Bylaw revision causes controversy at council

Trent Ernst, Editor


Council has is in the process of changing the building bylaw, amending what types of businesses are allowed in the downtown core.

This has caused a great deal of pushback from the owners of the buildings in the downtown core.

Kees VanDeBurgt is the owner of the building that houses Subway and KC’s Dollar Store and More. The building is also home to the downtown offices of Anglo American. He says he built the building less than five years ago, based on the bylaw that was in place at the time. He says he agreed to build under that bylaw, and he finds it very unfair to change after the fact.

He says that council is trying to drive down the rate of rent with this bylaw, but he cannot charge any less than what he is, because he is still paying off the building. “This change will not decrease our lease price for space available in the building,” he says, “because we have to consider the amortization of our building …over its useful life. If I don’t consider these factors in the lease rate and don’t charge enough per square foot then our banker would not be very happy.”

He feels that the business owners are being unfairly blamed for the depressed state of retail in the downtown core. “With a population of approximately 2000 to 2500 residents, and with online shopping and out of town shopping becoming more prevalent it will be very hard for specialized retail businesses to succeed.”

Anthony Boos runs Cascade Realty, and owns the space the business occupies. He’s been dealing with real estate in Tumbler Ridge for more than a decade. He says that this change will not bring more retail into the downtown core. Instead, he believes the bylaw amendment will “only leave store fronts vacant and cause hardships to the owners of these properties.”

He says the reason lease rates have soared to new heights include “the mill rates imposed on the commercial buildings, as well as the maintenance costs, utility costs, insurance and replacement costs.”

He points to a property he owns in Chetwynd. At 2100 square feet, it is larger than the 1541 square foot property he owns in Tumbler Ridge, and is surrounded by 6000 square feet of land that he is able to lease out. In Chetwynd, he paid 3410.83 in taxes in 2012, which dropped to 3317.61 in 2013.

For his smaller property in Tumbler Ridge, he paid 4867.04 in 2012 and 3670.20 in 2013.

He says that the big reason Tumbler Ridge isn’t seeing new buildings in the downtown sector is lack of population. “Before you can attract business to the community there needs to be enough population to sustain them and then the community must support the local businesses and shop local.”

Mayor Wren says it can’t be that hard. “Prior to 2000,” he says, “We had a viable downtown core.”

But that was 15 years ago, says VanDeBurgt. “There was no online shopping in 2000.” He says his wife recently picked an item from the shelf and went online to see how much it would cost to order it. The cost of having the item delivered right to their mailbox was only slightly higher than what they were able to charge for it.

Al Kopeck owns the building that houses the Pharmacy and the Teck offices. He says that this change is “a prime example of … bureaucratic red tape that all levels of government …. Should be trying to avoid.”

Kopeck argues that, rather than impose zoning restrictions, the District should be taking a pro-active roll to attract all types of businesses into the community, not only a retail sector. He argues that having Teck’s offices downtown encourages growth in the town and in the downtown core. “Why would we want to encourage Teck to leave the downtown core and relocate to a mine site.” He says that by having those workers in the downtown, they contribute to the service industry (for example, restaurants) on a daily basis.

“Tumbler Ridge has only one building that has a second floor,” says Kopeck. “How does only one building with a second floor accommodate all administrative businesses in the town? Free Enterprise should dictate when the retail sector wants to have its presence in the District of Tumbler Ridge.”

If Teck and the United Steelworkers leave that building, Kopeck says, rather than retail moving in, those spaces would sit empty and have to be boarded up “showing that the District of Tumbler Ridge is not really open for business.”

Kopeck suggests that, in order to attract businesses, the District needs to make some changes. He says that taxes have tripled over the last four years. He also says that the price of commercial land in the downtown sector is too high compared to communities of a similar size. “They should be the lowest, not the highest.”

He also argues that Town Hall is difficult to deal with. “Koal Holdings Ltd has been trying to amend an existing Strata for six months,” he says. “Town Hall has only placed road blocks in front of this request. This amendment would have enabled an existing business to own their own space and have a permanent presence in the community.”

Mayor Wren notes that, overall, the mill rate has dropped by over 50 percent since 2006. He says that the reason council has reduced taxes is to encourage small businesses and retail. If all council has done is wind up reducing the rates for mining offices and union offices, something is wrong. “By having them downtown, they are getting quite a discount and filling up space,” says Wren.

Council voted to forego a public consultation on the issue, but, due to the response, has decided to invite interested parties to discuss the issue at the next P&P meeting, which happened after this issue went to press.