I hope you’ve been enjoying the beautiful summer weather! I apologize for the length of this email – go pour a nice iced tea, find a comfy chair where you can enjoy the sunset, and it won’t seem so bad.
MONDAY’S COUNCIL MEETING
You can see the overall package for the meeting at this link:
Council starts tomorrow at 12:30 pm. This is earlier than usual, because we expect to have quite a long conversation about 27 proposals for the Land Use Bylaw. All of these proposals are listed below (the titles are as written by the planning team). Darren Enns will be presenting the team's findings and recommendations. We will not be voting on whether to approve these – they’re not at that point yet. Instead, we will be providing direction to the planning team about whether to continue to develop these various ideas. Here’s how it will go ...
For 22 of the recommendations, we will be asked whether we want regulatory language created. In other words – “Council, are you interested in this idea, and should we draft it up and bring it back to you for decision?” If council’s answer is “yes”, then language would be created and debated and voted on at a future meeting. If "no", then that recommendation will no longer be considered.
The other five recommendations have been more controversial, with questions raised about their economic impacts. We will be asked whether we want an economic impact review done on any of these 5 suggestions. If council says "yes", there will be a discussion on how that would look and that information would be provided at a future meeting. If council says, "no" then the mayor will ask if we want regulatory language created for that recommendation. If council’s answer is “yes”, then language would be created and debated and voted on at a future meeting. If "no", then that recommendation will no longer be considered.
Land Use Bylaw proposals
Here are the 22 items where staff is recommending that we proceed to drafting regulatory language:
· Removing Barriers Through Deferred Payments – this means providing an option for small, local start-ups to pay their parking and housing fees over time, rather than up front. This helps to make it easier for small, local businesses to get started, and I’m in favour of drafting language on this. A key will be finding clear, appropriate definitions for “small” and “local”!
• Building Bedrooms for Employees – this means changing the requirement so that when “required bedrooms” are supplied by businesses, they build apartment-style housing or basement suites or coach houses. This way, the bedrooms actually become available for use by entry-level service workers, rather than being part of a large single-family home. I’m in favour of drafting language on this.
• Preserving Banff’s Physical Character (business frontage limits) – this means limiting the street frontage of any one business to 50 feet or less, in order to keep the street lively and interesting. I’m in favour of drafting language on this.
• Eating & Drinking Definitions – this means creating different definitions for bars, coffee shops, fine dining, fast food, so that they can be regulated differently. I think this makes sens – they are very different uses, with very different impacts on the downtown.
• Downtown Liquor Stores – I haven’t yet seen what is proposed here, so will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.
• Downtown Building Height – the proposal is to allow three storeys in the downtown, as long as the top storey is residential. I agree that increased apartment-style residential in the downtown is a good idea. I even think that three storeys on Banff Avenue is okay, because the street is so wide that you do not get that “canyon” effect. I am concerned, however, about extending this to the 200 block of Bear Street. Yes, I know that substantial parts of it are already three storeys. But I think that a real canyon would be created if the whole street went that way. I’m looking forward to a lively conversation on this one!
• Downtown Lane Standards – the idea here is to make the back lanes tidier and more appealing as places to walk and bike. Those of you who have been here for a long time know that we’ve already made huge strides in this area (power line burial, for example!). But I do support drafting language on this one – I think we can do better.
• Non-Conforming Sites -- I haven’t yet seen what is proposed here, so will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.
• Re-Districting Government Lands in the Compound – the proposal here is to rezone Parks Canada’s and the Town of Banff’s lands in the compound to PS (public service), which is what they are. It means that a bunch of commercial allocation would become available. However, the proposal is that the freed-up allocation would be usable only in the compound – it couldn’t be used in the downtown or the hotel district. I think I’m interested in looking at regulatory language on this one. It might make it easier for people who want to provide locally oriented services in the compound.
• Exempting Fleet Servicing in the Compound – this is a proposal to allow fleet services developments to be exempt from the commercial allocation requirements. The thinking is that companies have been unable to get commercial allocation to build fleet service buildings, so they’re doing their fleet servicing outdoors, with run-off into the storm sewers, and this is not good for the environment. I’m interested in discussing this further.
• Housing Fees – at present, if a new business is required to build a bedroom, they can pay $21,000 “cash-in-lieu” instead. The suggestion is that this doesn’t really reflect the current cost of providing a residential bedroom in Banff, and we need to discuss the level of the fees. I agree that we should have this discussion.
• Linking Intensification “Bedrooms” to Specific Housing Types – this is once again about changing the requirement so that when “required bedrooms” are supplied by businesses, they build apartment-style housing or basement suites or coach houses. “Intensification” refers to a business deciding to be open longer than normal (for example, 24 hours rather than 14), and therefore needing more employees, who need more housing. I think we will need careful attention to definitions here.
• Redirection of Parking Fees to Transit – the suggestion is that money paid to cover required parking could be used to enhance transit or provide more bike racks as well as to build parking stalls. I agree that we should look at language on this.
• Extended Operating Hours as Intensification -- as mentioned above, this refers to a business deciding to be open longer than normal (for example, 24 hours rather than 14), and therefore placing greater demands on town services such as waste collection. I think we will need careful attention to definitions here.
• Signage Enforcement – for some reason, we are being asked whether we want the existing land use bylaw regulations about signs to be enforced. I certainly do! The suggestion is that this should be preceded by a brief education campaign, because we have been light on enforcement for a while now, and some people may have forgotten what the regulations are.
• External Retailing – this is the same situation as the signage enforcement – education, followed by enforcing the regulations that already exist. I’m all for it!
