Discussion needed on growth control
Thursday, Dec 15, 2016 06:00 am
Editor: Next month, Minister for National Parks Catherine McKenna will visit Banff to study the future of our town.
It’s been a year since the new Trudeau government sent a stern letter to the minister and Parks Canada about controlling growth in the parks and improving the park system country-wide. Between now and the minister’s visit, it’s time for those of us in business, bankers and realtors to come together with a way forward for our park community.
By including the school board and hospital, municipal leaders, Parks Canada and the environmental groups, we’ll show leadership.
The risks of not doing so could be severe.
Let’s consider those risks. Lawyers and bankers remind us that getting mortgages here in Banff is tough because we live on leasehold land. We don’t like thinking of scary scenarios, but sometimes we need to discuss those scenarios to avoid them.
So, I ran this scenario past a banker. What if the government starts terminating leases, letting them run out? Mortgage risk then rises. Selling homes gets tougher because buyers struggle to get mortgages. Companies, schools and the hospital lose staff. People with jobs, wanting to own secure real estate, move to Canmore.
“It would be a complete disaster,” said one local senior business leader.
How likely is it Parks Canada would terminate a few leases? We know the minister has the hammer and used it before to terminate leases for Park Management Plan goals: ask the Charlton’s about Pinewoods; recall the Esso station on Banff Avenue.
Further, the Town has known for two years that our permanent resident population has passed the limit. According to the people in the Town hall and hallways of Parks Canada, the limit is 8,000 permanent residents under the 2010 Banff National Park Management Plan.
Perhaps Town managers have foresight: just this week the Town funded a new program to provide mortgages for Town of Banff staff who buy homes in Canmore.
Two years ago the Town’s own municipal census, the one we use to get funds from the Province, revealed that we have 8,421 permanent residents. Since then, we’ve had about nine per cent growth in services per year, which could be 700 residents per year; so we might well be over 9,000 permanent residents.
The clock is ticking. We’ll know the population for sure in two months, when the federal census is published, on Feb. 8.
Even if we had put on the brakes and stopped commercial growth two years ago, our population would likely still exceed the limit. But rather than step on the brakes we’ve stepped on the gas. The Town issued more development permits in 2016 than in 2015.
“We’re at a five-year high” in terms of development activity say Banff planners. “It’s been literally crushing for staff,” said Darren Enns. “a relentless Niagara of development-related activity” says the director of planning (RMO Dec 1).
Controlling growth in Banff isn’t a partisan issue. After all, it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, including our sitting MP Blake Richards, that approved in parliament the 2010 Management Plan with the legal limit of 8,000 permanent residents. It’s of concern to both main parties and all Canadians.
So, what’s a way forward to avoid the risks of an employment disaster? Let’s take a clue from Prime Minister Trudeau’s directions to Minister McKenna upon her appointment a year ago.
“Restore robust oversight,” Trudeau directed McKenna in that mandate letter, and “protect our national parks by limiting development within them, and ... work with nearby communities to help grow local eco-tourism industries and create jobs.”
I want to hear your thoughts on limiting development in our park and working with nearby communities to help grow local eco-tourism. Are we thinking of Canmore for an intercept parking hub?
We need to start a conversation and we need to be open to all kinds of ideas.
Peter J. Poole,