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Banff investigating off-leash dog park at Marmot Crescent

“I believe there is great need to have at least two year-round dog parks in town based on what we heard when we had zero last summer."

BANFF – The Town of Banff is investigating another site for a dog park following a decision against rehabilitating the off-leash area in the industrial compound where hazardous materials continue to surface.

The first step involves an environmental impact assessment process to get a yes or no from Parks Canada on use of municipal green space off Marmot Crescent for an off-leash dog park, and depending on the results, an informational session on how to mitigate any concerns over the proposal.

The 1.5-acre off-leash dog park at Hawk Avenue will continue to remain operational for winter use only, but there are no plans for long-term rehabilitation given the costs for excavation and capping could be in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Mayor Corrie DiManno said she appreciates there may be other uses for the Hawk Avenue site in future – such as expansion of Roam transit, intercept parking or residential housing – but she doesn’t want to diminish residents’ access to dog parks.

“I believe there is great need to have at least two year-round dog parks in town based on what we heard when we had zero last summer,” she said.

“It’s really important to me that we’re not looking at the south side for one. We don’t want to be creating more reasons to go across that bridge in summer.”

The Hawk Avenue off-leash dog park was closed mid-June 2023 because shards of glass, nails, electrical wire, pieces of metal, glass bottles and plastic continued to surface, making dog owners concerned about the safety of their pets.

The current dog park site, part of which was a former dumping ground of Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1960s, was relocated in 2020 from its original site to make way for construction of the new Roam transit operations and training centre.

As debris and contamination have continued to surface, the Town of Banff sought legal advice before closing the dog park in mid-June and was advised to take reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the problem if the park is to remain open “as it has knowledge of potential harm to users.”

Town Manager Kelly Gibson said there have not been any issues with winter use, noting lawyers for the municipality are comfortable with winter use as long as the ground is frozen and snow-covered.

“It can be used as winter use, and as long as there’s inspections, we feel it’s relatively safe being used as a winter site,” he said.

“The fact there have been numerous incidents, it’s not recommended even with warning signage to carry on summer use where dogs could be digging, running and we know now that there’s a good likelihood that a dog could be injured in that park.”

Associated Engineering was contracted in October 2023 to evaluate the level of contamination and determine whether it would be feasible to remediate the site and reopen for year-round use.

Due to the discovery of widespread contamination, the company recommended capping the site with a clay or synthetic material to prevent contaminants from reaching the surface, or remove all contaminated materials, including soil.

“Either of the above options would be very costly and would result in widespread tree removal and/or potential tree damage,” said Amanda Arbuckle, manager of recreation for the Town of Banff.

“As a result of the report’s findings, administration is recommending that an alternative dog park site be considered.”

The Marmot Crescent site has been discussed as a possible future location for below-market housing, however, the Town is currently exploring development of the Tatanga benchlands and the Marmot site is not a top priority yet.

A zoning change from public parkland would be required to use this site for residential housing, whereas using the site as an off-leash dog park would be consistent with the definition of a public park, which is a permitted use in this area.

Town officials say a dog park could be at the Marmot Crescent location for several years before it is potentially needed for housing.

“However, at this point in time, it wouldn’t be something that administration is planning on bringing forward, imminently,” said Alison Gerrits, director of community services for the Town of Banff.

Arbuckle said benefits of the Marmot Crescent site as a dog park are easy to walk to for many residents and visitors, nearby parking at the west side of Rotary Park and ability to maintain a 25-metre setback from existing homes.

She said the Marmot Crescent area is the only viable dog park site remaining in the community because of its size on the north side of the town.

“I would say the community does definitely support multiple dog parks,” she said.

Following concerns raised by a resident about parking, size and increased traffic from residents and visitors wanting to use the off-leash dog park at Marmot Crescent, Couns. Ted Christensen and Kaylee Ram pushed for a public information session on the proposal.

“Considering the proximity of residents to the proposed dog park, and we don’t have that same proximity to the other dog parks, I think it’s our due diligence to do public consultation to see what the public brings up,” said Christensen.

Council has amended the 2024-26 operating budget to allocate up to $110,000 from the budget stabilization reserve, $80,000 of which is being relocated now that rehabilitation is no longer feasible at Hawk Avenue.

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