The Town of Banff is investigating ways to make sure Banff can keep its grocery stores and gas stations into the future amid fears escalating commercial rents may force out these crucial services.
As part of Phase 2 of the Land Use Bylaw review, the municipality is looking to protect grocery and gas outlets, considered critical services for both residents and visitors.
The review team recommends creating new land use districts to protect Nester’s, Safeway and three existing gas stations, so the operations would be the sole permitted use in their respective districts.
Restrictions on transferring commercial space from gas stations or supermarkets, given their importance to visitors and residents, could also be instituted as part of the updates to the bylaw.
Officials say the Land Use Bylaw review is an opportunity to look ahead and address issues associated with land use change before they happen.
“We are asking the community if it is important that we have a grocery store or two locally, and if so, we may want to take this opportunity to look at this,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.
“In my mind, a grocery store is a basic service, so if there’s a way the public could find it acceptable that we can assist to make sure we always have that service in town, that’s what we’re looking at.”
The commercial buildout study suggests retailers serving local residents, such as grocery stores, will be placed under significant pressure in an environment of escalating commercial rents.
Under current Land Use Bylaw regulations, there is no public process required should a grocery store wish to convert to an alternate use like a sporting goods store or a souvenir shop.
The bylaw regulates large-scale grocery stores as general retail, which is the same definition used for sweet shops, souvenir stores, tobacco stores and just about any other retail venture.
This means for a grocery store owner wishing to transform into a souvenir shop or clothing store, there would be no public process or need for a development permit.
The review team is recommending a new land use district be created for the Nester’s and Safeway properties, with the sole permitted land use of ‘grocery store’.
Other uses previously permitted outright would be moved to a discretionary category, meaning these retailers would require approval from Banff’s municipal planning commission.
“If another grocery store wants to come in, that’s great,” said Mayor Sorensen. “But, if it’s something other than a grocery store, then there needs to be a discussion around that with the municipal planning commission.”
Restrictions on transferring commercial floor space from supermarket sites could also be instituted.
“The review team recognizes that zoning by itself cannot ensure grocery stores will always exist in Banff,” according to the review team’s information on the Town’s website.
“However, it is one of the few regulatory tools available to retain these critical retailers within the town.”
The review team also looked at leaving existing grocery stores solely to market forces.
However, the team says Banff is unique in that the ability to lease commercial space is placed at a premium by commercial growth regulations, which arguably places pressure on rental rates.
“By turning off the tap on new commercial buildings, the pressure increases on existing buildings and their tenants, which we believe could force out locally-oriented businesses such as supermarkets,” they say.
As for gas stations; while the bylaw presently regulates them as a unique use, the land use districts which permit them also allow a number of other permitted and discretionary uses.
This situation would allow a gas station in the commercial accommodation district to convert to a hotel without any public approval mechanisms.
In order to protect three existing gas stations within Banff, the review team is recommending a new land use district be created as ‘service station’.
Meanwhile, council continues to solicit feedback on proposed changes to the Land Use Bylaw, including community kiosks.
The next kiosks are Thursday, March 31 at Nester’s Market from 5-7 p.m.; Friday, April 1 at Bison Courtyard from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday, April 2 at Mount Norquay Lodge from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For details on proposals, visit Banff.ca/ourlanduse