Parks Canada promises to thwart any attempt to circumvent the intent of the legislated commercial development cap in Banff no matter what a commercial inventory study finds.
There has been ongoing speculation there may be some wiggle room for more development space if the numbers upon which Parks Canada based the cap in 1998 are wrong.
The goal of the study – being paid for by the Town of Banff and the Banff Lake Louise Hotel Motel Association – is to inventory the municipality’s commercial space for planning purposes; however both groups have pointed to a discrepancy between the Banff National Park Management Plan and Canada’s National Parks Act.
Parks Canada officials say they support the desire for an accurate inventory of the commercial floor space within the town boundary for administrative and planning purposes.
But, Banff National Park superintendent Kevin Van Tighem said any new information gathered through the study will not modify the commercial cap.
He said commercial growth is limited to development that already existed in the commercial districts in 1998, or that Parks had approved prior to that date, plus an additional 350,000 square feet.
“The management plan clearly establishes what the policy intent is for the commercial cap for Banff,” said Van Tighem.
“So, if we find that our baseline numbers were high or low, the key number is 350,000 square feet. We are clearly committed to that commercial cap.”
In 1998, the federal government capped commercial growth in Banff in response to an onslaught of concern about development pressure on the surrounding environment.
“We needed to ensure public concerns about endless growth were addressed effectively through policy decisions,” said Van Tighem. “One of those decisions was to fix the amount of commercial growth in the town.”
The municipality, in partnership with BLLHMA, is conducting a $40,000 comprehensive inventory of commercial floor area within the Town’s six commercial land use districts.
The goal is to provide a detailed assessment of all commercial buildings within the townsite in the lead-up to proposed amendments to the Land Use Bylaw, and to inform future policy decisions.
BLLHMA officials say they have no intention of challenging the cap or fighting it in court, but say there is a clear discrepancy between the management plan and the Act on the commercial cap.
They say the legislated cap is set at 3.89 million square feet in the Canada National Parks Act – and the Act supersedes the management plan.
“I think it’s too early to speculate what the results of the inventory might mean, but we do observe there are some discrepancies,” said Darren Reeder, BLLHMA’s executive director.
“Our presumption is that the Act overrules the management plan every day, but not having certainty leads to concerns we have a two speed limit and people are unsure which policy trumps the other.”
Van Tighem said he awaits the results of the commercial inventory, and if necessary, Parks will recommend changes to the Act to accurately reflect the policy intent.
“The (3.89 million) number that was put in the National Parks Act was to render into affect that policy decision, based on the best information available at the time,” he said.
Town officials say there may be some opportunity for commercial space transfer of development rights, but the prevailing assumption is no additional commercial space will become available once Banff reaches build-out.
Mayor Karen Sorensen said she supports the intent of the inventory to get an accurate figure of how much commercial square footage there is currently developed in Banff.
Sorensen said council has not had a discussion on the issue because the inventory has not yet been completed. It’s due sometime this summer.
“We are still all speculating on what those actual numbers are going to be. My intention is to work within the cap as stated in the Act,” she said.
“The Act creates the management plan in my opinion, so the management plan cannot contradict the Act, and the Act currently states 3.89 million.”
Reeder said so long as the total commercial development remains under the 3.89 million square feet, Parks Canada should impose no more regulations regarding commercial development in Banff.
“It will be essential that all levels of government must be very flexible with land use regulations so commercial leases can creatively adapt to changing markets,” he said.