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Conservationists voice concern over special events policy

"The increasing frequency and types of events held in recent years seem to be orientated more towards tourism promotion and marketing with little regard to these important criteria."
Melissa's Road Race 0006
Melissa's Road Race in 2017. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Bow Valley Naturalists are voicing concerns about an update to a policy governing special events in the national park townsite, prompting Banff town council to defer approval.

Commercial special events have proven controversial in the community for many years amid concerns of overcrowding, traffic congestion and effects on wildlife, leading to ongoing philosophical debates about their appropriateness in a national park.

Reg Bunyan, the group’s vice-president, said special events have the potential to add vibrancy to the community, enrich everyone’s understanding of park values and support Banff’s objective to be a model community within a UNESCO world heritage site.

“However, the increasing frequency and types of events held in recent years seem to be orientated more towards tourism promotion and marketing with little regard to these important criteria,” Bunyan said.

“It’s our hope that a review of the current special events policy will move us closer towards a more appropriate use model – ideally a policy better aligned with park values and one that provides a better tool for special event evaluation and decision-making.”

Council was set to approve the amended special events policy on Nov. 9, but Bow Valley Naturalists asked that approval be deferred until they had a chance to consult with Town of Banff administration on some issues of concern. 

"We have particular concerns relating to clarification of 'appropriate use guidelines, policies and regulations' as well as consideration of mechanisms for council oversight and accountability for special event decisions," Bunyan said.

Mayor Karen Sorensen said she was prepared to support the policy as drafted until she saw Bunyan’s request, adding that she’s happy to defer to give the Town’s communications director Jason Darrah time to meet with BVN.

“I’m of the opinion that Bow Valley Naturalists has asked to have a conversation about this,” she said at Nov. 9 council meeting.

“I think that if Mr. Darrah met with them, he could certainly fill them in on all the communication that has taken place and the rationale, or get suggestions from them.”

The review of the special events policy was triggered by a challenge faced with a farmers market application in 2018-19. 

The current policy doesn’t specifically identify the need for organizers of annual special events to notify the Town of Banff of their intent to hold the event in the subsequent year.

In late 2018, the Town of Banff received an application from a new farmers market organizer, before notification to renew had been received from Rene Geber, who had run Banff’s market since 2010.

Darrah said the policy focuses on reviewing and approving special event applications on a first come, first served basis, and therefore, the Town was obligated to review the first application. 

“In recognition of the long service of the previous market organizer, a lottery method was developed to select the 2019 applicant. Also in 2019, a merit-based approach was developed to select the 2020 market operator from competing applications,” he said.

One of the proposed amendments in this policy is to strengthen the requirement for notification to secure the space, location and date of recurring special events, such as a farmers market, Banff Marathon or Melissa's Road Race, for example.

Changes to the policy now clarify that farmers markets be limited to 26 days per year collectively within the community, on a first come, first served basis.

However, the caveat is that annually recurring events like the farmers market shall have their date, site and function tentatively reserved for the following year, provided the organizer gives the municipality nine months’ written notice of the next event.

Darrah said this this does not guarantee the event will be approved, but the notification prevents approval of other competing applications for the same category type and the same time. 

“We’re still reviewing every year, and this year they were fantastic,” he said, noting an annual events includes how well or quickly the market manager responds to complaints among other things.

The Town of Banff has entered into a thee-year agreement with Geber.

“Because COVID threw a spanner in the works, they had such low visitation because of the controls and limits –  they could only have so many people at a time,” Darrah said, adding the Town worked with Alberta Health Services to increase limits twice.

“So anticipating lower sales given the circumstances, we said ‘let’s start the three-year MOU (memorandum of understanding) right now,’ but we’ll still evaluate every year whether they continue.”

Geber said he was pleased to be back this year and grateful he has the certainty of the three-year agreement

“I plan to be adaptable and work with any situations that arise, which I feel I have shown,” he said.

“I think we did a pretty good job with running the market there. I hope to have more vendors next year; I hope restrictions on gatherings will ease up to allow that.”



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