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Parks Canada reviewing draft redevelopment plan for Banff train station lands

“This is one of the most robust and complex area redevelopment plans our community has ever seen,” said Darren Enns, the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff.
20210720 Banff Train Station 0007
Banff train station. RMO File Photo

BANFF – A final draft of a redevelopment plan to reinvigorate the Banff train station lands, turning the area into a transit hub and commercial and community satellite district, has been forwarded to Parks Canada for review.

Town of Banff officials say the final draft of the area redevelopment plan (ARP) – which Liricon Capital has been working on since 2019 – was submitted to the federal agency on Sept. 13 and is a key milestone for this project.

They say it is anticipated that community engagement on the ARP will begin later this year once Parks Canada has completed its review, followed by a presentation of the long-awaited document to council for consideration of first reading.

“This is one of the most robust and complex area redevelopment plans our community has ever seen,” said Darren Enns, the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff.

“It is currently with Parks Canada for a policy scan and review and we are eagerly awaiting feedback from Parks Canada prior to bringing it forward to council.”

Liricon Capital, which owns Mount Norquay ski resort, holds the lease on the Canadian Pacific railway lands, which includes about 17.4 hectares on the north and south sides of the tracks. It also includes the 1910 train station – a federal heritage railway station – which is considered the heart and soul of the ARP.

The overarching vision of Liricon’s Jan and Adam Waterous is to turn the dilapidated train station lands into a multi-modal transit hub and destination arrival centre, which would include the return of passenger rail from Calgary International Airport to Banff.

Under the ARP, commercial development within the railway lands is all located on existing commercially-zoned lands and planned to include retail shops, restaurants, bars, personal services, offices, transportation services, and other related commercial services.

“Any newly proposed commercial uses are subject to the federally legislated Town of Banff commercial growth allocation regulations and must be consistent with the use of the district for railway services,” according to the Town of Banff’s website on the ARP.

“The ARP offers the opportunity to return this historic landmark and destination to its former prominence with several initiatives.”

Area redevelopment plan highlights on Liricon’s website show a call for medium-density residential housing, an amphitheatre for concerts and special events, and more than 1,000 parking spaces on both sides of the train tracks.

In addition, there is a proposal for restoration of wildlife habitat to improve Fenlands Indian Grounds wildlife corridor north of the train tracks.

Previous drafts of the ARP also included a gondola terminus as part of Liricon’s pitch for a gondola from the townsite to the ski hill.

It is not clear if the gondola terminus is still in the ARP following an earlier Parks Canada review, however, Liricon’s website still makes mention of a gondola from the townsite to the base of Mount Norquay skill hill.

According to the ARP highlights document on the website, a terminus for a town-to-base gondola requires approval in the Town of Banff ARP.

“Norquay will only be able to make specific, comprehensive proposal to Parks Canada for a town to base gondola following an approved ARP,” states the redevelopment highlights document.

The new 2022 management plan for  Banff National Park is silent on an aerial gondola from the townsite to Mount Norquay, and the park superintendent recently told media outlets, including the Outlook and The Canadian Press, that meant the gondola from the townsite to the ski hill was off the table once and for all.

The management plan, however, doesn’t rule out a passenger train from Calgary to Banff, but raises concerns around wildlife mortality on the existing CPR line.

The plan also indicates twinning the rail line for passenger rail, and for expansion of the rail sidings in the park, may make these challenges worse.

Jan Waterous said because they are waiting on feedback from Parks Canada on the ARP that was jointly submitted with the Town of Banff administration, she is not in a position to provide any specific information at this time.

“Getting feedback and making refinements is typical of this kind of project,” she said.

“We have worked hand and glove with the Town of Banff the past three years in developing this joint submission and are very excited by the transformative opportunity it presents to recreate an arrival centre on the railway lands for our community and visitors to Banff National Park.”

The ARP includes lands located on both the south and north sides of the railway right-of-way adjacent to Norquay Road at the west entrance to Banff, lands along the length of the south side of Railway Avenue and includes the existing railway station building.

The Town of Banff retains ownership of its roads, lane right-of-ways, and other utility infrastructure within the plan area. The CPR retains ownership of the station platform and its railway operations corridor.

According to the Town of Banff, the concept of creating a visitor and arrivals or reception centre and intercept parking at the west entrance to Banff was contemplated as far back as 1992 in the Town of Banff’s downtown enhancement concept plan.

That plan identified a need to explore options to link visitor services on the railway lands with the downtown core and other destinations in Banff, and also encouraged “other methods of arrival that reduce the use of private autos, including rail and transfers to Calgary International Airport.”

Town officials say the purpose of the ARP is to create a vibrant, multimodal transportation hub and arrival centre that respects and enhances the historical, physical, and social context of the site.

“The overarching vision is to reinvigorate the railway lands and restore the historic Banff train station and surrounding area to its former prominence, a gathering place for residents and a visitor arrival centre,” states the municipality’s website.

“The plan will also build on the historic character of the site and enhance the potential for the interpretation of the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway and its significance in the evolution of national parks and railway tourism in Canada.”

If council passes first reading of the ARP following Parks Canada’s review, a public hearing will be scheduled prior to second reading so the public has an opportunity to provide feedback to council directly on the plan.

If the plan is approved by council, it would then be forwarded to the federal minister responsible for Parks Canada for final endorsement.