“At this point the loss of any service bays in town will be a huge loss to the community.”

BANFF – Shell Canada’s hope to get rid of a vehicle repair garage to make way for more retail and food services as part of a major redevelopment plan for its Banff Avenue gas station has come to the end of the road.

With only four vehicle repair shops offering service to Banff’s 9,000 residents and four million annual visitors, council turned down a request by the petroleum giant to significantly increase the percentage of space in gas stations dedicated to convenience retail and restaurants.

“I can appreciate most service stations don’t host auto repair shops anymore, but as we know, Banff is not like most places,” said Coun. Kaylee Ram, who made the motion to deny the land use bylaw amendment spearheaded by CTM Design on behalf of Shell.

“There’s a great need for service automotive shops for both the needs of residents and visitors. … I think this will increase the demand on other shops, we’re already seeing the wait times.”

Banff’s land use bylaw regulates the percentage of gross floor area of service stations that may be allocated to convenience retail stores and eating and drinking establishments.

Currently, the percentage is capped at 10 per cent of a building or buildings on site in the commercial accommodation district, except for the Husky gas station, which is allowed up to 70 per cent for convenience retail and restaurant use following a decision in 2016.

Through the land use bylaw amendment proposal, Shell Canada had been seeking a higher percentage of convenience retail space as part of redevelopment plans to bring its gas station at 435 Banff Ave. more in line with current industry standards.

Other sites across Shell’s gas station portfolio include fast-food restaurants and food services like M&M Meats or Freshii pick-up stands, for example.

Shell has said a critical component of the redevelopment proposal requires an increase in gross floor area allocated to convenience retail stores and indicated that without it, the company’s redevelopment plans would be unfeasible.

“Retail revenue is critical to our corporate investment proposals,” states Shell in an unsigned letter to council.

“Without adequate retail floor space, it is unlikely Shell Canada will secure the investment approval required to proceed with the full redevelopment and we will focus our efforts on asset replacement and upgrade work instead.”

Banff currently has four automotive repair businesses, including three in the industrial compound. Of the four, the only one within a service station is the Shell at 435 Banff Ave.

In addition, there is a chance the townsite could lose another auto repair shop in future, this one located in the industrial compound.

“We’ve received a change of use application to change from automotive repair to something else, but it’s currently in process and not yet finalized,” said Kathleen Gallagher, development planner for the Town of Banff.

Darren Enns, director of planning and environment for the Town of Banff, said the 2007 commercial build-out study addressed the overall issue of protection of businesses considered essential to residents and tourists.

“In Banff, because we are in a capped commercial environment, all commercial development will cannibalize itself, just the nature of the commercial cap, and we will continually be forced to make decisions or evaluate which uses are more viable than others,” he said.

“That’s why we looked at issues like commercial build-out, and the commercial build-out study which said that if we don’t protect locally-serving businesses they will eventually disappear.”

The mechanic operation at the 435 Banff Ave. service station – Banff Service – was moved from the industrial compound by owner-operators Courtney Marquart and brothers William Dominguez in mid-December, 2023.

They wrote a letter imploring council to turn down the bylaw amendment Shell was seeking, saying keeping up with current demand is a challenge that all of the vehicle repair shops share in Banff.

“The repair shops do not see each other as competition, but rather allies in bringing an essential service to the residents and tourists alike,” their letter stated.

“We all feel the pressure from the increase in demand when one shop is closed, and it is hard enough to keep up with demand while we are all in operation,” they added.

“Accepting the bylaw amendment at this location would be committing to the closure of a shop that is solely dedicated to repairing vehicles for the public.”

Bryan DeGeer of Standish Automotive said the loss of service bays at the Shell on Banff Avenue will be detrimental to residents and visitors wanting to get their vehicles fixed in a timely manner.

“At this point, the loss of any service bays in town will be a huge loss to the community,” he said in a letter to council.

“During peak times we already book two to three weeks out… Not being able to take on simple repairs such as a tire repair is both frustrating to us as well as customers.”

Mayor Corrie DiManno voted against going to first reading and public hearing on the proposed land use bylaw amendment, saying she appreciates the need for vehicle service bays for both residents and visitors.

The mayor said it was, however, a tough decision because she can see the issue through the lens of the applicant in terms of equity within the existing land use bylaw, pointing to the 2016 decision to allow more convenience retail at the Husky site.

“When I go back to 2016, I think what was at the heart of that decision was we wanted to protect essential services for residents and I think that sentiment is still alive and well,” she said.

“Losing an active service bay wasn’t at stake the last time we talked about this, but that’s at stake today.”

Coun. Grant Canning was the only councillor to vote against denying the land use bylaw amendment, preferring to pass first reading and have the issue go to a public hearing in March.

“Going to public hearing doesn’t mean you’re going to support it; it just means you’re open-minded to hearing from more people,” he said.


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