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Banff councillor defends conflict of interest allegations

The Town of Banff administration has withheld the name of the complainant against Coun. Peter Poole
Town of Banff
Banff town hall. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – A Banff town councillor fighting against a controversial aerial gondola from the Town of Banff to Mount Norquay as part of a redevelopment plan for the train station lands has been accused of conflict of interest.

Coun. Peter Poole argued a gondola terminus should be removed from the scope of the draft area redevelopment plan (ARP) because Parks Canada has already turned down Jan and Adam Waterous’ gondola proposal from the Banff townsite to the ski hill.

He has drafted a notice of motion in his attempt to get support from fellow councillors, saying the Town of Banff shouldn’t “convey the impression that it is encouraging, fostering or supporting a previous development proposal foreclosed by Parks Canada.”

“We do not want to give the impression that we are the agent for the developer pushing Parks Canada to do a 180-degree turn on what Parks Canada has been clear on,” he said.

“We’re bound by the incorporation agreement to present to the citizens of Banff something consistent with Parks Canada direction.”

Town Manager Kelly Gibson alerted Poole in early June of concerns raised about whether his ownership of the Juniper Hotel, located on the lower slopes of Mount Norquay, would limit his ability to participate in discussions about the ARP for the railway lands.

A formal code of conduct complaint was lodged against Poole on July 5, and following an in-camera meeting on Monday (July 14), town council indicated it was seeking legal advice.

In addition, the name of the individual(s) who filed the grievance was redacted at the request of the complainant. Under Banff’s council code of conduct bylaw, the director of corporate services may withhold the name of the person who submitted the complaint.

The grounds for doing so are if it is deemed it could “reasonably be expected to threaten the safety or mental or physical health of the individual or interfere with public safety.”

Because discussions were in-camera, administration had no further details when asked by the Outlook to elaborate on how this matter could be a deemed a threat.

“I’m shocked that I’m now considered a danger, and cannot discern if this is the thinking of the director of corporate services or the complainant,” said Coun. Poole.

Coun. Poole maintains he has in no way breached the code of conduct bylaw, noting he has has no conflict of interest, including no pecuniary interests under the Municipal Government Act.

He has already been part of the review and discussion of the area redevelopment plan of the railway lands during governance and finance committee meetings at least four times.

The most recent time was on June 14 when he indicated the Town of Banff might want to align the scope of the ARP for the railway lands with Parks Canada’s direction to meet the municipality’s obligations under the Town’s incorporation agreement.

In addition, the notice of motion drafted by Coun. Poole following that June meeting was vetted by municipal clerk Libbey McDougall and manager of strategic initiatives and special projects Randall McKay.

“To the best of my knowledge, no members of the public or fellow councillors raised questions about my role with the Juniper Hotel in regards to the railway lands,” Coun. Poole said.

“I approach the railway lands planning matter as an elected representative committed to sound planning and advancing the interests of the public good.”

Poole also said the Juniper Hotel, located on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway by the Norquay interchange, is outside the Town of Banff and subject to the planning authority of Parks Canada.

“The Juniper Hotel is not adjacent to the lands subject to the ARP,” he said. “Both from a regulatory perspective, and location-wise, under the MGA, the Juniper Hotel is remote.”

In addition, Coun. Poole said he has no agreements with the company advancing the development plans – which has been referred to by administration as Liricon Capital and more recently Norquay Mystic Ridge.

He said the limit of his relationships as owner of the Juniper Hotel is with a different company concerning a portion of the existing sewer infrastructure for the Norquay ski area’s effluent.

“There is no documentation before us in the scoping of the railway lands ARP showing any affect one way or the other between the scope of work and this existing infrastructure,” he said. “In fact, at this point we do not have an area redevelopment plan before us.”

Jan Waterous, managing partner of Liricon Capital, did not comment on the conflict of interest allegation against Coun. Poole.

She said most recently they had met with six of the seven Banff town councillors to discuss the draft ARP and received helpful guidance on the vision for a multi-modal transit hub and community gathering destination for the railway lands.

“With respect to Counselor (sic) Poole, we can’t comment other than he has been the only counselor (sic) who has not been prepared to meet with us to discuss the draft ARP despite our repeated requests to meet with him,” she said.

Coun. Poole said Liricon’s PR firm has invited him to meet with them, but as of yet, there has not been a convenient time, adding he was also in the backcountry on vacation for a period of time.

He said he has also asked Liricon for a highlight report on the draft ARP, which has been circulated to several other businesses in town.

“It’s been a month since I’ve heard anything back,” he said, noting he sent that request as a businessman with Arctos & Bird.

Liricon Capital holds the lease on the Canadian Pacific railway lands, which includes about 17.4 hectares on both the north and south sides of the tracks and the 1910 train station, considered a federal heritage railway station. 

The overarching vision of the ARP for the railway lands is to re-invigorate the dilapidated lands as an eco-transit hub, which includes work on the return of passenger rail from Calgary to Banff.

The transit hub arrival centre would include free intercept parking, a shuttle centre, services that support passenger rail, a rental centre for micro-transit and self-propelled transit, and a terminus for potential aerial transit to the base of Mount Norquay ski hill.

It also includes a residential district with medium-density housing and a proposal for a 300-seat amphitheatre next to the restored CP Rail gardens for concerts, festivals, aboriginal culture and special events.

Meanwhile, town council has directed administration to return to a closed meeting of council on August 9 with a confidential update on the matter of the allegations against Coun. Poole.

Council has authority to decide what is confidential based on the code of conduct bylaw and Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.