A vision of Banff Caribou Properties to essentially develop a satellite commercial district on the derelict Banff railway lands hasn’t been derailed yet – but is going out for broader public consultation.
The company has been given a permit to redevelop the century-old train station, but their plans for the area also envision commercial retail, which could include gift shops and dinner theatres.
Town of Banff administrators say the existing Land Use Bylaw does not allow for that and they are concerned adding more discretionary uses may trigger the reversionary clause or hold up federal approval of the bylaw.
But Councillor Stavros Karlos said he is concerned the run-down area at the northwest entrance won’t get developed at all without council allowing additional discretionary uses, including retail.
“It’s been in a semi-derelict state for 15 years and we’ve had a private operator step up to lease this land and to take a risk to redevelop this piece of property – and I want to help,” he said at a council meeting Monday (June 11).
“What’s preferable? A derelict gateway or a redeveloped gateway? I’d be concerned if we put the brakes on it. I would like to add discretionary uses in order to help this operator redevelop.”
Council ended up directing administration to return with a report by June 25 outlining a public consultation process for the railway lands, including a recommended option.
Coun. Chip Olver said there needs to be more public consultation before adding other discretionary uses in the railway lands district, such as commercial retail.
“There are people paying downtown rents and running businesses who would see this as another commercial district and that would be unfair to them without public consultation,” she said.
Banff Caribou Properties secured a long-term lease for the site in March last year after lengthy negotiations with Canadian Pacific Railway and has plans for a major redevelopment of the historic station and parking lot.
Under proposed bylaw changes, new discretionary uses would include ‘passenger terminal’, ‘transportation system’, ‘vehicle rental service’ and ‘professional, financial, health and office service’.
In addition, eating and drinking establishments would be allowed in certain parcels within the land use district.
But Gordon Lozeman, the president of Caribou Properties, said that list of discretionary uses in the draft rewrite of the Land Use Bylaw just doesn’t go far enough.
He said it deliberately excludes the possibility of a gift shop, bike-ski rental shop, ski hub, dinner theatre, or visitor-focused movie theatre or information hub.
“I just don’t understand the logic of such a severe restriction. We’re talking ‘discretionary use’ here, not ‘permitted use’. Why would you eliminate the possibility of even being able to consider whether or not it was appropriate to sell a postcard there?” Lozeman said.
“I understand that there may be some uses that would be a concern, but that’s why we have the category of ‘discretionary uses’, so that the municipal authority can at least discuss them. Trying to exclude certain categories of uses might stop some bad concepts, but it also eliminates the possibility of some good concepts.”
Lozeman said there needs to be flexibility in the discretionary uses in the Land Use Bylaw for that district so the redevelopment has a chance at being viable.
“If you get too fancy with all these idealistic restrictions, nothing is going to happen there,” he said.
“We’re trying to do a good thing here. I think a lot of people, including council, are behind it, so hopefully we can make it work. But, yes, there is a point where you cut your losses and move on.”
Coun. Leslie Taylor suggested a comprehensive Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) could govern the railway lands district, which among other issues, could address the overall entry experience, vision, what the reversionary clause may mean to those lands and traffic flow.
“It deserves a process of public consultation. Do we want a satellite commercial area in our community? Well, these are things an ARP could address,” she said.
“I’m thinking about the significance of this area as an entrance to our community, the discussion around the willow trees, and I think an ARP might be a way to go.”
Darren Enns, Banff’s senior planner, said administration believes the reversionary clause is a relevant issue for local government, as Banff’s Land Use Bylaw must be signed off by the federal environment minister.
The clause he refers to means that, generally, when railway lands stop being used for railway purposes in national parks, the federal government has the right to take back the land or sell it.
“With the more discretionary uses and more changes we add, you could potentially slow down the bylaw approval process,” Enns said.