Veggie gardens or millions in tax breaks for landowners? Vision must decide

Post by Mike Klassen in

5 comments


Should we grow carrots in a parking lot that result in multi-million dollar tax breaks for landowners? That's council's dilemma

Last night GlobalTV's Ron Bencze did his usual stellar reporting on the issue facing the City of Vancouver over community gardens sprouting up all over commercial properties. This story was originally reported by Allen Garr in a series of Courier articles early this year. Garr was understandably horrified that the city was shifting away the burden of property taxes from several properties slated for condo development, onto other Vancouver businesses assessed in the same tax class.

Garr was the one who cited the financial burden of "$350 tomato plants," and wondered who on city council would put a stop to it.

As an avid gardener myself, when I see an old parking lot turned into a verdant, community-oriented place to plant, I'm thrilled. However, when the cost of these projects begin to outweigh their benefit, I begin to have my doubts. Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision council have turned a blind eye to this shifting of tax revenue burden because they don't want to be seen closing down community gardens.

In his interview with Bencze, Coun. Raymond Louie stated, "We're hoping that BC Assessment looks more critically at these assessments and they don't easily give up these kind of reassessments, and forgo paying taxes...or putting burden on the rest of our taxpayers."

In other words, Louie is trying to punt it back to the BC Assessment Authority (BCAA), who will simply point to the Act that governs their decisions, and say, as Grant McDonald of the Authority said to me the other day, "it's up to you, city council." As an independent body, the BCAA will balk at any attempt to interfere in interpretations of the act by Vancouver.

Add the fact that the Sahotas, who have been the centre of many controversies surrounding dilapidated rental properties, are getting a big tax windfall from a garden. Surely this must be the final straw when it comes to looking the other way on these gardens, as Vision clearly have for the past 12 months.

In an unattributed quote in Bencze's report, he states that "the city says it's working on better regulating and tightening up its bylaws governing neighbourhood gardens." Read: there will be no more parking lots turned into gardens, as soon as we get to work on this.

Raymond Louie made a huge amount of hay about financial accountability when he sat in opposition. He's been great at slamming senior levels of goverment about tightening their own belts when it affects the city. But when it comes to being accountable in his own budget, he's being less than transparent. Louie, and his Vision colleagues, must come clean about how much tax revenue they're foregoing from property owners such as the Sahotas because of these gardens, and shifting it on to other medium and small businesses in the same property class.

The Vision Vancouver council must also pass, as soon as possible, a bylaw to put the brakes on this loophole that allows property owners to turn lots into gardens.

Vancouver clearly is not happy with Vision's cuts to services, to city staff, and to valued local attractions. The last thing council should be doing is adding extra burden on businesses who don't opt for turning their business-zoned properties into gardens.

5 Comments

Good article, yet another example of the depressingly skewed priorities and general ineptitude of our city council.

Whether or not the Sahotas are bad landlords is not relevant to the tax discussion. If the property is now used for non commercial purposes and complies with current land use laws, then the Sahotas are within their rights to claim the tax break. The City's alleged tax problems are not tax problems at all. They are spending problems that are not the sole fault of the Vision councilors, but rather the collective fault of prior civic administrations that raised spending levels to unsupportable levels. And I include the NPA and Mayor Sullivan for whom you worked in the same boat as the other profligates.

The absurdity of it all is that this same dodgy developer could own another, equally assessed vacant lot and pay even less taxes. All the while not allowing the community to have a community garden. The crazy loophole is that that lot is zoned 100% for residential use.

Vancant lots, A and B are identical in size and are valued at $1,000,000 each. Lot A is zoned 100% Residential, Lot B is zoned 99.999% Residential and 0.001% commercial.

Lot A pay $4,220 in property taxes.

Lot B pay $19,822.

Lot B, uses a perceived loop hole, spends money to prepare his/her lot for a community garden.

Lot B now pays $6,240 in property taxes.

Who really is getting the Tax break. The mixed use site B that gives a service to the community, at no charge, and pays more than Lot A. Or is the biggest tax break going to the residential classed, Lot A, property?

How about using existing city gardens for community gardens?

