BVT size restriction 'best practice'
Thursday, Feb 05, 2015 10:08 am
One of Canmore’s most hotly debated land use planning rules has been a restriction on the size of retail stores along Bow Valley Trial and, as it turns out, it has worked to benefit the community.
The 150 square metre restriction on retail has been challenged by various applications to rezone land in the district, by members of the development industry in Canmore and by one challenger for the mayor’s seat in the last election.
Development planner Kate van Fraassen presented the completed commercial needs study to council in January with a finding from the consultants in the report that identified the size restriction as a best practice.
“It was found that our commercial urban structure is unique in comparison to our peer communities,” van Fraassen said. “I would like to think that is the result of our policies including size restriction.”
The percentage of retail and service commercial space in close proximity of the downtown core came out of the peer group comparison, which looked at Fernie, Squamish, Kimberly, Revelstoke and Invermere.
The comparison found that that Canmore had 295 retail and service commercial businesses under 150 square metres and collectively the space accounts for 25 per cent of retail service commercial floor area compared to only four per cent in peer communities.
“While peer communities had similar levels of total retail services, much of their space is provided for in large stores,” van Fraassen said.
The result is that Canmore has maintained its downtown core as the business centre of the community with a higher concentration of smaller stores near the town centre.
“By placing a regulatory barrier on the suburban development forces which have been experienced in virtually every Canadian municipality, Canmore has been able to successfully maintain the strength of its downtown core,” stated the report.
Mayor John Borrowman praised the restriction during his state of Canmore address at the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association luncheon in January as one of the reasons Canmore has a vibrant downtown.
“That was one of the driving questions to set up the study and the report was very clear. While that number seems arbitrary, it has been very successful and the consultants recommend that specific policy be recognized as best practice in North America,” said Borrowman, adding it has restricted big box formula-based businesses and encouraged small business instead.
The impetus to do a study came out of the Bow Valley Trail area redevelopment plan (ARP) and the central question council was interested in understanding better was how Canmore would accommodate commercial growth in the future to meet the needs of residents and visitors. The ARP process also questioned the size restriction in that district.
That tied in directly to whether or not visitor accommodation units along Bow Valley Trail should be used for residential and how many accommodation units Canmore needs for visitors in the future. That question, however, is being addressed by another study currently underway.
Van Fraassen said an environmental scan was done as part of the study and a few high level findings were of interest.
Those include a nine per cent vacancy rate of 9,418 square metres for retail and service commercial space and a total of 92,653 square metres of occupied retail and service commercial space. That equates to 7.4 square metres of space per resident, which is somewhat above the national average due to tourism and seasonal residents.
Finally, van Fraassen said 34 per cent of retail and service commercial space is within 500 metres of the town centre and 75 per cent is within one kilometre.
“The take home conclusion is that it is very clear through the environmental scan that our current policy framework, which includes the limit on size on Bow Valley Trail, is having an impact on the size of service and retail commercial and, in part, those size restrictions have limited the expansion of large format stores and open air retail centres typically seen oin highway-oriented areas,” she said.