Decision on train station parking project held over

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A plan to develop a free park-and-ride lot at the Banff train station to deal with traffic congestion in the tourist town is one step closer to reality.

Adam and Jan Waterous’ development permit application for an intercept lot east of the Banff train station was before Municipal Planning Commission Monday (March 5). After 7.5 hours, the meeting will resume on March 14.

Residents voiced concerns about the effect a parking lot could have on their neighbourhood, such as a lack of privacy, increased traffic and noise, while others say this is the only land available to deal with Banff’s ever increasing congestion problem.

“We have a lot of information to go through from all parties involved and we want to come forward with the best decision for the community,” said MPC chair Brian Smythe.

Liricon Capital, the personal financial holding company of the Waterous’, proposes developing a parking lot for 620 vehicles, 24 buses and 20 RVs. The RV stalls are within a distinct footprint adjacent to Railway Avenue.

Town administration is recommending a reduction to 516 stalls to allow for more landscaping that would will act as a bigger buffer zone between the proposed parking lot and homes in the area.

Darren Enns, development services manager for the Town of Banff, said there has been a series of policy and research guiding the municipality towards intercept parking in this area since the late 1970s.

“We’ve reached out to Parks Canada for land and the response was ‘don’t bother, look within your own townsite for solutions,’ ” he said.

“What we’ve been doing ever since we received that direction is kind of find where we have land for 500 stalls of surface parking – and the answer is we don’t. This application accesses land that we didn’t have access to.”

Jan Waterous said the intention is for the parking lot to be free, so that visitors will park their cars and either walk downtown or catch a shuttle.

“We have been inspired by transportation models that we have seen in several European mountain towns,” she said.

“We want to work with everyone in our community to bring this exciting vision to reality … and to say we all did something that made our town better.”

Some residents expressed concern about visitors getting lost and moving through their neighbourhood, which includes private homes, Banff’s daycare facility and Mount Edith House.

As part of the development, there is a proposal for a trail from the intercept parking lot through municipal land between the daycare and Mount Edith House, but the thinking is most visitors will walk to town from the west end of the parking lot.

A 1.8-metre fence is also being built around the perimeter of the childcare centre.

Resident Melanie Powell said she wants the fence extended to the rear of her property, noting lost tourists end up on her property on an almost daily basis.

“If it’s a couple today it’s going to be 30, 40, 50 or more a day, so the fence will prevent people from cutting through our personal property,” she said.

“Having a huge parking lot like that behind our home is concerning for hundreds of reasons, from noise and dust and the kids at the daycare.”

Residents also called for the parking lot to be paved sooner rather than later.

Jan Waterous said the initial plan is to have it as a gravel lot. “As we see how well it’s used, then we are open to paving it,” she said.

Waterous also pointed out the park-and-ride lot would be closed at night for security reasons, noting Liricon already has experience in managing the two parking lots currently at the train station.

“We are very vigilant about that to make sure that it doesn’t become a campground and that people don’t put up tents or sleep in cars, so we will be making sure that is the case as well,” she said.

The main access to the parking lot will be through the existing train station parking lot. The Mount Norquay Road entrance to town sees about 55 per cent of total entrance traffic in the Town of Banff, or up to 9,400 inbound vehicles per day.

A second access point has been proposed for the intersection of Cougar and Squirrel streets – for emergency vehicle use, Rocky Mountaineer coaches and during times of special events in town.

But after hearing strong opposition from area residents, the Waterous’ indicated they would make it only for emergency vehicle access. That would be cemented in an access agreement.

“We think the feedback has actually made our project better for everyone,” said Waterous.

Peter Poole, a developer in town, said he believes a higher level of planning review is needed, such as an area structure plan.

He said there are many aspects to this multi-phase development beyond the intercept lot, such as commercial use and the possibility of a gondola from Mount Norquay and return of passenger rail from Calgary to Banff.

“A concept as significant as that proposed by Liricon may deserve planning consideration at a level we’re not familiar with,” he said. “Personally, I would like this presented in an integrated matter.”

Tourism officials say the intercept parking lot is needed given increasing tourist numbers, which is now more than four million a year.

Leslie Bruce, president and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, said increasing urbanization of cultures around the world is driving demand for environmental experiences and open spaces, noting Banff is a popular holiday location for these reasons.

She said an intercept parking lot is needed to manage vehicles and reduce the number of vehicles downtown.

“I don’t see demand for this experience and demand for our community subsiding,” she said. “It’s an old cliché. If they build it they will come. I’d like to underscore the fact that I believe they’re coming, so please build it.”

Other residents raised the so-called reversionary clause, which has been an ongoing discussion over the past decade.

Generally, when railway lands stop being used for railway purposes in national parks, the federal government has the right to take back the land, or sell it.

Resident Hugh Pettigrew said he believes a Justice Department opinion is needed on this.

“Is it reasonable to request that there be legal advice on the matter of the disposition of public lands before a decision would be made by your commission?” he asked.

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