This article appeared in the Kamloops This Week on April 15th, 2015 and was written by Andrea Klassen.
Residential developers in downtown Kamloops will soon get a break on their taxes even if they don’t include rental units in their projects.
Kamloops city council has agreed to expand its downtown tax exemptions to include a 10-year, 100 per cent break on municipal taxes for projects that include new residential units.
A staff estimate puts the tax savings at $349,969 over the term for a new building with 15 units, and $745,848 for a development with 53 units.
Previously, the city had offered a tax break for residential projects in which at least 50 per cent of the units built are for rent, but planning and development manager Randy Lambright said no one has taken the city up on the offer since that incentive was created.
The city also gives tax breaks on both the North Shore and downtown for redeveloping brownfield sites, including former gas stations.
Several councillors wanted to see the downtown exemptions broadened further, to allow for other projects, such as converting unused office space into residential units.
Coun. Marg Spina is a fan of that idea, which she said could add more affordable housing to the downtown.
“My caution would be that I want to see the affordability factor there so we’re not just making tax exemptions for high-end residential buildings,” she said.
Coun. Tina Lange sees the move away from rentals as positive for developing the city’s core, arguing homeowners are more likely to stay in the area and become part of the downtown community.
“In order to build downtown, which is the most expensive per-square-foot land in the city, affordable housing isn’t going to be an option,” she said.
“If we want developers to build something they can sell, affordable housing isn’t going to cut it.”
Coun. Arjun Singh floated a proposal to allow tax breaks for second-floor conversions, using another portion of the downtown tax bylaw which gives a break on improvements worth $100,000 or 30 per cent of a property’s assessed value if they also include improvements to the building’s appearance.
Singh suggested the city could waive appearance requirements in cases when residential conversion is taking place, but wasn’t able to convince a majority of council to take up his idea.
“Frankly, I’m not looking to convert office space into apartments in downtown Kamloops,” Mayor Peter Milobar said.
“I think we have that office space and we need to fill it up because that provides employment for people to want to live in downtown Kamloops.”
Only Coun. Donovan Cavers opposed the new tax-break structure, saying the new exemptions are too broad and don’t allow council to pinpoint specific kinds of development it wants to encourage downtown.