BANFF – Liricon Capital has submitted a final draft plan to the Town of Banff for redevelopment of the train station lands.
In a briefing at governance and finance committee Monday (Oct. 23), administration indicated Dec. 11 is the target date for consideration of first reading of the railway lands area redevelopment plan (ARP) – a statutory plan that guides land use and development decisions over the next 10 to 20 years and includes the return of passenger rail from Calgary and a terminus for a gondola to Mount Norquay ski and summer sightseeing resort.
If first reading passes, the Town of Banff will lead an extensive, multi-phase public consultation process beginning sometime in the new year, to be followed by a legally required public hearing before consideration of second and third reading.
Parks Canada, which has consistently said no to a gondola from the townsite to the ski hill because it does not conform to national park policy and law, has the final say on all land use and planning matters in the Town of Banff.
Town officials say an ARP does not authorize or approve individual or specific projects for development, adding a valid development permit must be obtained for any development before construction can begin.
“This is not the time to deliberate the merits of the plan, which has yet to be formally circulated to council and will be forthcoming in short order,” said Randall McKay, manager of strategic priorities and special projects during the committee meeting.
The last draft ARP, which 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 from Canadian Pacific Railway, outlined plans for a multi-modal transportation hub.
That draft, put out by Liricon for public input in early summer, included plans for restaurants and cafes, intercept parking lots, medium-density residential housing and promenade and plaza and entertainment facilities.
Following feedback, some changes were made to the plan, including reducing parking spots on the north side of the tracks from about 2,000 to 600-800 to improve the Fenlands wildlife corridor.
The plan also spoke to the return of passenger rail to Banff from Calgary and an aerial gondola to Mount Norquay.
Jan Waterous, a managing partner with Liricon and owner of Norquay ski hills, said councillors cannot “cherry pick” what they like and don’t like about the ARP, which has been almost five years in the making.
However, prominent local conservationist Harvey Locke took exception to what Waterous said, noting council can most certainly say no to components of the plan, such as a terminus for an aerial gondola from the townsite to the ski hill when Parks Canada has repeatedly rejected the proposal.
Waterous said the ARP is simply a planning document that outlines the vision for the railway lands over time, noting some aspects of the plan will require additional approvals beyond the jurisdiction of the Town of Banff.
“It’s not really the place to say that you like this or you don’t like that. It’s really to give you an understanding in a most fulsome way that we possibly could to see kind of the big picture vision that we have for the railway lands,” she said.
In addition, Waterous said the ARP is an integrated plan, noting many of the components are connected.
“This is not the time, in our opinion, based on our understanding of an ARP for you to cherry pick what you like and what you don’t,” she said.
“It’s an integrated plan that speaks to a vision which we hope and believe will manage vehicle congestion in Banff National Park, not just now but for generations to come.”
Locke said that accepting Liricon’s submission that the ARP is a package deal to accept and send to Ottawa for approval is a “complete abdication of the frame of the incorporation agreement.”
“It’s very clear that the idea of a proponent’s vision of the railway lands that includes a gondola and a train in it is not a municipal planning document that needs to be considered as a whole. In fact, there are component parts that Parks has been clear about will not happen,” he said.
“It’s not appropriate for the proponent to say you have to take the whole thing and consider the whole thing and pretend that you don’t have any idea about the consequences of the whole thing in a national park level.
“It’s absolutely inappropriate for a gondola to be packaged in a redevelopment plan for the train station, absolutely inappropriate to demand that it be considered as a package and you have no discretion to say, I’m sorry, that’s off.”
After the briefing, council went in-camera for about 30 minutes, at which point a legal opinion on the ARP process was presented. The municipality is keeping that legal opinion, and even specifically what information they were seeking, confidential.
The committee directed that a revised confidential attachment to the agenda package remain confidential under Section 27, which speaks to privileged information, of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The Town of Banff sent a copy of the final draft of the ARP to Parks Canada late last week for review and feedback.
The Banff National Park management plan does not close the door on the return of passenger rail to Banff to deal with 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 management plan is completely silent on a gondola, which high-ranking Parks Canada officials have said means the feasibility of a gondola was investigated, but is off the table because it goes against national park policy and law.