The Town of Banff, located in Banff National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is both a service centre for park visitors and a community for over 8,200 permanent residents. Banff is one of Canada's oldest and most successful visitor destinations and long considered the jewel in the crown of Canada’s National Park system. As a community it strives to reflect the values of a National Park and encourages visitors to appreciate the heritage, beauty and grandeur of one of the world’s most significant protected areas.
Founded in 1885, Banff National Park was originally focused on tourism: the national park was formed around the town. The park expanded dramatically both in size and vision from the original ‘Hot Springs Reserve’ and now it is the town which plays the supporting role. The Town of Banff and the local economy have evolved with the tourism industry. In the early years, park services reflected the fact that visitors arrived by train. Later, as more visors began to arrive by car, auto courts, motels and campgrounds were built in and around the community to meet their needs. Today the Town of Banff continues to play a dominant role in Banff National Park and more than 80% of the visitors to the park also visit the community. The significance of Banff to the regional and national tourism industry is undisputed and would be far less so if it were not for a consistent planning vision and the foresight of past plans that have achieved and exceeded expectations in policy direction, implementation and community impacts.
On January 1, 1990 the Town of Banff Incorporation Agreement granted local government to the Town of Banff. This federal provincial agreement set out the terms of incorporation of the Town (including the planning functions) and transferred specific, limited municipal government powers from federal hands to the Town Council through the Municipal Government Act of Alberta. The Town’s Municipal Development Plan, statutory plans and related bylaws govern administration, management and land use within the town boundaries.
Banff: A History of Planning Excellence
When Canada’s first national park reserve was created around the hot springs on Sulphur Mountain in 1885, the Government of Canada set out to create a fashionable spa at Banff along with a plan that included strict controls on the nature of development in the new park. By 1914, the renowned City Beautiful town planner Thomas H. Mawson was commissioned by the Government of Canada to prepare a new plan for Banff entitled a Report of Proposed Artistic Layout of Banff. This was followed by the 1945 Cecil Burgess Plan for Banff and the 1961 Peter H. Oberlander Urban Development Plan: Banff, Alberta.
Upon incorporation of the Town of Banff in 1990, the Town of Banff’s first General Municipal Plan was prepared jointly by the Banff Municipal Committee and Parks Canada. The first plan was developed with minimal public input and did not address a number of environmental, heritage and future growth issues that were about to confront the Town. Minor revisions were made to the plan in 1992 in conjunction with a major rewrite of the Land Use Bylaw.
In 1995, the Town of Banff began a process to revise and update the General Municipal Plan. The production of a new plan was necessitated by legislative changes to the MGA, the emergence of a number planning and development related issues affecting the town, and a desire to provide much broader participation by the citizens of Banff in the generation of a renewed planning vision. The process for creating a new vision for Banff was initiated by Mayor Leslie Taylor and Council in 1994/5 and the project was first adopted under a new Council and Mayor E.J. Hart in 1997. It would take at least another year for the Government of Canada to endorse the plan.
A Steering Committee representing a broad cross section of interests was appointed by Council to guide the development of the new plan. The committee defined the scope and process for drafting the document and commissioned a householder survey, an environmental background report, and a detailed report analyzing existing development and land use issues. In May 1996, IBI Group was commissioned to develop the Banff Community Plan based on the background studies, extensive public participation, and the input of the Steering Committee.
The Banff Community Plan was enacted as a Municipal Development Plan, under the Alberta Municipal Government Act (1994). The reason for employing the name "Community Plan" was to emphasize the community aspects of the process and resultant plan. The Community Plan was one of the first plans to be completed under the 1994 Municipal Government Act which encouraged more comprehensive approach to land use, growth management with a view to full build out, housing, tourism and economy infrastructure planning, environmental management, and other aspects of growth and development.
In November of 2000 the Banff Community Plan received an Award of Excellence from the Alberta Association Canadian Institute of Planners.