The Town of Jasper is in ongoing talks with Parks Canada in an attempt to change development rules and reduce its payments to Ottawa.
Two decades ago, the town had 100,000 square feet of commercial development space to work with. It is now down to its last 3,000.
The mayor said the talks with Parks Canada are not meant to allow for big box stores or strip malls. Instead, he says more commercial space is needed for essential services.
“The plumbers, the carpenters… all of those people that we need in town to support the tourism industry simply have no place from which to operate their businesses. It’s very challenging in this community,” Mayor Richard Ireland told Global News.
Those people also need a place to live. Housing in Jasper is both expensive and hard to come by.
“Our housing risks are really inappropriate housing or too many people squished in a single property or the cost of housing,” Jasper’s Chief Administrative Officer Bill Given explained.
Every single development in the town whether commercial or residential must be approved by Parks Canada.
The town has designated a narrow plot of land for an affordable housing complex.
It spent more than $6 million on servicing the space to prepare it for an 80 unit, $15 million dollar complex but it can’t get the funding for the project.
“We are really financially-strapped to figure out how our small community of just 5,000 people is going to financially afford to invest in this,” Given said.
He went on to say part of the problem is how much of the town’s revenue is sent to Ottawa each year.
Both Banff and Jasper pay land rent. For Jasper, the fee is about 6 per cent of its revenue each year which ends up being almost $500,000.
That fee will increase going forward despite the population of Jasper and the tax pool remaining steady.
“It is going to continue to drain money that we could otherwise invest in the infrastructure — the critical infrastructure that serves both locals and visitors,” said Given.
In a statement to Global News, Parks Canada said changes to restrictions on development in the mountain town are not being considered.
The statement went on to say Parks Canada is conducting public consultations looking into “outdated” regulations surrounding managing land use and construction permits in parks.
“It is important to remember that Parks Canada provides many services to the Municipality of Jasper and that the agency pays payment in lieu of taxes to the municipality,” the statement went on to say.
“Land rent is not an issue that should be looked upon in isolation and it does not accurately reflect the depth of the financial and business relationship between the two levels of government.”
Mayor Ireland is concerned that the tourist destination will become unaffordable for both residents and visitors if the talks do not end in the town’s favour.
“We will become more of a resort and less of a community. And that’s a future that none of us look forward to,” he said.
There is no timeline on how long the negotiations could take.
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