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Banff train station redevelopment plan publicly released

“It’s considered a draft document and can be further amended and will likely be further amended before it’s presented to council.”
20210720 Banff Train Station 0007
Banff train station. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – From a multi-modal transportation hub, restaurants and cafes to residential housing and promenade and plaza, a long-awaited redevelopment plan proposes to return the dilapidated train station lands to their former glory as a welcoming centre to the Banff townsite.

The 175-page draft area redevelopment plan (ARP) covers the development potential for the 17.5 hectares of land on the north and south sides of the railway tracks leased by Liricon Capital – the company that also owns Norquay Ski and Sightseeing Resort.

After asking Banff town council to postpone first reading of the ARP, Liricon has publicly released the draft document on its website and will run a community engagement process from now until mid-June – the first time the public has been able to view the plan in its entirety.

It calls for specialty and convenience retail stores, restaurants, entertainment facilities, as well as plans for future redevelopment of medium-density residential housing in the Lynx and Elk streets area.

“Importantly, the ARP is a planning document and all projects contemplated within it require further approvals before anything can be built ensuring conformance with the Town of Banff’s commercial cap,” said Jan Waterous, managing partner of Liricon Capital Ltd.

“While the ARP provides for a gondola terminus and passenger rail services, shuttle centre and micro-mobility rentals within the railway lands, a gondola to Norquay and passenger train to Calgary require separate approvals before their construction and operation.”

While supporting redevelopment of the train station lands in general, Parks Canada has consistently said no to a gondola from the train station lands to the Mount Norquay ski hill because it doesn’t conform to existing policy and law.

The Banff National Park management plan does not close the door on the return of passenger rail to Banff to deal with terrible traffic congestion, but it does raise challenges around wildlife mortality on the existing tracks and that a second line for passenger trains would only make that worse.

The historic 1910 railway station – designated as a federal heritage railway station in 1991 – was once considered the epicentre of the travel experience in western Canada and the mountain national parks. Passenger train ridership began to decline in the 1960s, ending in the late 1980s.

The Waterous’ vision is to reinvigorate the railway lands and restore the historic Banff train station and grounds to its former prominence as a landmark destination, a gathering place for residents, and visitor arrival centre of national importance.

In addition, an overarching goal in the ARP, is to reduce vehicle congestion, carbon emissions, and environmental impacts by offering several options for getting around the town and surrounding park, other than by private vehicle.

The plan calls for 900 intercept stalls – 280 of those stalls would be required to support Liricon’s summertime demand including for the ski hill, leaving the balance for visitors in peak summer tourist season from May to September.

“A key objective of the ARP is to enable a change in travel behaviour for visitors by reducing dependency on the use of private vehicles while improving and diversifying transportation options,” states the ARP document.

“The plan will achieve this goal by offering facilities to encourage active transportation and the use of alternate modes of transportation within the townsite.”

Under Banff’s land use bylaw, commercial developments in the CR Railway land use district are intended to include retail shops, restaurants, bars, personal service shops, offices, transportation services, and related commercial services.

However, any newly proposed commercial uses are subject to the Town of Banff commercial growth management allocation regulations and must be consistent with the use of the CR district. To date, a total of 464 square metres of commercial space has been awarded to this property in the lottery.

The proposed concept plan calls for a mix of commercial uses, including five commercial buildings and commercial space within three repurposed heritage passenger train railway cars, with a total gross floor area of 247 square metres of commercial space.

All new building development is within the planning area south of the train tracks and the uses are based on a preliminary market analysis for the project.

“Other potential future uses may vary depending upon market and economic conditions,” states the plan.

Identified buildings for relocation and rehabilitation in coordination with the CPR are the Banff Station Master’s house, Banff Ice house, ticket kiosks, heritage passenger train rolling stock and historic Field telegraph building.

The historic train station and platform – which are considered the heart and the soul of the ARP – are part of a zone within the plan which incorporates a plaza and amphitheatre.

Railway Avenue will be redesigned as a shared street supporting a pedestrian promenade, walkway, vehicle traffic, and cycling connection to the Legacy Trail.

A pavilion zone envisions the potential for a number of mixed-use infill buildings to be located west of the existing train station between the Queen’s Willows – which are to be maintained – and the CPR tracks to the north.

Waterous said the public engagement process will provide an opportunity to address the ARP’s regulatory framework. 

With the Banff National Park management plan, expert panel on moving people sustainably in Banff, and a 10-year vision for tourism, she said there are now policies and research in place that support green mass transit, connecting wildlife corridors and celebrating Banff’s history.

“For the last several decades, there have been calls in our community to reduce the impact of personal vehicles, enhance wildlife corridors, and preserve built heritage buildings,” said Waterous.

While Liricon has been working closely with the Town of Banff since February 2019, when town council approved the terms of reference for the ARP,  Waterous said Liricon has made substantial revisions to the original plan based on comments from various stakeholders.

“We want to ensure we have incorporated as much feedback from the community into the plan before we introduce the ARP to town council for first reading,” she said.

Randall McKay, manager of special projects and strategic initiatives for the Town of Banff, said administration has worked with the proponent and Parks Canada to revise the ARP in response to feedback provided.

“There’s lots of things to be considered in an area like the railway lands so we’ve certainly taken the time to look at this very carefully,” he said.

“It’s considered a draft document and can be further amended and will likely be further amended before it’s presented to council.”

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