Wednesday, November 25, 2020

City Council moves forward towards introduction of Downtown Revitalization/Tax Exemption program

Prince Rupert City Council is hoping that proposed new
tax exemption plans will lead to a rebirth for the 
Downtown area with new commercial and residential development 

The latest vision towards rebuilding the downtown core will soon come with some tax exemptions, as Prince Rupert City Council began the process of adopting their Downtown Core Revitalization Tax Exemption program.

Council gave first and second reading towards the program on Monday, following an overview of the program from the City's Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller, who outlined the main themes towards the redevelopment of the three newly declared districts of the downtown core region.

As part of her Monday evening presentation, Ms. Miller provided the background and explained the process ahead towards adoption of the Bylaw which will allow for tax exemptions in the downtown core area.

The initiative being moved forward by Council is focused towards revitalization of the downtown and to create new investment in both commercial and housing options for the downtown core. 

The program would allow for tax exemption on municipal taxes for a period of up to ten years 

The application period would be through a three year intake with full exemptions for the first five years for both new construction and redevelopment, new construction would have ten year exemptions, redevelopment five.

Ms. Miller noted how the initiative had been recommended by Larry Beasley as part of the Redesign project of 2019 and how the tax exemption plans are one way which City Council can revitalize the downtown core as part of that plan.

The basic mechanics of how it will all work were explained earlier this summer, when Mr. Rob Buchan who has been working with the City on the Official Community Plan, provided an update on what such a program would look like and what the city could hope to realize from the tax exemption plan.

The three districts of the downtown core that are eligible for
tax exemptions as part of a new City program towards

In follow up comments after Ms. Miller's presentation each of the Council members spoke favourably of the program, with Mayor Brain leading the way speaking to its genesis as part of the redesign process and will create development now and not ten years from now. 

He also outlined how the initiative could not only create commercial space but residential units for the area.

He called attention to some of the current activity underway in the downtown and how the measure would increase that activity.

"The other idea with these incentives ... is to not just to get new commercial development in the downtown but new housing development in the downtown. Based on preliminary planning estimates we've analyzed that we could fit through the density of the downtown another 1,000 residents in the downtown core, this bylaw would incentivize developers to come and build new commercial in the downtown as well as housing"  -- Mayor Lee Brain

Councillor Niesh noted his excitement and how the town has struggled for years and how the downtown continues to struggle, adding that this measure should put the community over the top towards investment. He also expressed optimism that should the program pass in the next meeting he looks forward to new development.

Councillor Adey observed how the program needed to be viewed through a few filters observing how Council needs to review whether it makes sense financially for the city, for the public and  for any developers.

As well whether it will help to achieve the goal of downtown redevelopment and how that can be achieved through other sources and if the city can find a way to open the taps to get it started that's a positive thing.

Adey also noted how it's aimed towards the downtown area and not residential areas, observing how he believes that makes sense as everyone could benefit in the city's ability to provide services from it.

He also outlined how he believes the program will address the problems that have been identified in the past and is a good way at revitalizing the downtown.

"It's maybe one of the best shots we've got to do something about the problem that is most often identified by both residents and visitors alike, and that's a way of revitalizing the downtown"-- Councillor Nick Adey

Councillor Mirau observed as to how the program and redevelopment is an item that he has been passionate about even before joining council, adding that the city's worst days are behind us and how the downtown revitalization will be in the public's interest and how the program under consideration will be a proven and effective tool towards the objectives.

"Downtown revitalization and this tax exemption policy in particular, even since I was a young and naive, shorter haired version  of a twenty three year old at the time, this has been something that I've been super passionate about and why I wanted to get involved in council in the first place. Because from my perspective for any community, downtown is a reflection of how we see ourselves. And despite all of the port related growth that Prince Rupert has experienced over the last few years, as a community we still seem to have a difficult time acknowledging and recognizing  that our worst days are behind us ... Downtown should  be designed for public benefit it is in the public interest to focus revitalization efforts in the downtown -- Councillor Blair Mirau

The Councillor also reflected back to the city council's work with Larry Beasley and his team  coming to town to build a huge consensus among a variety of stakeholders on a huge priority.

Mr. Mirau also noted how it was cash neutral and won't impact on the city budget  and essentially is foregoing taxes that wouldn't be there if the new building or renovations didn't take place.

He also offered up suggestions towards moving forward on the initiative, related to the laddering of the incremental increases, the concept of the midtown area from the 2030 vision which he recommended have a focus on condo and other residential development. Noting how the city's current downtown footprint is three times too large. 

The Councillor also suggested some clarification on the nature of the freezing of fees and how the proponents would qualify.

In follow up, the Mayor and Ms. Miller reviewed some of the elements that the Councillor had raised.

Mr. Mirau also flagged some issues that could pop up from the current make up is that some examples have been found of past renovations where it almost becomes a full scale rebuild, a point that the Mayor said was a good one and something that the planning team would explore.

Councillor Cunningham also had praise for Council's initiative and how it could finally help to fill in some of the holes that are found in the downtown area and how it could also provide for the incentive to finally see some action on cleaning up the existing commercial building stock in the area. 

"I think this is great, I'm hoping to see some of those holes in the downtown area built on, that we've lost buildings in ... we have a lot of land there that you know it's like a mouth full of teeth with a lot of teeth missing and that and I'm hoping that this type of bylaw for remodelling will be an incentive for people to start cleaning up their buildings which Councillor Niesh and I have been pounding on for a while" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham

He also called attention to a potential problem when it comes to increased housing stock for the downtown area, that of parking which he observed is already a problem in the core. He also suggested an incentive towards creation of parking places.

That was a topic that the Mayor said the team was looking at and would address in the New Year.

Councillor Niesh recounted some of the challenges of renovations to old buildings as opposed to new construction, adding that it's normally a case of more money to fix an old building than to build a new one.

Councillor Randhawa also was happy with the city's initiative and how it adds to the downtown area, calling attention to the recent RCMP detachment announcement and plans for more housing in the community.

The full report for Council is available for review from the City's Agenda package

You can review Ms. Miller's presentation, as well as the commentary from the Council members through the City's Video Archive starting at the 20 minute mark.

Some of our past notes on the program can be reviewed fro our Redesign Rupert/Sustainable City Archive page.

More notes related to the Monday Night session can be found from our Council Timeline feature.

A wider overview of past Council Discussion themes can be found from our archive page here.

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