Voyager gets commercial space to redevelop

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Redevelopment of the Voyager Inn is moving ahead after approval was given to Husky Energy’s transfer of unused commercial space from its gas station redevelopment – the first time this has happened under Banff’s growth management rules.

On Thursday (Nov. 30), Banff’s Municipal Planning Commission approved the transfer of 362 square metres of existing commercial gross floor area from Husky to neighbouring Voyager Inn to allow for the construction of a new building with 10 hotel rooms.

It is the first time in which commercial floor area space has been sold under bylaw 346, which allows properties to transfer unwanted commercial space in anticipation of build-out under Banff’s commercial development cap.

Bill Marshall of Marshall Tittemore Architects, who was hired by Canalta Hotels to work on the Voyager Inn project, said allowing transfer of development density incentivizes redevelopment and reinvestment in Banff properties.

“This is an unusual time in the history of Banff for many, many reasons and we’re coming to a period of closure on development,” said Marshall, who was worked on developments in Banff for almost 30 years.

“This is going to be complete refurbishment of this building. This is not a bunch of lipstick. I’m so delighted the (CDA) commercial development allotments existed to begin with and now you’re seeing transfer for the very first time.”

Canalta Hotels’ development plans include 10 additional rooms through construction of a new building along Cougar Street and sterilization of commercial space in the hotel basement to make way for a loft area above the second floor.

Renovations also include reconfiguration of guestrooms and improvements to the dining lounge, removal of the liquor store, and an increase to bus and vehicle parking on the Banff Avenue site.

In 1998, the federal government capped commercial development at 350,000 square feet of additional space beyond what existed in the townsite at the time amid fears rampant development was harming the surrounding national park.

Since then, development rights have been handed out through a random lottery system. All space has been allocated; however, there are eight properties that have not yet been built.

In anticipation of buildout, bylaw 346 was passed in 2015 to allow built commercial gross floor area to be transferred to another site at a 1:1 scale if it’s demolished. It can also be transferred if it’s for non-commercial purposes.

In this case, the Voyager Inn has bought commercial space that Husky did not want for gas station redevelopment plans. The floor area credit comes from demolition of buildings at Husky’s Banff Avenue site.

Darren Enns, the Town of Banff’s manager of development services, said the transferability bylaw allows owners of the Voyager to reinvest in one of the town’s legacy hotels.

“It’s an opportunity to show how our community is going to grow without growth,” he said.

“One of the ways that we could help with redevelopment is to move floor area around town from one site to another.”

Bryan Howie, Parks Canada’s representative on MPC, raised concerns about how the Town of Banff would ensure the sterilized hotel basement space to make way for the loft units would not again be used for commercial again in future.

“Has administration given any thought to how they’re going to keep old commercial floor space sterilized in the basement?” he said. “Will there be periodic checks or everyone’s trustworthy?”

Enns said a restrictive covenant would be registered on title.

“It says ‘though shalt not do this,’ ” he said.

“We want to make sure people don’t say this is sterilized and then turn around and use that space in the future. We believe that restrictive covenant is enough right now.”

Fives parties expressed interest in Husky’s excess commercial space for their Banff properties. The sale price to the Voyager Inn is not being disclosed.

At the time the transferability bylaw was debated, there were concerns raised about commodification of commercial space.

“One of the things we anticipated as an outcome would be to place a value on that floor area, whereby people would be actually selling floor area,” he said.

“Council decided they didn’t want to intervene and to let the market decide the value of the floor area and what the process would be for selecting who gets floor area.”

Husky Energy placed newspaper advertisements to solicit interest from other commercial properties for the unwanted commercial space. The oil giant also asked the Town’s planning and development department to reach out to landowners with under-built sites that may be interested.

Enns said the Town sent out a couple of hundred letters to put those potential businesses in touch with Husky.

“We became the dating website for commercial floor space,” he said.

Brooke Christianson, Canalta’s vice-president, said the company is excited about the project.

“We realize this hotel is special and important because of its heritage and history,” he said.

“We really aim to make it something great, something that will help it reach its highest potential. It will be a great improvement from what’s been there for so many years.”

Brian Smythe, chair of MPC, welcomed redevelopment of the Voyager.

“The building structure needs some TLC, so I think it’s a great thing that’s happening,” he said.

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