The Courier has been unrelenting in its coverage of the NE False Creek land assessment – Photo: Tom Hu
The Courier's Mike Howell has been chasing down a very interesting story regarding the tax assessment of property owned by Concord Pacific in Northeast False Creek. I believe this property has had no permanent development on it since Expo 86, but it has been the home of many temporary commercial buildings such as the Cirque du Soleil tents, Concord's own showroom, several buildings for the 2010 Games pavilions, and even the Molson Indy race course.
Howell's original features story titled "Fair Value?" ran on April 30th. Mike published a follow-up story today on the Vancouver Courier's website, one that will presumably run in the paper's Friday edition. Titled "Mayor says City of Vancouver should not appeal assessment of Concord property," Howell tracks down Gregor Robertson on his take on the matter. In summary, the Mayor says the City should let sleeping dogs lie:
"The city relies on the assessment authority to establish the value and they wouldn't have established a value they didn't think could be successfully defended in court," Robertson told the Courier. "For the city, the cost of taking this to court would far exceed any additional taxes that might be won through a long expensive legal challenge."
Someone who has doggedly followed the activities at the NE False Creek property is Patsy McMillan. I called Patsy this afternoon for her response to the Mayor's comments. Regarding Robertson's deflecting of responsibility to the BC Assessment Authority McMillan responds, "The City determines land use. The assessed value is based upon the City-designated land use. The property has been designated as a future park space, hence the low land value. The City taxes the land based upon the assessed value."
What about those fears of an "expensive legal challenge"? McMillan says, "To file a third party appeal only costs $30, so I'm not sure what big costs the Mayor is talking about." But is it worth it? I asked McMillan, who responded, "How about 20 years worth of taxes? Remember they just doubled the assessment since last year from $192,000 to $400K. By comparison the nearby Trillium Park site in Strathcona is valued at $19 million and it's not even on the waterfront. It's always served as a park, and never had any business activity on it. Whereas the parcel in NEFC has been used for commercial purposes for years. Cirque du Soleil is coming back next month."
In Wednesday's edition of the Courier Howell followed up his original feature with comments from several city councillors, including Vision Coun. Kerry Jang who said, "he wasn't aware of the assessed value of the Concord Pacific site until he read the Courier's April 30 story." But McMillan questions Jang's recollection of events, saying, "Kerry Jang says that he knows nothing about this, but I sent him and all of council an email in November. They either don't read the emails, or they don't care."
According to Howell's latest report, Gregor Robertson said "he wasn't aware of the land's value until reading the Courier's story."
"That's not true," says McMillan. Saying she'd sent several communications over recent months to the Mayor.
McMillan says this issue has been passed off from one council to the next for decades. She says that the Trillium Park comparison makes the City's excuses hard to buy.
Concord Pacific are well-known for their generosity as political donors, giving financial support to both Vision and the NPA during the 2008 election campaign. Both the NPA (+ candidates) and Vision Vancouver received between $30,000 - $40,000 from the developer.
Just a quick additional note regarding a fellow City Hall watcher. Kudos to Frances Bula for her post tonight about the loss of two more accomplished senior staffers, Ronda Howard and Barb Windsor. Quoting Frances, she says:
I had thought Barb was going to be around for a while after being made Chief Licence Inspector only a few years ago. I’m surprised, surprised, surprised. Whether this has anything to do with the current low morale at the all and the sense that city staff feel like they’re being treated like morons by the new Robertson regime, I have no idea. But some people are interpreting it that way.
If there is one overriding concern we have as commentators it is the future of Vancouver's traditional non-partisan civil service. Some criticize our viewpoints as mere partisanship, but we wouldn't be bothered if we didn't have strong feelings for the city. We're glad that Bula's words seem to reflect our own concerns about what is happening among staff at City Hall.
- post by Mike