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Lower Lonsdale BIA gets a second chance

Plan would see Lower Lonsdale business owners join together to direct area improvements

There’s room for improvement in Lower Lonsdale, according to a contingent of entrepreneurs intent on resuming their beleaguered campaign to bring a Business Improvement Area to the waterfront business district.

City of North Vancouver council voted 5-2 Monday to have staff investigate establishing a BIA based on counter-petition, a system that counts non-respondents as Yes votes.

The Lower Lonsdale Business Association’s three-year campaign to harness the area’s 600 shops into a cohesive voice of support has so far failed to impress, according to Coun. Pam Bookham.  

“I don’t consider 19 testimonials out of 600 to be a strong argument to take the next step,” she said, blasting the association for not producing more evidence of support after receiving a $120,000 grant from council.

A 2014 drive to form a BIA was shelved when supporters opted to wait for the city’s waterfront plan to crystallize. However, BIA advocate Terry Shein said Monday the previous campaign was also a “little bit derailed” by a rival petition.

Former mayoralty candidate Kerry Morris collected 142 signatures from Lower Lonsdale businesses opposed to the BIA, setting the BIA drive back drastically, according to Shein.

“For about a year, we had people completely confused about what a BIA is,” he said, explaining a lot of time was needed to correct misinformation.
Payments to the BIA would be based on property value.

For Shein’s 1,500-square-foot frozen yogurt shop, he said he would expect to pay about $85 a month. The BIA has a budget plan slightly under $500,000.

Landlords generally pass on levies to their tenants due to the proliferation of triple-net leases in the neighbourhood, noted Stephen Mikicich, West Vancouver’s manager of community planning.

The money could go to parking, street beautification, marketing or festivals – much to the delight of restaurateur and 2014 council candidate Iani Makris.

With one restaurant in Lower Lonsdale and another in Yaletown, Makris said he’s benefited from a BIA.

“The first festival that the BIA put on in Yaletown: we made our levy back in the first hour and a half,” he said.

The counter-petition –which would tally support from landlords, not tenants – is an “extremely flawed” process, according to Coun. Rod Clark, who voted against pushing the BIA forward.

“If you don’t say no, you are in favour. Well you know what? Rogers tried to get away with that … if you don’t vote against taking all these cable channels, you’re going to get ’em,” he said, pounding his desk for emphasis. “Show me that there’s a difference here.”

Clark ended his remarks with a request: “I say to the BIA people: Give me a simple majority. This is a democracy.”

While Mayor Darrell Mussatto split with Clark on the BIA, the oft-rivals concurred on the “awful counter-petition process,” which Mussatto stressed was prescribed by the province.

“Don’t get mad at council, don’t get mad at the BIA, get mad at the province,” he said.

Virtually every BIA in B.C. has been established through counter-petition, largely due to apathy and the “inherent difficulty” of getting signatures from absentee landlords, Mikicich said.

Business owners have to be responsible for knowing what’s afoot in the community, said Coun. Holly Back, a salon proprietor.

“If I got something like this and I ignored it, I shouldn’t be in business,” she said.

Back touted the BIA as an opportunity to brand Lower Lonsdale.

“I just don’t know how we could fail at this.”

Discussing the issue in 2014, martial arts studio owner Joel Posluns dubbed the BIA: “a boondoggle and a waste of their money.”

However, former Vancouver BIA president Karen Peterson was adamant all businesses would benefit, including those on the second floor or higher.

“You’re creating a beautiful place to live and to work and to be entertained so it’s more attractive to employees,” she said Monday.

With plans on the drawing board for a concert stage and seasonal skating rink/splash pool on the waterfront, the “time has come” for a BIA to benefit the small business community, according to Coun. Linda Buchanan.

“If we want to go far, we go together,” she said.

The issue is slated to come back to council in late May or early June.