banff community social assessment process, which is conducted once every five years and overseen by the Community Services department.

McKay said administration plans to align some community consultation and census data analysis in order to make the most efficient use of time and resources for both of these processes. “Community Services, in turn, would also be able to seek community input from sessions being planned for the community plan,” he said.

Coun. Hugh Pettigrew raised concerns that people from outside the Banff townsite could have a say on the community plan, believing Canadians had their say through Parks Canada’s review of the park management plan.

“I am definitely concerned about that,” he said. “Why should it be outside the community when it’s the community plan?”

The plan to consult outside the community, likely by way of online through the Town’s website, is a condition of Parks Canada given Banff is a townsite within a national park meant for all Canadians.

Town administration indicated this is consistent with past practice, noting there will be significant interest in the process regionally and nationally as there was in previous updates to the plan.

“There is an expectation whether we like it or not that we consult broadly on this topic,” said Town Manager Kelly Gibson.

“Definitely our focus will be on local, but there will be an opportunity for people outside the community to comment on the community plan and that’s standard.”

If there are more than two councillors interested in sitting on the steering committee, that decision will be decided by way of a vote based on the current bylaw that oversees committee appointments.

“I’ll tell you right now I am inclined to put my name forward to be on this committee,” said Pettigrew.

DiManno said there is likely to be interest from other councillors, too.

“I think a few of us probably want to be involved,” she said.