Banff is considering a third-party study to examine how proposals to regulate franchise restaurants and souvenir shops may affect the economy in the face of opposition from Banff’s business heavyweights.
This comes on the heels of the Town of Banff’s legal advisors seemingly giving the municipality the okay to move ahead with consideration of some of these contentious proposals.
“We will present options for council’s consideration that are legally defensible to meet our goals and objectives,” said senior planner Darren Enns during a council meeting, Monday (June 27).
Based on feedback from the business community, administration is recommending an external review to better understand how their proposals could affect long-term business and community interests.
The economic impact review would consider proposals to regulate formula restaurants by limiting them to non-street front locations and controlling the number and location of souvenir and gifts shops.
As well, the study would examine proposals for reducing the number of permitted uses for grocery stores and service station properties in Banff.
The review also aims to look at a proposal to move to a merit-based review for allocating the remaining commercial development space, plus allowing commercial floor space to be transferred.
On Monday, council, on a 4-2 vote, decided to put off making a decision until July 18 on whether or not to solicit this review, and give councillors more time to plow through the extensive public input.
What is most striking about that public feedback during the land use bylaw review is the complete disconnect between what the business community wants and what general residents are saying.
A group of commercial landlords has sent a letter to the municipality, saying Phase 2 of the land use bylaw review lacks a thorough analysis of the economic impacts of the proposed regulations.
They argue many of the proposals will “reduce the likelihood of economic success for Banff” and say economic sustainability must be the key consideration.
“We disagree fundamentally with the review team’s intended goal of having the Town of Banff regulate and control types of uses in the commercial sector,” the letter reads.
The letter is signed by Glacier Holdings Ltd., O.M. Treutler Holdings, Harmon’s Mountain Heritage, Lanmar Enterprises, Bumper’s Inn, Nature’s Coin Group, Banff Caribou Properties, Brewster Hospitality, Cascade Plaza, and the Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation.
They say market forces have created an appropriate mix in the past and question the sudden need to introduce increased limitations and regulations.
“Trying to engineer an idealistic downtown core would have significant unintended consequences; empty spaces, increased administration, non food stores selling food items,” they say.
“Let’s leave the focus where we have successfully had focus in the past – on the design and appeal of the buildings themselves, not on the offerings of commercial retail spaces.”
The Small Business Association of Banff (SBAB) has also weighed in on the discussion, arguing they are not sure the route to ensuring economic prosperity is through increased regulation.
“Somehow, the Town of Banff seems to have moved from ‘monitoring the mix of chain and independent retailers’ to ‘we must bring forth regulation and we have clear direction to do so’,” they wrote. “Wow! When did this happen.”
That said, SBAB says it is not overtly opposed to the concept of regulation of franchises and maintaining appropriate tenant mixes.
However, the group says it cannot support “unsubstantiated claims that one business type or another’s presence or proliferation is in some way harmful to the community”.
“The analysis has to be based on more than subjective claims of greater authenticity or that the town will look better,” they said in the letter.
The Town also received strong feedback from residents and regional visitors.
Many are calling on the Town’s politicians to be visionary and have the courage to make tough changes that will set Banff apart in the long run.
In a letter to mayor and council, long-time resident Kate Tooke said Banff is a unique community within a national park and is so much more than a means to make a profit.
She said Banff is selling off what makes the town authentic in order to maximize profits.
“We are being pushed by profit-making into the mold of conformity, to be just like other destinations, offering visitors the same experience that they can find anywhere else,” she said.
“We have got ourselves enthralled in the competition with other destinations, making ourselves more like them in the competition for profit, instead of celebrating, and in turn capitalizing on, what sets us apart.”