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Banff planning commission approves rare commercial development transfer

"We’ve probably processed four or less in the history of this legislation. It’s used very sparingly right now, just because commercial floor area is so expensive and so valuable that very few people want to part with it."
Banff Town Hall 1
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – Valuable commercial space is being transferred from a hotel to a downtown retail mall under a unique piece of legislation in Banff – a national park townsite that falls under a commercial development cap.

On Sept. 27, the Municipal Planning Commission approved Canalta Hotel’s application to transfer 20.5 square metres (221 square feet) of existing commercial floor area from the Voyager Inn, which is currently under redevelopment, to the Charles Reid Mall at 127 Banff Ave.

Darren Enns, the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff, said an application for a commercial space transfer is rare indeed.

“We’ve probably processed four or less in the history of this legislation. It’s used very sparingly right now, just because commercial floor area is so expensive and so valuable that very few people want to part with it,” he said.

“It was designed to make sure the Town had flexibility to move commercial floor space around within our cap as we approached build-out. The theory is that without the ability to grow commercially, the ability to be flexible and move commercial floor space around is important.”

Commercial growth has been capped in Banff since 1998. The federal government limited commercial floor area to what existed at that time, plus an additional 350,000 square feet for future development in response to concerns of rampant development in Canada’s flagship national park.

Development rights have been handed out by way of a lottery. The last lottery was held in 2013 and all floor area has been distributed but not all has been built.

The ability to transfer existing commercial gross floor area from one property to another has been allowed under Banff’s land use bylaw since 2015.

In this most recent case, the ongoing Voyager Inn redevelopment, which was approved in November 2017, has since undergone some changes to the initial plans, reducing the buildable area by 262 square metres.

As a result, a 20.5-square metre portion of this unused area is the source of the proposed floor area transfer to the downtown Charles Reid Mall mall, which will leave 241.5 square metres of commercial gross floor area unused at the Voyager site.

Rob Visser, assistant controller for Drumheller-based Canalta, said the company is fortunate to have some square footage left at the Voyager Inn in order to make some changes to the mall.

“We’re just hoping to turn the building into the most efficient use from a commercial standpoint,” he said.

The mall’s main floor is currently taken up with retail stores while the second storey is apartment housing. The building also includes a basement, which is classified as office space under the commercial inventory.

Specifically, Canalta has proposed a change of use to turn the second storey housing into additional retail space. The second floor was not counted as commercial floor area in previous commercial inventories.

Enns said the applicant is, therefore, required to have a source of commercial allotment coming from a commercial development allotment in the lottery, commercial gross floor area on-site, or commercial gross floor area from another site.

He said the applicant does not have a commercial development allotment but does have recognized commercial gross floor area on-site – a basement – and is also applying for a transfer of commercial gross floor area from the Voyager Inn.

“What’s proposed to happen at this site is the residential goes away and gets reconstructed off-site, the commercial in the basement moves up to the second floor and the basement gets sterilized in the end,” he said.

“The Town of Banff has had extensive correspondence with Parks Canada regarding this property and it is the Town’s understanding that there are no growth management concerns with respect to this transfer.”

Under land use bylaw rules, the applicant must replace the housing to be removed from the second floor, plus construct new housing associated with increased commercial intensity associated with the redevelopment.

In this case, the housing is being built off-site as part of an eight-unit apartment complex on Banff Avenue.

Visser said the hope is to start renovations in spring, so there would be ample time to give notice to existing residential tenants.

“Our first priority for additional housing we’re developing will be for staff,” he said.

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