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Banff MPC turns down B&B amid concerns owners won't comply with permit

“I don’t believe we could create conditions of approval to ensure compliance,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno, a council representative on Municipal Planning Commission.
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The B&B at 338 Squirrel Street has been turned down. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Banff’s Municipal Planning Commission has turned down a bed and breakfast home application because the owners aren’t trusted to abide by the rules.

The Downtown B&B at 338 Squirrel St. was shut down by the Town of Banff in April because the owners, Ashok and Prabha Pillai, were found to be renting more commercial accommodation rooms than legally allowed.

After getting legal advice during a two-and-a-half hour in-camera meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 8), MPC voted 5-2 to refuse the development permit application for two commercial accommodation units.

“I don’t believe we could create conditions of approval to ensure compliance,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno, a council representative on the commission.

“Obviously we were in-camera for two hours and 45 minutes so there was a lot of discussion. We aren’t coming to this decision lightly and we spent a lot of time going back and forth.”

The Downtown B&B is located in the RSC Squirrel/Cougar area of town where seven bed and breakfast homes already exist, meaning it is at full capacity under the B&B quota for this land use district.

When the Pillai’s permit was revoked, the available B&B allocation within the district was advertised, and when two applications were received, including the Pillai’s new application, a lottery was held as per the land use bylaw.

The Pillai’s were the successful applicants in the random draw and have been working with the planning and development department to bring the home into compliance with all the rules and regulations required for B&Bs.

To accommodate a B&B, the home required a change of use from duplex to single detached housing, but the MPC concluded the size, layout, including floor area ratio, and recent renovations of the current development make this property more suited to continue as duplex housing.

Commissioner Jean McPherson, a public member of the MPC, did not oppose the Pillai’s application.

She said previously the MPC has unanimously approved conditions – such as statutory declarations and restrictive covenants registered on land title – to have B&Bs adhere to the requirements.

“I do believe that there is the possibility to create amendments and conditions that would be bringing this application into compliance,” she said.

The Town of Banff shut down the Downtown B&B in April for renting more than the two commercial rooms legally allowed under their development permit. The Pillai's lost an appeal at a Development Appeal Board (DAB) hearing in May.

The quasi-judicial board concluded there was a significant amount of evidence suggesting that the family was essentially living in the lower level of the home and renting up to five commercial rooms upstairs.

The Town of Banff no longer does proactive enforcement of B&B operations, but the investigation into the Downtown B&B on the 300 block of Squirrel Street was triggered by a complaint.

The DAB was presented with photos of advertisements displayed on online booking sites as well as pictures from a follow-up site inspection showing no sign of domestic use, such as personal products and clothes, in some rooms or bathrooms, but spare towels and extra linen.

At the time the couple, their baby and Prabha’s parents were living in the home.

At last week’s MPC meeting, Prabha maintained they had not rented out more rooms than legally allowed and were not living in the lower level of the home.

“We were using it for the purpose of the baby because it was a high COVID time,” she said. “In the morning when the guests are up, because he was not even 12 months at the time, so I don’t want him up there when there are guests are there because of COVID.”

Before heading in-camera, Commissioner Barb Pelham asked Ashok and Prabha what assurances they could give to the MPC they would abide by their development permit conditions.

“I realize what you’re saying this time that you will follow the rules, but you are also saying you were aware of the rules the first time,” Pelham said.

“There was a significant effort to not follow those rules, so I am curious why this time we can believe you will follow the rules.”

Prabha said she promised they would abide by all regulations.

“I am the one who is taking care of it and I am pretty much sure we will follow everything – that’s my promise,” she said.

A for sale sign went up on the property recently, which Prabha said was to allow her and her husband to keep their options open.

“We have listed it, but that doesn’t mean we are selling it. If we get approval for the bed and breakfast again we don’t sell it for sure,” she said.

“From April we have been closed… it’s just so hard for us and that’s why it’s just an option.”

There is a 14-day appeal period that starts from the date the Pillai’s receive the written notice of the MPC’s refusal of their application.

Once the appeal period ends, and if there is no appeal received, the land use bylaw allows the planning and development department to process the other B&B application that was unsuccessful in the lottery.

“If there were more, we’d do another lottery, but there were only two applications,” he said.

“We will give the person who was not successful in the last lottery the opportunity to apply and we will process that application,” he said.