Home-based business increasing in Banff
Thursday, Dec 21, 2017 06:00 am
More and more Banff residents are using their homes to run businesses in a bid to serve an increasing number of visitors to the tourist town.
In 2017, the number of new development permits for bed and breakfast properties and home occupation businesses in residential districts increased substantially over previous years.
“In a community where you have a fixed commercial land base, combined with increasing visitation, there’s limited opportunities to get into a new commercial role,” said Darren Enns, manager of development services for the Town of Banff.
“Floor space is expensive and it’s tougher for a new business to break in to service the increasing number of visitors coming to the park.”
In 1998, the federal government set a development cap of 350,000 square feet of additional commercial space beyond what existed in the Banff townsite at the time, amid fears rampant development was harming the park.
Aside from commercial growth management and the imbalance between commercial and residential development at the time, how to better regulate the proliferation of B&Bs was one of the single biggest issues.
The number of B&Bs was capped at 65 across the entire town, although only a certain number are allowed in each of the 11 of 24 residential districts where B&Bs are permitted.
Presently, 43 of 65 allowable B&B licences are in use. Three residential districts are full in terms of the quota, and three or four development permit applications are in the pipeline.
In 2017, there were 22 B&B development permits and 14 home occupations. That compares to 15 and four in 2016 and 14 and seven the year before that. In 2013, there were no new home occupations.
The number of bed and breakfast home applications tapered off almost immediately after the quota was put in place in 1998, and interest waned throughout the years until recently.
Enns said visitors to the national park have been looking for alternative places to stay, especially given staggering hotel occupancy rates, often at 95 per cent for extended periods in summer.
As the number of tourists has soared to about four million a year, Enns said more and more residents seem to be taking advantage of booked hotel rooms by applying to run a B&B through the municipality’s legislated quota system.
“We don’t have a never ending supply of hotel rooms and that was the intention of commercial growth management. That’s not a mistake because the intention was we would have a finite supply of overnight accommodation,” said Enns.
“The trickle down effect of that is high occupancy, high rates and people looking for alternatives. I think that’s what’s driving a lot of the B&B development, that demand to meet growing visitor demands in terms of overnight accommodation.”
In 2018, Banff will review its overall quota for B&Bs, as well as the cap for each residential land use district where they are permitted. Administration will also look at the taxation structure between B&Bs and hotels.
Councillor Ted Christensen expressed concern about the loss of housing for residents as more B&Bs pop up to serve tourists, noting the issue came up time and again during his time on the Municipal Planning Commission.
“Here we are spending a great deal of energy and money and effort on increasing our rental capacity, but then we’re losing as much as we’re building,” said Christensen.
“We’re losing rental capacity to operators who are operating small businesses. It’s getting out of the cottage industry situation now and into more of a business situation.”
As for home occupations, there are approximately 60 approved in Banff. A home occupation permit is only valid for a year, with renewals requiring approval by MPC in February or March.
The type of small businesses that have a permit to operate an office are varied. In 2017, applications included multiple photographers, cleaning services, babysitter contracting, handyman/construction, yoga instruction and reflexology. The home occupation only allows the office activities associated with these small businesses.
Enns said he believes residents are applying for development permits to take up a different part of the commercial sector, in residential land use districts, as opposed to getting an expensive downtown office space.
“People say ‘I need a business to try to service visitors that are coming to deal with the increased numbers, I’ll get a home occupation and try to service business that way’, and our business licence volumes also reflect this,” he said.