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Commercial lottery returns to Banff

Banff is going back to a lottery system to hand out the remaining commercial space allowed in the national park townsite – a move welcomed by some of the town’s prominent hoteliers.

Banff is going back to a lottery system to hand out the remaining commercial space allowed in the national park townsite – a move welcomed by some of the town’s prominent hoteliers.

There has been previous talk of tying the remaining commercial use development allotments to a merit-based system or allocating space to protect local retail and essential services.

But at a meeting on Monday (Dec. 10), council voted to allocate the remaining 33,121 square feet of commercial space allowed under the commercial growth cap through a lottery system to be held early next year.

“There is really only a little bit left and I think to change the rules now doesn’t make much sense,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen.

“There are projects that have been waiting many, many years to see if they can get the last little bit of square footage and finish off, and in terms of moving forward, this is the most expeditious way.”

A cap on commercial development was put in place in 1998. Since that time, 197,819 square feet have been built, 119,060 sq. ft. have been allocated but not yet built, and 33,121 sq. ft. remains to be allocated.

Space that has been allocated and not built expired after five years, and another 25,000 sq. ft. is expected to return to the Town of Banff in the next six months.

Council put the brakes on the lottery system in 2008 so planners could come up with recommendations on how best to use the remaining space, including whether it be set aside for resident-oriented commercial services.

The decision was based on the findings of the 2007 commercial build-out study, which urged priority be given to expanding retail to ensure a balance of retail and accommodation, and to protect locally-serving retail services.

Randall McKay, manager of planning and development, said attempts to protect locally serving retailers, such as through spot zoning grocery stores and regulating gift shops, was not supported by council.

“There was also increasing pressure from the business community to release more than a handful of small allotments we’ve been releasing to date,” McKay said.

“It is also arguable whether it was worth the time and effort to rewrite the entire commercial use development allotment regulations for 33,000 square feet.”

Linda Charlton, owner of Charlton’s Cedar Court and Charlton’s Delta Banff Royal Canadian Lodge, said returning to the random lottery system is a positive step forward.

“It’s not only for the new builds, it also encourages renovations and refreshing of existing properties that are not built out and have some FAR (floor area ratio) left, to fix their properties or add something on,” she said.

“We don’t have enough square footage to build any large buildings, but if it is spread throughout the community and people can apply for extensions or renovations to their properties, that’s a good thing.”

Gordon Lozeman, president and CEO of Banff Caribou Properties, said he believes council made the right decision.

“It’s been five years since the last draw and we haven’t figured out a better way to allocate what’s left. So we might as well keep doing what we’ve been doing until it’s done,” he said.

Lozeman said he’s not sure that the whole process has really changed much, other than leaving a few holes here and there, maybe preventing a few existing commercial buildings from being redeveloped.

“It has definitely been a source of frustration for commercial leaseholders, because it’s added a lot of cost and uncertainty to the process. I think that council is correct to try and wrap it up.”

Coun. Leslie Taylor was the only politician to vote against heading back to the lottery system at this time.

She said although it’s possible a small amount of unused commercial space allocation may come back to the Town for disposition, it’s also possible this is the last approximately 33,000 sq. ft. available.

Taylor said a merit-based approach – where remaining square footage would go to developments that would bring the most benefit to the community – deserved further exploration.

“Do we really believe that a straight lottery system, with a very tight due date, is the best way to dispose of the last of a very limited resource?” she said.

New projects and unsuccessful projects in previous lotteries have until Feb. 15, 2013 to submit an application indicating their interest in receiving an allotment.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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