• CA District Freestanding Signs – at present, although the size of individual signs in the hotel area is regulated, there is no regulation of how many signs can be erected in one business’s frontage. The suggestion is that this has resulted in a confusing proliferation of freestanding signs along the 400 and 500 blocks of Banff Avenue. I agree that we should look at regulatory language on this.
• Graphic Signage Regulations – this is a suggestion that signage regulations should be presented visually, through drawings, not just in a text-only format. I think this would make the regulations easier to understand, and agree that we should give it a try.
• Awning Type Regulations – this would prohibit the underlit “bubble-style”, while allowing more traditional-shaped awnings. I think this is reasonable, and we should take a look at wording.
• Bed & Breakfast Buffering – at present, bed and breakfasts are only supposed to be allowed if they are 75 m or more from the nearest other B&B. In practice, however, this requirement has been relaxed on almost every B&B application. The suggestion is to lower the buffer to 30 m, or even do away with it altogether. I think I can support 30 m, but only if we start actually applying this regulation, rather than relaxing it almost every time an application comes in.
• Bed & Breakfast Quality Standards – the planning team had proposed some basic quality standards for B&Bs (no B&B rooms in the basement, bedrooms must have a window, etc etc). The Banff B&B association has commented that these standards would be duplication, because B&Bs that are accredited by the Alberta association must have regular quality inspections. But wait a minute – only 16 of our 49 B&Bs belong to that association, so how will quality be guaranteed in the others? I’d suggest that we either introduce the quality requirements, or require all B&Bs to be accredited by the Alberta association. I look forward to a lively discussion on this tomorrow.
• Home Occupations – I haven’t yet seen what is proposed here, so will have to wait until tomorrow to find out. Since I have a home occupation, I’m naturally curious. I will have to ask to make sure that I don’t have a conflict of interest, however, before entering into the discussion.
Then there are the five other items, the ones that have been more controversial. These are:
· Preserving grocery resources – the planning team points out how disastrous it would be for our community if – at some time in the future -- our two existing supermarkets ended up being converted into some more profitable use. The suggestion is that their zoning be changed so that “grocery store” is the only permitted use, with all other uses discretionary. That means that any such conversion proposed in the future would have to be reviewed publicly by the MPC. I’m not sure that this is the right approach, but I’m interested enough in it that I would like to see us review other communities where this type of zoning has been done, to see what the impact was.
· Protecting fuelling services – this is a similar suggestion to the grocery store proposal above. The idea is that gas stations are critical, and perhaps we should try to prevent the ones that are presently located in the hotel district from eventually being turned into hotels, or at least require a public review before that can happen.
· Formula fast food – the suggestion is that any *new* formula fast food establishments could not be placed in street-front locations, but would have to go to interior locations in malls. One question in my mind is whether we have a problem at present, or a problem that is likely to develop in the life of the plan. I’d like to see a comparison of the number of formula fast food restaurants in Banff now to 10 years ago. KFC, Wendy’s, A&W have all come and gone. I’m very concerned about ensuring that such businesses conform to our signage and architectural requirements, that they meet housing requirements, that they adhere to our waste standards. I’m just not so sure that formula fast food restaurants are present in such numbers that they cause us a problem. And what if the “formula” is a Canadian one (Beavertails, Cows) – does that lessen the concern?
· Souvenir and gift shop regulations – the suggestion is that we define souvenir shops as follows: “Retail Store, Souvenir means a retail store offering a variety of small gift items related to a particular topic or theme, which typically includes coffee mugs, stuffed animals, t-shirts, postcards, hats, refrigerator magnets, miniature figures, and typically indicate their origin such as "Canadian Rockies" or "Banff". A Retail Store, Souvenir is intended primarily for the travelling public as opposed to residents.” And that we then make this a discretionary use in the downtown, so that any new proposal for a souvenir shop would have to be reviewed by the MPC. I think this could be a real mine-field. Many stores open with a distinctive concept, then slowly start selling T-shirts, mugs, etc over time. This means that we wouldn’t just have to regulate at time of development, we’d have to be continually checking whether the merchandise has remained as originally promised. I don’t know if I’m ready to support this degree of central economic planning (and enforcement!). However, I am sensitive to the rain of comments about tackiness and commercialization, so I think I would be interested in any information the planners can provide about how this has (or hasn’t) worked in other communities.
· Commercial development allotments, merit-based review – the idea here is that the small amount of remaining commercial allotment, and any transfers of allotment from one business to another, would be reviewed and approved based on their merit in areas such as architecture, public washrooms and spaces provided, environmental standards, and so on. I would support this only if we can make the merit points transparent and objective, rather than conceptual and subjective. I think that people should be able to tell in advance whether their development is going to meet the requirements.
Pedestrian Bridge/Sanitary sewer siphon
Astonishingly, there is one other item on Monday’s agenda. I’ve mentioned before the exciting proposal to replace our aged sewer line across the Bow by tying it into a new pedestrian bridge from Muskrat over to Spray. We now have more detailed estimates and information (starting on page 166 of the package), and council is being asked to choose which option we would prefer for the sewer line.
We can do it more cheaply by slinging the line under the existing bridge. But we can get a pedestrian bridge out of this project for $400,000, as compared to the previous $2 million estimate for a ped bridge alone, and the ped bridge plus sewer line is estimated at less than what we have in the budget for the project. I think this is a great option, and I want to support it, but have a couple of questions to ask:
1. How sure are we of the estimates? There have been a couple of situations in the past where council has agreed to a project, basing their decision on estimates provided, only to find that the estimates were incorrect.
2. Will this ped bridge support emergency vehicles? This was stated earlier on, but I don’t see it mentioned in the current report.
THE FINE PRINT
As always, opinions expressed in this post are mine alone. I do not pretend to represent the point of view of the Town of Banff or its council. I welcome your comments!
All the best until next time -- Leslie