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Banff MPC turns down home-based massage therapy studio

“We are restricted by the laws of the day that are written by council and approved through a public process… Our job up here is to determine those uses as the laws are written.”
Banff Town Hall 1
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – An application for a home-based massage therapy studio has been denied due to local legislation requiring these businesses to set up shop in the commercial districts of the national park townsite.

On Wednesday (June 8), the Municipal Planning Commission (MPC) refused Raven Oak’s application to operate a small massage studio in her home on Otter Street. It was the first ever application for a type 2 home-based massage studio business.

MPC was tasked with determining under which use definition in the land use bylaw a home-based massage therapy best fit.

“These decisions are always difficult for all of us, and of course, you’re presenting a very well thought out business plan,” said Commissioner Stavros Karlos.

“We are restricted by the laws of the day that are written by council and approved through a public process… Our job up here is to determine those uses as the laws are written.”

The commission determined the application for a massage studio met the definition of professional, financial, health and office services, which are confined to Banff’s commercial districts, and did not meet the definition for a type 2 home occupation.

The proposed massage studio business was for the RNC (North Central) land use district where home occupation Type 2 is a discretionary use, but where professional, financial, health and office services are not allowed.

MPC encouraged Oak to seek advice from Town of Banff administration on alternative application routes.

That could potentially include a type 1 home-based business permit, which would allow Oak to travel to the homes of other residents or hotel rooms instead of operating a studio within her home.

Oak’s business proposal included offering affordable, sustainable care within one room of her home, with up to 17 sessions per week.

She said her business idea better fit the definition of type 2 home occupation, noting massage therapy does not fall under Alberta’s Health Professions Act, nor is it governed by a regulatory body.

“My services are more comparable to that of reiki or reflexology or any other one-to-one service,” said Oak, who has been living in Banff for six years.

Oak said more people are working from home and seeking less densely populated areas for businesses and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This location, my home, would provide more comfort, quiet, and decrease in human traffic, ease of accessibility, and a more financially viable option,” she said.

“As people begin to create a new normal within this town and around this province and around our country, there will be change. Change is inevitable and I would like to give support to that change and be a part of that change to come, specifically in this town of Banff.”

Commissioner Leslie Taylor said she was struck by Oak’s comments about change.

But she said change at the MPC table can only happen when the land use bylaw changes.

“That’s not impossible, it does happen, but change doesn’t happen by making decisions outside the bylaw; it happens by council changing the bylaw,” she said.

“I wanted to clarify that, because I thought that your comments were very interesting and very well thought out, so I wanted to suggest that other avenue.”

Parks Canada, which put in place a commercial development cap in the national park townsite in 1998, wanted clarification on why massage therapy services were not better suited within existing commercial space in the commercial districts.

Town of Banff administration believed the proposed development may not be consistent with the Banff National Park Management Plan if determined to be professional, financial, health and office services.

“This would be commercial development outside of legislated commercial growth regulations,” said Emma Sanborn, a development planner for the Town of Banff.

MPC chair Brian Smythe said it was a tough decision to deny the application.

“I do go to other areas, other communities, where I can get this done, but the bylaws here are much more strict,” he said.

“It’s difficult to go along with this if it doesn't fit into the bylaws of the town, and that’s difficult for me because personally, I wish this could go in.”