Project proposed to fill Bear Street lot
An eyesore created when Cascade Plaza developers couldn’t secure one remaining parcel of land at the northern end of Bear Street more than 20 years ago may finally be fully redeveloped.
The current property owner, Josephine Tsu, is seeking a development permit for a multi-million dollar commercial building at the intersection of Bear Street and Wolf Street, which would include two restaurants and one retail unit.
It’s currently the site of Timbers Food Company Restaurant.
Town of Banff officials say the application is being brought before the Municipal Planning Commission because of the complex, high profile nature of the project and the design challenges resulting from the odd site configuration.
“The proposed design goes far in completing the terminated vista of Bear Street, and filling in a gaping, awkwardly shaped hole in a highly visible downtown streetscape,” said senior planner Darren Enns.
“Anyone who lives in or visits Banff always looks with shock on the existing condition that it should never have been approved, and now there’s an opportunity to correct poor decisions of pre-incorporation.”
The parcel of land is an irregular shaped, five-sided polygon property on the north side of the intersection of Wolf Street and Bear Street.
It is believed the site was developed that way because of an unresolved disagreement between the local mall developer and the former owner of the property in the late 1980s.
The developer was not able to purchase that piece of property and Cascade Plaza was built around it. Parks Canada approved Cascade Plaza shortly before Banff was incorporated, but it wasn’t built until after incorporation.
A development permit application was before Banff’s Municipal Planning Commission on Thursday (Sept. 20), but the results can’t be reported due to Outlook deadlines.
Tsu said she has not yet finalized plans for the property, which she purchased in the spring of 2004, because she’s waiting on the MPC’s decision on her proposed development.
She said it is too early to say whether or not she intends to move the Silver Dragon restaurant from its current leased location on Banff Avenue, or whether Timbers would be the second restaurant in the redevelopment.
“We don’t know at this stage. It’s too early. We want to see how it goes Thursday, but we’re not ruling out possibilities,” she said.
“It’s an exciting project but it’s been a challenging project because it’s a difficult site to develop.”
Nigel Walker, owner and chef at Timbers, said he is negotiating with Tsu, but said he would probably close the restaurant on Oct. 15. He indicated rents would be higher.
“The biggest reason for me is in fall it’s very quiet and it’s hard to compete with all these multi-nationals,” he said. “In summer when I have a patio, it’s actually viable, but the low season is too slow.”
Administration believes the design of the building still needs a bit more work, referring to a tower-looking feature they say needs to be wider so as not to appear “skyscraper-ish.”
“It was encouraging to find a design to mask the bare concrete walls of Cascade Plaza and provide a focal point at the end of Bear Street, but it’s critical we get this focal point right,” Enns said.
Commercial development in Banff is subject to a federally-legislated development cap. Tsu secured space in two lotteries in 2004 and 2005, for a total of 787 square metres.
The property, which is surrounded by Cascade Mall, has only has 15.5 metres of street frontage, which limits access for loading, garbage collection and fire exits.
A laneway was eliminated pre-incorporation.
“All of the existing site conditions have resulted in what are virtually unprecedented building design constraints,” Enns said.
Because it is next to impossible to provide on-site parking, an alternative solution under the Land Use Bylaw is for the applicant to pay cash in lieu for parking.
One of the key variances recommended by administration to MPC is to reduce parking requirements by 25 per cent, going from 33.6 stalls to 25.2 stalls.
That would mean Tsu would have to pay $529,200 cash-in-lieu fees at the current rate of $21,000 per stall, instead of $705,600.
Enns said administration believes the parking needs of the site will be partially met by the parkade at Cascade Plaza, identified as one of the most under-used parking lots in Banff.
A development permit for a similar type of commercial building was approved by Banff’s Development Appeal Board back in 1993, however the development never went ahead.
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