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Parks Canada trying to avoid 'commercial creep' into residential neighbourhoods

“In residential zones for example, the primary purposes of those zones are for residences, and we all know that there is a housing challenge in Banff… we don’t want this commercial creep into those zones taking away from the primary purpose of those places."

BANFF – Parks Canada wants to keep a close eye on home-based businesses opening up in residential neighbourhoods to preserve much-needed housing and character of neighbourhoods.

The Banff National Park Management Plan directs the Town of Banff to establish a cap for the number of home occupation businesses, including bed and breakfast homes and bed and breakfast inns – and Parks Canada officials say they will work with the municipality on this.

Sal Rasheed, superintendent of Banff National Park, said they are trying to avoid “commercial creep” into residential and public space zones, noting it is intended that commercial development in the town be limited to the commercial zones as described in Schedule 4 of the Canada National Parks Act.

“In residential zones, for example, the primary purposes of those zones are for residences, and we all know that there is a housing challenge in Banff… we don’t want this commercial creep into those zones taking away from the primary purpose of those places,” he said.

“One of the principles is that we don’t want residential zones that should be used to address some of those challenges to all of a sudden start containing commercial spaces that take away from that housing purpose of those residential zones, and the same goes for public space zones.”

At a December council meeting, Town of Banff officials said policy direction in the new management plan is generally straightforward, but they said recent correspondence from Parks Canada sought to alter the past understanding, agreement and management of commercial uses in non-commercial districts.

Based on that, administrative officials said the superintendent believes or interprets that commercial development under the new management plan should potentially include bed and breakfast homes, home-based businesses and concessions in public buildings outside of commercial districts.

“Seemingly, Parks Canada has taken the position that the new management plan has created a new policy framework for the commercial cap, which we vehemently disagree with,” said Darren Enns, the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff, in a December council meeting.

However, Parks Canada says this is simply not the case.

Rasheed said Parks Canada’s approach to managing legislated commercial space and commercial growth limits in the Town of Banff has remained unchanged.

“The management direction is consistent with the long-standing approach to managing commercial development in the Town of Banff,” he said, noting he has been in communications with his predecessors and advisors on this.

“We follow our mandate – ecological integrity is our first priority – and that is one of those things a community in a national park carries with it the burden of being in a national park, and as such needs to adhere to the Parks Canada mandate and other legislated obligations that we have.”

While it is intended that commercial development in the town be limited to the commercial zones under the legislation, the management plan indicated it is important to note that there has been commercial use in other areas of the town that pre-dates this zoning.

It is anticipated these existing uses will continue, but Rasheed said the management plan requires they will require careful management over time.

“We feel strongly that commercial development needs to remain in commercial zones and we said in the management plan that development that appears outside commercial zones needs to be monitored and managed,” he said.

In June last year, Parks Canada questioned why a proposed home-based massage therapy studio before the municipal planning commission was not better suited within existing commercial space in the commercial districts.

Municipal Planning Commission ended up refusing the application for the small massage studio in an Otter Street home, determining the application met the definition of professional, financial, health and office services, which are confined to Banff’s commercial districts.

Since 2017, the number of home occupation businesses has bounced between a low of 71 and high of 86. 

“I take very seriously and strongly the concept of a community in a national park and enshrined in our act and policy is that a community in a national park is slightly different than a community that doesn’t appear in a national park,” said Rasheed.

As part of the update of the new management plan, Rasheed said Parks Canada had many meetings as well as written communication exchanges with the Town of Banff to get their input.

He said Parks Canada incorporated some of the municipality’s suggestions and language directly into the Town of Banff section of the management plan.

“I feel really strongly that the content that appears in the management plan and the input from the Town of Banff was robust and thorough and comprehensive,” he said. “We took most of their suggestions and evaluated it and incorporated what we could into the plan directly.”

At the same council meeting in December, the Town of Banff also indicated its relationship with the local Banff National Park field unit had taken a rocky turn in recent months, particularly concerning communication.

Administration cited examples such as Parks Canada’s recent refusal to involve the Town in consultation about development permits issued at local ski hills, telling the municipality they are not an impacted stakeholder in these decisions.

Parks Canada officials say the Town of Banff has received an invitation from the superintendent to participate in all Parks Canada ski area engagement processes over the past five years, and in most cases, a courtesy call is also provided in advance of the invitation.

They say the Town of Banff participated in the most recent ski area engagement process and feedback, with all other feedback, is currently being considered by both Parks Canada and the ski area operator and will be used to inform changes to the documents that were shared for public review and input.

Rasheed said Parks Canada also meets regularly with the Town, including through the Intergovernmental Liaison Committee (IGL), which is set up under the incorporation agreement and has the superintendent meet with Banff’s mayor and town manager.

He said he valued the professional relationship with the Town of Banff.

“Those meetings I find enjoyable, collegial and professional, and to date, there have been no significant concerns raised about the relationship with Banff field unit, so on that front it’s been very productive,” he said.

“I can pick up the phone anytime and call the mayor and the town manager and, likewise, my door is always open for them to call me and communicate with me, so I really feel strongly the relationship is strong and look forward to many more years of it.”