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.