The owners of Banff's Homestead Inn are one step closer to a major redevelopment of their aging Lynx Street motel.
Fuji Starlight Express, which hopes to have the new motel open by 2015, has managed to secure development credit of existing commercial space that the Town of Banff's planning department had previously ruled ineligible.
But the Municipal Planning Commission last week agreed to credit three-quarters of what the hotel sought, including credit for two existing unenclosed corridors on the second and third floors, but not a ground level sidewalk.
A spokesperson for the Homestead Inn said the planning department officer's density calculation – which amounted to a loss of about 129 square metres by eliminating enclosed corridors and sidewalks – came as a shock.
"This represents the loss of almost four king-bed guest rooms in the new hotel… or five per cent of the new hotel's potential revenue stream," said Dave Day, manager of planning and sustainability for the hotel.
"As in all commercial developments in the Town of Banff, securing sufficient commercial development floor space to ensure economic viability is a critical task."
All commercial development within the Town of Banff is subject to a federally-legislated commercial growth cap, which was set up in 1998 after intense debate to protect the surrounding national park.
Fuji Starlight Express, which also owns the nearby Banff Park Lodge and Bow View Lodge, has successfully secured 1,395 square metres in Banff's commercial lottery to build a 70-room hotel.
No new restaurants, convention facilities, or commercial shops are planned for the hotel, as these are available at Banff Park Lodge, to which the new hotel will be connected by a pedestrian crossing under Lynx Street.
The hotel will be built to a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum standard.
The ownership group asked the Town of Banff to evaluate the existing floor area of the hotel in June, but when there was a disagreement over the calculation, the issue went to MPC.
Planning and development had originally stated the existing gross floor area at the Homestead should be about 895 square metres, but the ownership group believed it should be 1,024 square metres.
Based on the MPC's decision, the credit for the existing building is 981 square metres and, with 1,395 square metres secured in the lottery, 2,376 square metres is the current estimate for the gross floor area of the new development.
When a new commercial development application comes before the Town of Banff, the calculation method for potential commercial space is existing gross floor area plus the sum of commercial allotments from the lottery. That gives the developer total buildable gross floor area.
But Town officials say for an applicant to maximize existing gross floor area, they must first provide evidence of existing floor area calculations and request that those be credited against the future development.
Darren Enns, Banff's senior planner, said these are typically based on previously approved development plans for the site, such as Parks Canada approvals or Town of Banff development and building permits.
"But the Homestead Inn is one of the few commercial properties in Banff for which no approved plans can be located… the plans are literally missing," Enns said. "Therefore ascertaining what was approved – or not approved – becomes a nearly impossible task."
In the absence of any documentation, Enns said the Town of Banff primarily relies on the existing Land Use Bylaw to define gross floor area, which is the default methodology used for other commercial projects.
He said the Town did not believe the unenclosed sidewalk and unenclosed corridors met the definition of the bylaw and therefore should not be credited towards any future redevelopment.
Enns said if evidence of permission from previous planning agencies could be produced, indicating that any of these floor areas were approved and counted towards the density calculation of the day, planners would honour that.
"It's a matter of precedent," Enns said. "If administration were required to start 'crediting' existing, unenclosed sidewalks all over Banff, a sudden onslaught of such sidewalks may start appearing."
Day said the owners assure the MPC and the planning office that they will not use this commercial space credit to increase the number of guest rooms by changing the design to feature exterior hallways.
"The new Homestead Inn will have its lobby and hallways fully contained within the building envelope," Day said. "This design has been submitted to the planning office by way of a development application."