A Call to Town Hall - 2010 - Plant Veggies, not Flowers
Poverty Reduction, Environment Protection and Community Building

Goal
Reduce poverty, involve community, promote healthy lifestyles, reduce personal and city spending, create a well connected and safer community, add natural nutrients back to top soil, and educate about healthy living and healthy food.

Most cities and towns have multiple flower gardens that are taken care of by city workers. Call your local city hall, ask them to plant hardy vegetables in garden spots instead of the usual flowers. Vegetable plants produce very beautiful flowers that turn into edible veggies like Squash, beans, sun-chokes, tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini, just to name a few of the basics.
You can still enjoy the beauty of all the flowers the vegetable plants produce and even add a few seasonal flowers in the mix.

A few times a year, the community can get together for a harvest. The harvest can then be sold at farmers markets, donated to needy families, or whatever idea someone else may have.

Poverty Reduction
Many types of Vegetables can be stored for quite a long time. we can help reduce poverty if the harvested food is donated to those who need it.

Community Involvement
Involving community members by allowing everyone to participate in weeding, watering, and harvesting.

Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
There are currently hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Marketing campaigns each year. These vegetable gardens will help to promote healthy eating with people walking by a bunch of veggie gardens all day.

Save Money
Reduce city spend by having community volunteers do some work such as weeding, and general garden maintenance.

Education
Demonstrations, informational tours, and meetings can be held at garden spots for educational events related to growing your own garden in the city.

Harvesting
Harvesting the crops can be a community event bringing individuals and families together a few times a year to sell and/or give away the crops. Harvesting your own seeds will eliminate purchasing expensive annual flowers that die and wither each year.

Rebuilding for future Generations
Over time each garden spot will rebuild itself to a more natural state and balance itself to support the types of vegetables being grown. Adding natural nutrients such as it's own compost to top soil each year will build a healthy garden for future generations.

Safer Community
Creating a well connected and safer community is always on the top of the list for most families and singles these days. Getting to know more people in your community will create a safer atmosphere by having more people watch out for each other more.

The infrastructure for maintaining these gardens already exists in most cities and towns across North America. Some gardens even have automatic sprinkler systems. Very little needs to be done to make this idea possible. Help make 2010 a year of community and health. Plant Veggies!


EAST HASTINGS HOLLYHOCKERY

Planting season is upon us and I have been watching work restart at the Sahota organic farm next to the charming Astoria Hotel at East Hastings and Hawks.

Huge amounts of compost have been trucked in, no doubt the trucks required all run on bio diesel, and a variety of woolly hatted enthusiasts have been loading it into the planting containers. These are made of newly milled commercial wood and are lined with plastic sheet, all in accordance with Green Vancouver double standards. The wood is not, of course, treated with nasty chemicals to prevent rot so it will gently decay as nature intended, releasing its carbon back into the atmosphere from whence it came.

Already the farm is sprouting with spring shoots, thanks to the cloned hedging cedars recently dropped off by 'United We Can'. A few vegetables are also poking up from the growing medium, a product so devoid of natural goodness that the planned three years of cropping will require repeated applications of bullshit. Fortunately this is not in short supply

The arrival of the garden has caused great excitement in the locality. The rodent realtors of the adjacent rat warren are busy extolling the virtues of these cosy new blocks, whose animal rights aware facilitators can be guaranteed never to use death traps and poison. Indeed it is rumoured that some human residents of the Astoria Hotel would regard this as a major step up in their quality of life.

A record breaking greenback crop is expected over an extended growing season. The Sahota family can confidently expect to benefit not only from the $132,000 annual tax assessment reduction but also from the publicly subsidised gardeners co-operative carrying the remaining $35,000 tax bill, a cool half million over only three years! Yum, yum! All unloaded onto the willing backs of property tax payers and the business community.

Well worthwhile when you think of the grateful smiles on the faces of the unfortunate and deprived locals as they savour the free eco turnips these generous benefactors will allow them to harvest. If anyone has adequate cooking facilities they'll actually be able to eat them too!

Of course, for the same money you could buy about 1,000 tons of quality produce from professional growers. But where would be the tax breaks, the good jobs, the photo opportunities and last but not least, the sense of smug self satisfaction?

Environmental. What you get when you add mental to environment.

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