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Petition against Banff pedestrian zone declared valid

With Banff Town Manager Kelly Gibson declaring the petition against the Banff Avenue pedestrian zone valid, council must respond within 30 days.
A petition against the pedestrian zone in Banff photographed in January. JUNGMIN HAM RMO PHOTO

BANFF –  A petition of more than 1,000 residents opposing Banff’s downtown pedestrian zone has been declared valid.

On Monday (April 15), Town Manager Kelly Gibson declared the petition valid under Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, with 1,019 signatures, which is more than the required 10 per cent of Banff’s population.

By declaring the petition valid, Banff town council must respond within 30 days.

“As a result of my review, I find that the Downtown Pedestrian Zone Petition has been sufficiently filed and contains more than the required number of signatures,” said Gibson in the declaration.

“The Downtown Pedestrian Zone Petition to the Town of Banff Council has therefore been deemed as valid.”

The Town of Banff will now prepare a bylaw for the May 13 meeting to reverse council’s January decision to go with a car-free downtown pedestrian zone this year.

Within 30 days of first reading of that bylaw on May 13, council must then decide whether to pass the bylaw overturning its earlier pedestrian zone decision, or hold a binding plebiscite within 90 days of first reading of the bylaw.

If council goes the route of a vote of the electorate and doesn’t pass all three readings on May 13, a plebiscite would be held on or before Aug. 12 if first reading occurs.

The length of time permitted before a vote is called allows for required advertising, advanced voting, venue booking and securing approved voting machines and hiring adequate staffing for conducting a vote.

“I continue to respect the democratic process as it relates to the petition and I respect the CAO’s determination that it’s a valid petition. As well, the residents who organized and signed the petition have absolutely been heard through this process,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno.

“Council will now review this bylaw on May 13 and make decisions on how to proceed.”

The minimum number of signatures required for this type of petition was 887, 10 per cent of Banff’s population based on the 2017 municipal census of 8,865 residents.

Of the 1,114 names submitted, 1,019 were declared sufficient, representing 11.5 per cent of the population.

The petition and its names and addresses will be kept confidential in accordance with Alberta law.

The petitioners argue there’s a variety of unresolved issues related to the pedestrian zone, from concerns over evacuation routes and business equity to a diminished quality of life for residents on neighbouring streets where tourist and commercial traffic is diverted.

Leslie Taylor, a former two-term mayor and two-term town councillor who spearheaded the petition against the pedestrian zone, thanked Gibson and staff members who diligently worked through the tough process of petition validation.

“I’m sure that everyone who worked on the petition and the many Banff voters who signed it are delighted with this outcome,” she said.

“We all look forward to hearing from the Town regarding next steps.”

In the meantime, the Town of Banff is still accepting applications for this upcoming season’s pedestrian zone set to open on the May long weekend.

Gibson said the Town of Banff will communicate with businesses that there is a chance that council may pass all three reading of the bylaw overturning the pedestrian zone on May 13.

However, in theory, if the pedestrian zone could go into September if a vote of the electorate is held in August, he said.

“The timing is difficult for us, obviously, with the start of the pedestrian zone planned for the May long weekend,” said Gibson.

“At this point we are proceeding and will proceed as the original council decision stands for now.”

Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association (BLLHA), which loves the animation and vibrancy the pedestrian zone brings with outdoor restaurants and retailing, hopes for a path forward for a pedestrian zone.

Wanda Bogdane, BLLHA’s executive director, said the organization hopes that the “pedestrian zone lives on as a place where our community takes to our downtown streets to congregate with others from near and far… for good, joy and collective benefit.”

"The pedestrian zone has become a wedge issue and has been weaponized by many holding differing positions,” she said, noting she believes the opportunity that resulted from health and safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic turned into a “tremendous social incubator” for Banff.

“Things have gotten heated, and we’ve seen divisions growing in the community like crazy. It may be a sign of our times, but whatever direction lays ahead, we hope the conclusions ahead help settle the dust so we can get back to being our best Banff.
Parks Canada has also raised concerns that commercialization of public spaces with restaurant patios and retail kiosks flouts national park policy and law.

While Parks Canada is supportive of the pedestrian-friendly and public space elements of the pedestrian zone, Banff National Park superintendent Sal Rasheed said sidewalk restaurant patios and outdoor merchandise displays are against national park laws.

The pedestrian zone was created in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to give space for pedestrians to social distance, and also allow for businesses to use public space in order to offset financial impacts from public health measures.

Council continued the project as a pilot supporting economic recovery and returning visitation in 2022 and 2023. It is estimated there are about 30,000 pedestrians on most days in downtown Banff.


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