Chain store quota issue to return
Banff’s politicians are poised to revisit the controversial issue of setting quotas to control corporate chain stores and restaurants in the national park tourist town.
Council tossed out a proposed bylaw dealing with a quota system in mid-July, but Councillor Grant Canning has now announced he intends to bring back first reading of the bylaw for reconsideration.
Most councillors – though not all – say they will likely support Canning’s motion and pass first reading, which in turn would a trigger a public hearing, likely to be set for early next year.
“I felt it was important to provide our residents with the opportunity to give input and feedback on this issue,” said Canning, who was one of four councillors to surprisingly vote against first reading earlier this summer.
“Clearly our community has differing viewpoints on how best to maintain our community character while ensuring our future economic prosperity and, as a councillor, I felt it was very important to hear both sides of the issue from those who have such passion and interest on this issue.”
Supporting first reading of amending bylaw 314 does not necessarily mean individual councillors support a quota system to regulate chain retail and restaurants in Banff; it means it triggers a formal hearing to seek public input.
Regulation of corporate giants has been a hot topic 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, which has close to 30 stores across Canada and parts of the United States, sparked passionate debate amid concerns of the viability of locally-owned Banff Tea Company.
Banff is home to many corporate restaurants and shops, including Starbucks, Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Tony Roma’s, Gap, North Face and Lululemon, among others.
Banff’s community plan commits to monitoring and responding to the mix of chain and independent retailers and restaurants to preserve community character and ensure an appropriate balance is maintained.
Following direction from council, Banff’s planning department came to council in July with a report, in conjunction with proposed legislation, on a quota system for the town for chain restaurants and retail stores.
Service stations, hotels or banks are not included.
Planners 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 could be capped, and then proposed different ways to set a figure for the total in each district.
Options include back-casting the quotas to reflect the mix that existed during the 2008-2009 period when Indexperience visitor surveys were done, capping at current levels or allowing a cushion, like 10 per cent more, for example.
Darren Enns, Banff’s senior planner, said a quota system for any particular land use suggests that the use in question is acceptable in a community, but only in a defined amount.
“This approach is not new for Banff, and it is the same assumption that underlies our community’s bed and breakfast regulations as well as our taxi licensing system,” he said in his July 16 report to council.
“The regulatory approach administration is suggesting is largely based on our experience administering the bed and breakfast quota system over the past 12 years.”
Enns said administration believes the focus of the discussion to date has been related primarily to the core visitor areas of Banff, and in particular to the downtown land use district and accommodation districts, including along Banff Avenue, Tunnel Mountain district and Banff Springs district.
“If this is indeed the case, then it follows that these land use districts should arguably be the focus of any quota system,” he said.
The proposed legislation would give chain retail and restaurants a wider berth in the industrial compound, also known as the CS district.
“Formula business regulation may be less relevant there, especially if the underlying strategy is to address visitor perceptions,” Enns said.
The question of what level to set the quota is a challenging one.
Enns said a quota below current levels creates instant pressure on existing situations, including the creation of legal, non-conforming uses, while a quota set too high doesn’t achieve the regulatory goals and becomes a zoning “paper tiger”.
He said administration explored a number of options for setting the quota numbers, including backcasting the quotas to reflect the mix that existed during the 2008-2009 Indexperience surveys.
“Business licence records indicate that since the Indexperience surveys, the number of formula-based retail establishments has decreased by three, while the number of chain restaurants has increased by five,” he said.
Enns said taking the approach of setting a quota at current levels would take a snapshot of the existing situation and effectively solidify the existing mix.
“The advantage of this approach over using Indexperience levels is that it avoids creating legally non-conforming situations,” he said.
Lastly, Enns said, another option is to go with a so-called “upward cushion” of setting a quota higher than the existing levels.
“It could be argued that even setting a quota at existing levels would have a punitive effect, as some property owners may be actively courting formula businesses which are not yet established as a land use,” he said.
“By creating a ‘cushion’, it may allow for some initial flexibility and permit some time to adjust to the new regulations.”
Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said if there is to be a public hearing early next year and people have an opinion, they need to show up and submit feedback in writing or as a presentation to council.
“Council welcomes feedback from the public and it is crucial to hear many opinions to make an informed decision,” she said.
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