BANFF – Banff’s Municipal Planning Commission hit the brakes on a proposal from Pursuit to turn the second-storey of a storage facility in the industrial compound into 19 small, windowless sleeping rooms for bus drivers to stay overnight.
On Wednesday (Feb. 12), MPC was tasked with determining whether the idea of overnight sleeping rooms, which are not defined in the land use bylaw, could be squeezed into the legislation, but in the end determined it didn’t have the latitude to do so.
Instead, MPC commissioners indicated that Pursuit could pursue a land use bylaw amendment to allow for sleeping rooms, or it could be addressed as part of a broader planning process the commission is recommending to council for the industrial compound.
Commissioner Corrie DiManno, who is a council representative on MPC, praised Pursuit for trying to think outside the box.
“Personally, I am a fan of density, but that being said, I think we need to be cautious when it comes to quantity over quality, as well as the look and feel of accommodation in our community,” she said.
The proposal was for 19 sleeping rooms, along with bathrooms, communal kitchenette, sitting area and outdoor amenities at Pursuit’s vehicle maintenance garage at 101 Eagle Crescent.
Seventeen of the 19 rooms did not meet minimize size requirements and all were windowless.
Stuart Back, Pursuit’s vice-president of operations in Banff and Jasper, said he completely understands the need for minimum room sizes and windows, for example, for longer-term residents.
“In this sense, it’s literally for an eight-hour sleeping shift and a need of a sleeping room,” he said, noting other components of the proposal such as the outdoor amenity area address quality of life issues.
A shift in Pursuit’s business model over the past several years has led to more demand to house the company’s bus drivers overnight, many of whom start their multi-day shifts in Calgary or in Jasper.
The transportation side of the company moved away from its long-haul busing operation across Canada and the United States to sightseeing tours in the Canadian Rockies, and connections to and from the Calgary International Airport.
“Because of the shift in our business, which is a growing area of service, there’s a continuing demand for accommodation for bus drivers,” said Back, noting the sleeping rooms would also help address federal regulations dictating driver rest times.
“After a 10- or 12-hour day, the drivers come in, take care of their vehicles and they literally are crashing and just want to rest. We’re talking about individuals who simply need a sleeping room for the night.”
Pursuit argued the rooms fit the existing definition for transportation services in the bylaw, but MPC determined that definition speaks to operations functions such as washing, maintenance, servicing and storage of transport vehicles. MPC concluded the proposed development most closely aligned with apartment housing, but sleeping rooms did not fit within that.
“In essence, we feel this is an oversight in the bylaw, which we think is correctable,” said Back.
In the end, MPC recommended that council consider an area redevelopment plan for the industrial compound to deal with the increased frequency and complexity of applications, including some that are challenging to fit within the land use bylaw.
Challenges include a lack of connectivity to the townsite (there is no legal pedestrian crossing over the CP railway where people cut a path over the tracks), local resident services and amenities, as well as potential cumulative effects on future commercial services.
“It can’t be good planning policy to continue to make one-off decisions. We need to look at the impact on the whole district,” said Coun. Chip Olver, who sits on MPC.
“I am hoping that council will see this as something that they’re able to support so we have far greater clarity on how things happen in the commercial services district.”