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Greater density options aim to create more Banff housing units

“Density will continue to be an essential tool for helping us achieve our shortfall of 700-1,000 homes. We’ve seen a 10 per cent increase to our housing stock in the last decade and that’s attributable to making density more permissible in our community. We know that this works and it helps us build more housing.”

BANFF – A series of potential amendments to Banff’s land use bylaw could potentially add hundreds of residential units in the coming years.

With the townsite projected to be short 700-1,000 much-needed residential units, the possible changes could lead to greater density and a simplification of existing development regulation scenarios.

“Density will continue to be an essential tool for helping us achieve our shortfall of 700-1,000 homes,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno during a Nov. 29 governance and finance committee meeting. “We’ve seen a 10 per cent increase to our housing stock in the last decade and that’s attributable to making density more permissible in our community. We know that this works and it helps us build more housing.”

The land use bylaw could be amended to simplify regulations for low-, medium- and high-density scenarios and have the same regulations used across all 24 land use districts.

The governance and finance committee also asked Town staff to draft amendments to possibly remove minimum and maximum dwelling sizes and possibly amend boundaries for seven land use districts.

Dave Michaels, the Town’s manager of planning services, said up to 400 residential units could be added in the next three years if the changes are approved by council.

“I think making the regulations as flexible as possible to allow developers what works for them is the best thing we can do to realize those goals,” he said.

“What developers like is simple regulations, easy to understand, consistent that make housing development possible.”

In June, council approved a housing action plan to potentially access the federal government’s $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund program.

Banff council directed Town staff to do a full-scale review of the land use bylaw to explore allowing secondary suites to be permitted in all residential districts, reducing housing parking requirements, changing height allowances and site coverage that could lead to more housing being built.

Council has already eliminated parking requirements, directed Town staff to return with a detailed scope of work for a 250-unit affordable housing project on Tatanga Ridge benchlands and has asked Town staff to undertake a three-part housing ratio study to better understand housing needs.

In the Nov. 29 presentation, Michaels outlined what can be an, at times, confusing and complex set of regulations in the land use bylaw. Throughout the townsite’s land use districts, there are varying height allowances, floor area ratios (FAR) and types of permitted housing.

“In a community that’s four square kilometres to have 24 separate residential land use districts, each with their own unique development regulations, is pretty unique. … There’s nothing wrong with that, however, it does introduce a level of confusion for people,” Michaels said, adding the majority of people ultimately want to know what they can build and what their neighbours can build.

The proposed density changes would have a low-density increase FAR from 0.45 to 1 and permit a height of up to 10 metres. The medium-density would make row and stacked housing permitted across all land use districts in the density range, with FAR going from 0.5 to 1 and a maximum height of 11.5 metres.

The high-density would allow a maximum height of 14.5 metres and have FAR go to 1.3. All three density ranges would have a minimum number of units.

The townsite is just shy of four square kilometres, with 1.36 square kilometres for residential (35 per cent), 1.04 square kilometres (26 per cent) for parkland and environmental use, commercial space taking up 0.94 square kilometres (24 per cent) and public service and Banff Centre occupying 0.48 square kilometres (12 per cent). The remaining three per cent is the Bow River.

Wanda Bogdane, the executive director of Banff and Lake Louise Hospitality Association, said the easier the regulations for development, the more quickly work can proceed through various development stages.

“As you discuss and debate the agenda items, we ask you to activate development through flexible and simplified policy,” she said. “Simpler for your administration to enact and also simpler for your development community to put forth.”

Shawn Birch, president and CEO of Banff Lodging Company, echoed Bogdane’s thoughts on more simple regulations.

He said it was important to look at all potential changes as factoring, together such as FAR, height and parking, in creating housing. He gave the example of 407 Beaver St. being built in 2017; had FAR been greater, they could’ve added more units.

“I know from first-hand experience as a developer, we need more density. We’re constantly going out, looking at land and its development potential,” he said. “There’s not a lot of great areas where you can assemble land to get the density and scale you want to make the economics work in the right districts and it’s confusing to go through the bylaw right now. … I think simplifying is going to unlock a lot more development potential. We’re ready to go. We’ve got land. We’ve got the money to develop. We just need clear paths to develop.”

Christian Dubois, a long-time Banff resident with real estate development experience, gave the example of having a build at 242 Marmot Cres. approved by the Municipal Planning Commission in August.

When finished, the aim is to have 20 residential units for 40-50 bedrooms added to the rental market. He said many of the requested changes to that property are being contemplated by the committee to consider.

“It is something that will definitely have a positive impact on the private sector wanting to develop,” he said of possible land use bylaw changes. “I know from our perspective, it surely will. If the overarching discussion is to encourage housing, encourage development, build more units, this will help. This will make a significant difference.”

Coun. Ted Christensen pushed for earlier public engagement, saying “the public needs to be part of the direction right from the onset,” but DiManno added consultation is still to come as part of the process.

Coun. Grant Canning said every community is always changing, with Banff being no different. He brought up the different land use changes shown in the staff presentation and how each change saw Banff evolve in housing.

“Every community evolves, every community changes. Our community is different than it was in the 1990s and certainly very different than the 50s and 60s when this was first done,” he said. “The land use bylaw is a living and breathing document. It’s always subject to change. It should be changed and it should be reevaluated. I like these changes moving forward.”

Though any possible change could cause some concern, the Town’s director of planning and environment Darren Enns said the evolution of a community is more gradual than overnight.

He gave the example of the Cave/Spray/Kootenay area redevelopment plan that was adopted in 1995. In the 28 years since, only four subdivisions have developed.

“Things don’t happen instantly when you change policy, especially land use policy where people are heavily invested in existing policies,” he said. “You usually need a long runway in order to develop a property.”

Enns said the needs of the community are also evolving and council is ultimately the decision-maker on creating policy to reflect those requirements for the community.

“What I always like to remind council is your land use planning decisions should reflect the reality of your time and land use planning decisions and the reality of policy matters change over time, so that’s what you’re here to decide. You’re not beholden to the past, but I do think the past is really helpful to inform you. … I think the past is an excellent reference tool and an inspirational tool for you as policymakers, but I think you’ve got an obligation to achieve what you want to achieve in 2023.”

Enns said if the Middle Springs area were built today, it is unlikely similar housing would be constructed.

“I think if we had built Middle Springs today, we would not build single-family homes. … I’d be surprised if our housing corporation were to ever build another single-family home,” he said.

Michaels said any change to the land use bylaw is about adapting to council’s vision of what it wants the community to be in the coming years and decades.

“It doesn’t mean all properties will develop to the maximum,” he said. “It doesn’t mean all properties will redevelop straight away. It takes time and I think this is really about council’s vision for the future and what in the future you would want to see in that district.”

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