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Essential services may need better definition

What should be considered an essential service for the town of Banff may need further review and definition following the work of the Land Use Bylaw working group.

What should be considered an essential service for the town of Banff may need further review and definition following the work of the Land Use Bylaw working group.

The group was tasked with an economic review of proposed LUB regulations that would make grocery store and service stations the only permitted use on certain properties.

The group found the proposal would benefit current tenants and may be harmful to the landowners and that spot zoning may not be an effective tool.

It also found that the issue of ensuring both services remain in the community is not a current problem, however, both are considered essential.

Councillor Stavros Karlos brought up the fact there may be other creative policies to secure essential services in the community.

He said the loss of grocery stores and service stations in the community is not a risk at this time and amendment may not accomplish its goal.

However, he said one example of an alternative policy is the possibility of reserving part of the commercial development allocation for emergencies or essential services.

“That is a broader discussion,” said Karlos, who added furthering the discussion beyond the mandate of the working group is worthwhile if it generates viable policy alternatives. “Council wants answers to the big questions because that is what we get asked.”

Planner Darren Enns said the LUB does not contain a definition of essential service.

He added administration considers that the finite commercial floor area in Banff means businesses compete with each other for space.

Enns said with that in mind, the public service district can be a ‘safety valve’ to allow things that are commercial in nature but identified as being different – or in other words, essential.

Allan Buckingham pointed to day-cares as an example of an essential service that is also commercial, but is permitted in the public service district.

Karlos said the issue surrounding grocery stores and gas stations is one of what should be considered an essential service, which he acknowledged is subjective in nature.

Furthermore, it became evident that some commercial grocery and service station operators have restrictive covenants in their leases, limiting competition that may affect the Town’s ability to regulate those uses in such a way.

“There is a question of if this is even worthwhile with restrictive covenants in place,” said David Bayne.

The recent announcement that Chalet Grocery on Tunnel Mountain, which provides coin laundry, liquor and grocery store services, is closing in May 2012, also became part of the discussion.

Due to the closure, a Banff couple find themselves investigating new employment opportunities after being told the lease on Chalet Grocery will not be renewed.

Closure of the Tunnel Mountain grocery also has some concerned with a lack of amenities for campers and hotel visitors and increased traffic into the Banff townsite.

Brian and Katherine Smythe have run the grocery outlet, located in Douglas Fir Resort, for five years. The outlet included a coin laundry and liquor store.

While the operation has been in place for decades, ownership of Douglas Fir told the Smythe’s their lease would not be renewed.

The decision comes after the Smythes put together a complete business plan which would have seen the laundry closed in favour of a 36-seat, deli-style café complete with fireplace.

Instead, the resort will develop a family/meeting room which could be rented out for functions.

“It’s extremely frustrating for us,” said Brian Smythe. “But life goes on. The worse-case scenario is we leave town, but we’re looking for other employment opportunities, other lines of work.”

Smythe said he and his wife put considerable time and money into developing a complete business plan for the addition of a café, a plan they believed would see development when their lease was renewed.

“It was for an upgrade of the facility, to offer something else,” he said. “There’s nothing in the hotel where guests can sit down and have a cup of coffee. We believed that was what the owner wanted and that a café would have given the hotel something to compliment the hotel.

“Overall, it’s their property, the owner has the right to do what he likes, we’re just not pleased that we were led to believe the lease would be extended.”

According to Smythe’s research, the grocery/laundry operation attracted 200,000 people during a one-year count done a little more than a year ago. The Tunnel Mountain area is home to many hotels and campsites which boast hundreds of spots.

As well, said Smythe, some area visitors are long-time returnees who may not be happy with closure of the operation and cessation of the grocery’s services. Closure, he said, may result in more traffic making its way into Banff for the items no longer available.

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