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Richmond property owners to get a tax break - Vancouver need not apply

A young man plays basketball at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday October 7, 2010.

Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail/darryl dyck The Globe and Mail

Commercial property owners near Richmond's Canada Line who got caught in a "hot zone" of frenetic land speculation will be getting a new tax break.

But the same tax break won't be coming for Vancouver landowners caught in the same situation.

The province is proposing new legislation that will only allow Richmond - not other municipalities - to give full or partial exemptions of city taxes to dozens of businesses whose land values soared in a once-commercial area that Richmond has designated as a future downtown residential zone.

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"What happened in Richmond is unique," said Richmond spokesman Ted Townsend. The area between No. 3 Road and the Richmond Olympic Oval was designated in new city plans three years ago as a residential area to help create density along the Canada Line.

But the sale of city land next to the Oval at the hefty price of $141-million for a huge condo development, along with a few other sales, meant that those businesses saw their assessed land values double or triple.

As a result, long-established home-improvement stores, plant shops, and warehouses found themselves crippled by dramatic tax increases.

Mr. Townsend said the city wants to be able to give them some tax relief for the next five years while they make the transition of shifting their businesses to new areas of Richmond designated for commercial development.

A Vancouver tax-advocacy group says Vancouver businesses have been going through exactly the same kind of localized tax jumps for years and should be getting the same opportunity.

"Any solution that's being proposed for Richmond's Brighouse area should be applied here," said Rob Fitzgerald, a co-chair of the Fair Tax Coalition.

Mr. Fitzgerald said that landowners on Cambie Street, along Vancouver's Canada Line, are also experiencing skyrocketing land assessments after a few properties along the line sold for high prices.

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The neighbourhoods of Norquay in the east and Marpole, at the foot of Granville, are experiencing similar "hot zone" problems.

He said the province's proposed legislation, which will allow cities to reduce their city taxes while the province provides a matching reduction in school taxes, isn't an ideal solution.

It would be better, instead, if the province had a more sophisticated assessment system where properties were assessed on the basis of what actually exists on the site, not on value of the land according to what condo tower might be built in the future.

Councillor Raymond Louie said he doesn't believe Vancouver needs to give the kind of tax relief that Richmond petitioned the provincial government for.

He said the city helps keep commercial taxes reasonable by averaging land values over three years and by discouraging speculation with its system of making developers give back the city some of their profits from land-value increases that are created through rezonings.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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