No quotas for Banff corporate chains - for now
By: Cathy Ellis
| Posted: Thursday, Jul 19, 2012 06:00 am
Regulation of chain stores and restaurants through a quota system won’t be happening in Banff anytime soon.
On a 4-2 vote Monday (July 16), the majority of Banff’s councillors had no political appetite to tackle the controversial issue at this time, tossing out a proposed bylaw that would have set a cap on the number of corporate giants.
Councillors Leslie Taylor and Brian Standish, however, tried unsuccessfully to convince their colleagues to at least pass first reading of the proposed bylaw that council asked administration to draft, and then schedule a public hearing.
“I think there’s a portion of our community that has been waiting for a very long time to have this discussion,” said Taylor, who had indicated she would be willing to consider a cap of 10 per cent more than what exists now.
“Passing first reading doesn’t necessarily mean you like a quota system, or you like the numbers in administration’s report, but it says we are going to have a serious conversation about regulating these things and ‘say yes or no’.”
But Coun. Paul Baxter said the free market should dictate which businesses set up shop in Banff.
“I don’t think it is council’s position to put any more restrictions on economic development in town,” he said. “I think the discussion of quotas or any control of the free market will become an election issue.”
Regulation of corporate giants has been a hot topic in Banff for well over a decade, but heated up with the arrival of Indigo Books in 2007 and the subsequent closure of the family-run Banff Book and Art Den after 43 years of business.
More recently, the arrival of Montreal-based David’s Tea, with close to 30 stores across Canada and parts of the United States, sparked passionate debate amid concerns for the viability of locally-owned Banff Tea Company.
The debate through the years has been polarized, but a council-struck working group for the Land Use Bylaw indicated a quota system would be the least offensive way of regulating corporate giants in town.
The group, made up of residents and businesses, had lengthy discussions about introducing quotas with a proactive economic development plan that would lead to increased investment in town.
“The group felt the concept of quotas was worth looking into further,” said David Bayne, chairman of the working group, in an extensive report to council Nov. 28.
Following the report, council finally decided once and for all against an outright ban on chain businesses, but did direct administration to craft a bylaw outlining a potential quota system and public input.
The planning department came up with an idea to define a formula-based business as one of 12 or more of the same, outlined districts in which chains would be capped and then set a figure for the total in each district.
The options included back-casting the quotas to reflect the mix that existed during the 2008-2009 period when Indexperience was done, capping at current levels or allowing a cushion such as 10 per cent, for example.
In the proposed bylaw, the quotas would have applied to the downtown and commercial accommodation districts, as well as the Banff Springs and The Banff Centre areas. Chains would have been given a wide berth in the compound.
Darren Enns, Banff’s senior planner and point man on the LUB review, said a quota system approach is not new for Banff, noting it is the same assumption that regulates bed and breakfast operations and taxi companies.
“The regulatory approach administration is suggesting is largely based on our experience administering the bed and breakfast quota system over the past 12 years,” he said.
Susanne Gilles-Smith, the owner of Banff Tea Company who has been leading the latest charge to seek municipal regulation of chains, is disappointed with council’s decision.
“I agree with two of our council members in that this should be put on the table for discussion and not shuffled aside, again. This has been an issue for over 15 years and I would hope and do believe that this council has the ability to make some real changes,” she said.
“Living in a national park, with thousands of visitors from around the world, we have an amazing opportunity to be a flagship for the rest of Canada and set a precedent in how we want to run this town, and what we want to represent,” she added.
“I understand what it is like to live in a small community and to see people – and companies – that may oppose you, but I would like to encourage council to have the courage to stand up, take a stand, and do what is right to protect our town from becoming a generic tourist town that has the same to offer as any other place people may visit. We are unique and beautiful and our town could be a true reflection of that.”
Standish encouraged his colleagues to pass first reading of the proposed bylaw, saying the community should have an opportunity to have a final say on the issue.
“I sat on the working group and a lot of work and effort went into this,” he said. “If we do slide it under the table, or push it down the road, we’re ignoring the working group’s recommendations.”
But Mayor Karen Sorensen said she could not support first reading of a bylaw or a public hearing, saying her reasons were mostly about timing.
“We’re not shutting the door on it just because we didn’t pass first reading and it doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to look at quotas and have a public hearing at some point,” she said.
“Quotas may or may not make sense, but in the midst of getting through the remainder of the Land Use Bylaw, and we just agreed to an economic prosperity strategy, these things take priority over the quota discussion.”
Coun. Grant Canning said he was concerned about passing a bylaw when council earlier that day decided to pursue an economic prosperity strategy for the town.
He also said he wanted to know what the results have been for other communities that have regulated formula-based businesses, including Coronado and Carmel-by-the Sea, both affluent resort towns in California.
“What have the effects been on things like commercial rental rates, on vacancy rates and has it improved visitation?” he said. “We need to answer some of these questions first.”
Taylor said she believes it was the Town of Banff itself, at a 2007 meeting at the high school, that raised community expectations that the discussion on regulating formula-based businesses would happen at the council table.
“There’s a lot on the plate I agree with, but what I don’t agree with is that the question of formula-based businesses is solely an economic prosperity question,” she said.
“When people have talked to us about formula-based businesses, many have been talking about the character of the community. It is an economic asset, but also a social and environmental asset.”
Taylor had earlier said she was inclined to support 10 per cent more formula-based businesses that exists now to allow businesses time to adjust to any new regulations.
“But I’m mostly interested in seeing what public discussion is generated by this proposal,” she said.
The bylaw can only be brought back to the council table for reconsideration by one of the four politicians who voted against it, or by Councillor Chip Olver because she was absent from the meeting.