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Chain store public hearing set

Banff’s politicians have no appetite to hold a referendum on the issue of controlling the number of chain stores and restaurants in the tourist town, preferring to stick with the process currently underway.

Banff’s politicians have no appetite to hold a referendum on the issue of controlling the number of chain stores and restaurants in the tourist town, preferring to stick with the process currently underway.

A local resident called on Town council on Monday (Dec. 10) to consider holding a referendum on the contentious issue, arguing it would give council clear direction of the majority conscience of Banff.

“If you do this no one would doubt you’ve explored all the difficult issues surrounding this,” said resident Darren Krentz.

“At the very least, I hope to walk away with a formal survey on what Banffites want for the future of their town.”

Following incorporation, the Town of Banff used a non-binding referendum to poll its citizens on two separate issues – commercial growth and paid parking.

But, in this case, council has already passed first reading of proposed legislation to establish some sort of a quota system for retail shops and restaurants, triggering a public hearing set for Jan. 28.

Options include back-casting the quotas to reflect the mix that existed during the 2008-2009 period when visitor surveys were done, capping at current levels or allowing a cushion, like 10 per cent more.

Banff is home to many corporate restaurants and shops, including Starbucks, Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, Tony Roma’s, Gap, North Face and Lululemon among others.

Mayor Karen Sorensen said she won’t support the call for a referendum, saying she wants to stick with the process that’s in place.

“Council has been discussing this for two years and I believe council needs to make a decision based on their complete understanding of this complex issue,” she said.

“I do fully support public input and I encourage all those interested to participate in the public hearing on Jan. 28. People can do that through a verbal or written presentation.”

Councillor Brian Standish, on the other hand, supports going to a public vote.

“The people who don’t want to see this go to a vote are probably scared of what the results might be,” said Standish.

Standish said there is a demand for further public involvement on the issue of controlling or regulating formula businesses.

“Over the last month, two delegates have been before council telling us that the public would like to see this issue go to a vote,” he said. “I believe the people of Banff have the right to be allowed to stand up and be heard.”

Coun. Paul Baxter said he’s legally required to be responsible for weighing all the input and making a decision, and therefore, looks forward to getting further information.

That said, he said, he does not support the idea of a referendum or any further discussion regarding restrictions on formula-based businesses, noting he does not believe it’s the Town’s responsibility to give certain businesses assistance or a competitive edge.

“I feel strongly that any future debate of formula-based businesses is only being tolerated to appease the vocal minority and will only harm Banff’s already struggling commercial sector,” Baxter said.

“It is my hope that this topic will become a primary election issue so that the Town of Banff can put this ‘Chicken Little discussion’ to bed once and for all.”

Coun. Stavros Karlos said he would not support a referendum, noting he believes council is elected to represent the citizens of Banff within the existing system of representational democracy.

In addition, he said, there are a number of consequences of such a market intervention that have not been examined, nor does he believe they are capable of examining without expert economic analysis.

“In order to properly frame the question I believe some of those potential impacts would have to be better understood to express them clearly in a referendum,” he said.

“This is not a yes or no question. It is a ‘yes, but question’ and we don’t know the buts. There are risks to such a strategy that I do not believe are understood.”

Coun. Chip Olver said she could not support a referendum, saying she would prefer to see an information session with a survey available, including background information and presentation of possible implications.

“I would see the information and survey online also,” she said. “I believe education-information linked with a survey would allow more informed consultation,” she said.

Coun. Leslie Taylor said she would not support a referendum, but said she is open to delaying the public hearing on the bylaw to have an open to an additional open house and information sessions.

“This is an issue about community character, and how we see ourselves. It’s also an issue about the rights of individual business and property owners, and how much the community should weigh in on business decisions in order to support its community character,” she said.

“It’s also an issue about what the visitor wants and supports. It’s very complex, and so it may need a range of options for public discussion.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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