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Banff balks at gift shop regulation

A proposal to cap souvenir and gift shops in Banff has been scrapped, but a bid to regulate new franchise fast food joints in the tourist town is being investigated further.

A proposal to cap souvenir and gift shops in Banff has been scrapped, but a bid to regulate new franchise fast food joints in the tourist town is being investigated further.

Controlling chain retailers or all franchise restaurants is not on the table, but council is striking a work group and seeking an external economic review of regulating formula fast food businesses.

At a meeting Monday (July 18), most councillors said they didn’t want to meddle in the free market by controlling gift shops, but want to see franchise fast food regulations further researched.

“The general sense from council was the gift shop and souvenir shop proposal goes too far into an individual business model, that it’s central economic planning,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.

“But, the general sense is they wanted to receive further research on the formula fast food discussion, specifically around the economic impacts of this proposal.”

The terms of reference for the working group, which will likely be made up of business, community and council members, will be presented to council for discussion in August.

Council also referred other contentious proposals to the working group, including a concept to protect grocery stores and gas stations as critical community services through ‘soft spot-zoning’.

In addition, council postponed further discussion on moving from a lottery system of handing out commercial development to a merit-based review, as well as commercial transferability options, until after the commercial inventory is completed.

Lawyer Eric Harvie, who was before council as a spokesperson for several of Banff’s business heavyweights, said he was pleased with council’s direction.

“We think the course of action is correct and that further study and analysis is needed,” he said.

“These concepts have been advanced without adequate review or analysis of the implications to the business community.”

One of the most contentious and high profile debates in the past decade has centred on multi-national and national businesses in the tourist towns.

The issue spiked in 2007 with the emergence of Chapters-Indigo, culminating in a town hall meeting where hundreds of residents spoke in favour of the municipality stepping in to regulate.

The family-run Banff Book and Art Den shut its doors in 2009 after 45 years of business, with the owners citing the opening of Indigo as one of the reasons for closing.

As part of the land use bylaw review, the proposal on the table, though, is to regulate only new formula fast food restaurants separately from other businesses.

“We have always said it’s an incremental approach, and we’re going to start somewhere,” said senior planner Darren Enns.

The feedback during the land use bylaw review, however, has revealed a striking disconnect between what the business community wants and what residents want.

Administration says any legislation that could eventually be drafted would be legally defensible and could include many approaches, such as spatial location, buffering and discretionary status.

Specifically, they are proposing restricting new formula fast food establishments to non-street front locations, such as malls, back alleys or upper and lower levels.

“We want to create a sense of place that has a powerful affect on people who live here and visit here,” said Enns.

“The review team is looking at encouraging and supporting unique visitor experiences in the downtown core.”

Sorensen and Coun. Paul Baxter opposed sending this issue to the working group, but councillors Leslie Taylor, Grant Canning, Brian Standish and Stavros Karlos were all in favour of further review. Coun. Chip Olver was absent.

Coun. Baxter, who continually argued Banff must let the free market dictate business, said beginning with formula fast food is a slippery slope.

“It’s a very small step to take it to the Gap,” he said. “It’s the whole concept I have a problem with.”

But Coun. Standish said now is the time to deal with this.

“I agree we live in a free market, but the people of Banff have spoken and we should have a voice over what we want in our town,” he said.

Coun. Canning said he wanted more information before making a decision on this – and the working group and economic review is the best way to gather that.

“I have concerns about letting the free market do its thing,” he said. “Fast food has a place in Banff, but hopefully we’ll get answers through this process.”

Coun. Karlos said the issue of formula fast food restaurants relates to Banff’s design guidelines.

“I have no problem with formula based businesses. I welcome the competition and wish to compete against them,” he said.

“It’s when these businesses look out of place and don’t fit within the community.”

Coun. Taylor reluctantly agreed to send the proposal to the working group, noting the issues surrounding formula fast food may be “more perception than reality”.

“I think the public feedback has identified much stronger areas of concerns in formula restaurants and formula retail,” he said.

Sorensen said she believes the issue is more one of perception, saying there are not as many as people think.

“In my opinion, the possible benefits of increasing regulation does not outweigh the possible unintended consequences to businesses,” she said.

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