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Battle lines drawn in BIA question

Proposal levies LoLo businesses to pay for area improvements
Joel Posluns, owner of North Vancouver Aikikai on East First Street, stand in oppposition to a proposed Business Improvement Area — and the fees that comes with it — in Lower Lonsdale. Other business owners in LoLo argue it will revitalize the area.

Business owners in Lower Lonsdale are asking themselves if they need a Business Improvement Area working for them in the new year, and whether they can afford to pay for one.

Unless a majority of commercial property owners within the proposed BIA's catchment area register their opposition with the City of North Vancouver, the BIA will come into being and have the power to levy businesses to pay for promotion, events and beautification projects.

If it passes, the roughly 600 businesses in Lower Lonsdale will pay a levy of 89 cents per $1,000 in assessed value to create a first year budget of about $385,000.

For Joel Posluns, owner of North Vancouver Aikikai martial arts studio on East First Street, the BIA levy would be an unwelcome cost in an area already under-served by the city.

With property assessments going ever higher, the city's attempts to freeze businesses taxes and shift more of the burden onto residents won't do anything to keep the actual tax bills down, he added.

"Compared to all these other issues, me spending another $1,000 going right to my bottom line that I know in advance isn't going to help me or my business one iota; that doesn't work for me," Posluns said. "The people I talk to think it's an absolute waste of time and a boondoggle and a waste of their money."

Posluns, who worked in advertising for 20 years, said the BIA's proposed levy is high enough to hurt the viability of some LoLo businesses, but the budget won't be enough for any meaningful promotion.

The $385,000 would be a drop in the bucket for an advertising campaign or beautification project, he said. "Every time you hear about the cost of doing anything in the city, it's always got five zeros after," he said.

The services a BIA would offer should already be taken care of with the tax bills paid by businesses, including the $20,000 he paid last year. "That's the problem here. The city expects us to do their job on everything and that's not right," he said.

But the proposed BIA has equally impassioned supporters, including Iani Makris, third-generation restaurateur at Anatoli Souvelaki at the foot of Lonsdale, who argues the area needs revitalization.

"Look at Lower Lonsdale. It has zero identity," he said. "There's zero signage. There's tons down here but nobody knows about it.. .. We want people down here. We want this area booming because there's so much potential. Look at Yaletown, look at Gastown."

After five years, the BIA's members will be asked to vote on whether they want to continue funding the organization. That all of the province's BIAs are still intact is a testament to their usefulness, Makris said.

"In all of British Columbia there are 72 BIAs, two were voted out. Within one year, they were voted right back in," he said. "People are always going to be opposed at the beginning until they can see the benefits and start reaping the benefits."

If the BIA does get the go-ahead, Makris will be lobbying for the organization to start with some signs outside the SeaBus station to direct tourists to LoLo and remind residents what they have at home on the North Shore.

"When you get off the SeaBus, you see the most terrible bus loop in the world. It's so disgusting. If was a tourist, I'd get right back on the SeaBus and go back downtown," he said.

As for the cost, Makris estimates most businesses' levies will be between $600 and $1,000, which should be affordable.

"Nobody's going to lose their business over $1,000 and if they do, then maybe they should," he said.

Mayor Darrell Mussatto said he became a supporter of bringing a BIA to Lower

Lonsdale after studying other municipalities and seeing the link between business success and quality of life.

Putting the spending decisions in the hands of the BIA's members makes more sense than having council guess at what LoLo businesses want, he said.

As for Posluns' complaints, Mussatto said he's not wrong to be frustrated.

"We're trying to stretch our tax dollars as best we can. I hear him. I empathize with him. We've been doing improvements in Lower Lonsdale. The trouble is they're really expensive," Mussatto said, noting the re-paving of Lonsdale between Esplanade and Third Avenue. "But if the BIA wants to do something in addition, more power to them."

Business owners will be notified during the counter petition period when it starts later this month.

Check the loloinfo. ca website for upcoming meeting dates and more information.