Why is City of Vancouver supporting $350 tomato plants?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in



I recently sent a note to fellow columnist Allen Garr about a column he wrote in the Vancouver Courier regarding those new community gardens popping up all over the City of Vancouver. Garr and I don't often see eye-to-eye, but on the issue of developers re-classifying their property to avoid paying city taxes, we're on the same page.

First things first. Did you know that City has something called the Sustainability Branch? These are the folks ostensibly hired to make sure we don't all kill ourselves with garden pesticides, car exhaust, carbon emissions...and so on. Part of their mandate also includes supporting things like community gardens and increasing the amount of food we grow locally. All good stuff.

A few years back, NPA Councillor Peter Ladner brought a motion forward and directed staff to begin work on developing two thousand and ten community gardens, in advance of the 2010 Olympic Games. A noble goal indeed. So off staff went and they began working with developers and community organizations to meet the target set by their political masters.

Then along comes a recession, and development in Vancouver all but dries up. A poor economy results in a bunch of developer folks sitting on some pretty tax heavy, undeveloped land. Mix that reality with a bunch of well-intentioned folks in the sustainability branch who need to develop more community gardens and presto...you have a recipe for an organically grown tax loss scheme.

Garr goes into greater depth as to how the scheme works, but here is my Coles Notes version.

The developer asks BC Assessment to re-classify his land from a higher tax bracket (say residential condo use for example) to a lower tax bracket (say a 2010 community garden for example). We should note that this is a very lawful activity and completed sanctioned by the BC Assessment Authority.

Whereas the developer may have previously paid $1 million per year to the city in taxes for his undeveloped parcel of land, as a new 2010 community garden he'll pay a fraction of that. It's kind of like a win-win-lose scenario. The developer wins cause he pays less taxes. The folks planting their veggies win cause they now have land to plant them on. And the City loses about a million dollars in tax revenue in the process.

On the surface, this appears to be a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. But I can't help but think the City's Finance department had a mild heart attack when they realized what was going on. With the City bleeding red ink and finance folks desperately trying to balance the books, some of their own City staff were quietly cheering on the conversion of these revenue rich properties.

Garr points out this is now going to cost millions to the city treasury if the trend continues into next year. With the economy forecast to remain grim, I suspect it will.

So where is Mayor Robertson and his Vision colleagues on this issue? The silence has been deafening. But this shouldn't come as a big surprise given how closely aligned they are to local developers. As they say, you don't want to bite the hand that feeds you. So expect the COPE/Vision majority on Council to sit on their hands as the City's treasury gets hit big time.

As for Garr, I could only imagine how outraged he would have been if the NPA were still in power and had remained silent. Admittedly, he deserves full credit for raising awareness of the issue, but I hope his tepid criticism of Mayor Gregor and his Vision colleagues for their inaction doesn't lull them into thinking they're off the hook. I have no doubt that a few hard hitting columns from Garr, the godfather of civic watchers, and his worship would be on his knees.

Btw...you may be wondering how this story relates to the tomato reference in our headline? Well, Garr did the calculations and each tomato being planted on those wonderful 2010 community gardens will cost taxpayers about $350 in lost tax revenue. Dem is some fine tomatoes!


Now let me get this straight: The Vision/COPE supporters, like Allen Garr, are COMPLAINING about the fact that developers are allowing their land to be turned into a Community Garden because the Developers are getting a tax break??


you are mistaken about one detail - the city will not be out one dime in tax revenue. Instead what happens is the remaining properties that make up the commercial class will have to pick up that 1 million in lost taxes for that property. The term they use is fixed ratio. If every commercial property but 10 were to covert to community gardens - the last remaining 10 properties would be left paying the entire tax bill for the commercial class - and that is about half the city revenue that is raised through property taxes.

When the market turns, that same garden will likely be rezoned again to residential or highest and best use but speculator property owner will have reduced his carrying costs significantly by playing the zoning game.

At the same time as we are becoming urban gardeners, we have commercial properties that have been zoned residential but the projects will likely sit on the shelf for the forseeable future. The Brodie building is a prime example. The highest and best use is residential but they are taxed at the commercial rate. The property owner and tenant are paying for improvements that don't exist.

There is nothing particularly fair about how this is playing out but make no mistake - the city still collects its full compliment of tax revenue - just different people picking up the tab.

$350 tomatoes...I wondered what all the hydroponics stores along Kingsway were for...Oh wait..the tomatoes are grown outdoors in a community garden...cute idea...I thought the community garden thing was to "spruce up" the unsightly weed filled vacant lots so they look better and we seem so organic and green for the world to see....! Now about those Hydroponics stores..what are they for...Oh yeah the $350 buds that we are also known for and is a root cause of so many young guys becoming "ganstas" from all those profits...Now although I'll admit that I support Gregor (and his party didn't put the hydroponics stores there) I will suppport him even more when his party does something to make their existance very tough...It is a slap in the face to see these stores with their fertilizer pallets and soils in the back when we know they are not for any "Tomatoes"
When will City Caucus create the "media frenzy" needed to take steps to combat these things that are making our streets unsafe with all the spinn off problems???

Wonder how much uptake there would be if the city made these rezoning changes non-revocable or only allowed developers to change back to more profitable zoning if the paid the differential?

That might fix it...

Have you seen some of the land that's been turned into these "gardens". One in the downtown area is on a recently demolished gas station. I can only imagine what chemicals end up in stuff grown on them. Seems like the joke is on gardeners who think they can eat plants grown in the shit land. No thanks.

I never been interested in sugar maple bonsai but after my daughter told me about them iphone and ever since I've been consumed with learning about them i've been obsessed and have my very own garden full.

Check out BCWineLover.com!

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