After being delayed, rescinded and revised, the Lower Lonsdale Business Improvement Area was finally approved Monday.
City of North Vancouver council voted 4-3 in favour of the BIA, despite Coun. Pam Bookham blasting the “dubious” negative petition process and criticizing conditions at the foot of Lonsdale.
“We have made life very, very difficult for many of our small business owners,” she said, citing years of ongoing construction, inadequate street cleaning and sidewalk maintenance, and a failure to keep lanes clear for delivery trucks.
Coun. Craig Keating repudiated Bookham’s comments, noting the number of businesses that have opened up shop in the area below East Fourth Street and bordered by Forbes and St. Georges avenues.
“If Lower Lonsdale is the small business hellhole, I better go tell all the new small businesses that are opening up in Lower Lonsdale that they’ve made a crucial and tragic mistake,” he said.
While generally supportive of an organization that plans street festivals, cleans up graffiti and promotes the district’s approximately 496 businesses, Coun. Don Bell nonetheless opposed the Lower Lonsdale BIA over “concerns about the process.”
When discussing the negative petition in July, Bell requested the process not begin until after Labour Day, which he suggested would give property owners a fair chance to register opposition.
The negative petition was sent out in mid-August and received opposition from approximately 31 per cent of the area’s property owners – short of the 50 per cent necessary to render the BIA DOA.
Council seemed set to approve the promotional organization in October when Coun. Holly Back moved to defer the vote. Back queried staff as to why hotels and the Lonsdale Quay Market would pay 50 and 55 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value as opposed to the $1 and $1.10 charged to other properties.
While she was initially “torn” over whether or not to support the BIA, Back concluded the bigger businesses benefit the entire area, noting Lonsdale Quay Market pays ICBC approximately $70,000 each year “to create parking for all of the Lower Lonsdale businesses.”
Back also suggested opposition from the business community was very limited.
“The only negative I get is from non-business owners. Sorry, they don’t count.”
The counter-petition process rankled Coun. Rod Clark, who previously dubbed it: “taxation without representation.”
Clark also took aim at the Lower Lonsdale Business Association – a volunteer group that pushed for the creation of the BIA.
Discussing the issue earlier this year, Clark was critical of the LLBA for failing to produce widespread support, noting the group had received a $120,000 grant and produced 19 supportive testimonials.
“People who I have no trust in, we’re giving taxpayers’ money over to,” he said. “If I was in business in Lower Lonsdale I’d be abhorred. … but it’s going to pass 4-3.”
Several of the comments made about the BIA are not conducive to worthwhile conversation, according to Mayor Darrell Mussatto.
“I just feel very saddened about some of the discussion,” he said.
Discussing a group as being untrustworthy or describing a motion as a fait accompli doesn’t help, Mussatto said.
“I think it’s a disservice to the city and the citizens,” he said.
While there will likely be bumps in the road, Mussatto said he anticipated the BIA would foster a better business climate in Lower Lonsdale.
“I’m very proud to support the BIA,” he said. “My girlfriend has a business down there. … It’s tough for her, and yet she’s supportive of this.”
Coun. Linda Buchanan repudiated Clark’s comments, lauding the “very dedicated” LLBA volunteers.
“They should have our respect for the work that they’ve done,” she said.
Having a unified approach to marketing should enrich the area, according to Buchanan.
“If we want to go far, we go together,” she said.
Buchanan also clarified that the LLBA was not morphing into the BIA. Instead, the new group could be directed by any of the area’s business owners.
“If it’s not working for them then it will be their choice to dissolve it in the future,” she said.
The annual levy – the median of which is $440 – is generally passed from landlords to their tenants through triple-net leases, noted Stephen Mikicich, West Vancouver’s manager of community
planning, who spoke to council in May.
Virtually every BIA in B.C. has been established through counter-petition, largely due to apathy and the “inherent difficulty” of reaching absentee landlords, Mikicich explained.
The BIA will likely begin operating Jan. 1, 2017 with an operating budget of $500,000.