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Big tax breaks proposed

Changes in downtown tax breaks for developers willing to add apartments.
Tax exemptions for new buildings proposed. The 135m 2 was changed to 145m 2 .

A vibrant downtown is the heartbeat of any community.

This is especially true for the small business community of Smithers. Feet and eyes on the street from shoppers, tourists and residents are what provide feelings of safety and energy.

Smithers council and mayor want to build on that through tax exemptions.

The idea is by giving property tax exemptions to builders and renovators, they will include residential components to their businesses. That would mean more people downtown with a density that keeps sidewalks bustling.

But that also means a loss of potential revenue from taxes paid and more traffic.

“It would definitely be a loss of revenue,” said Smithers director of finance Leslie Ford during the last council meeting.

If approved, business owners can get up to a 100 per cent discount on their tax bill. It all depends how dense they are willing to go.

For example, to get the full discount for the proposed five years — down from an originally proposed 10-year tax holiday — a new build or renovation would need to have one dwelling unit per parcel area less than 145 m2.

The money saved goes down from there, with a 75 per cent break at one dwelling unit per area between 145-290 m2, and a 50 per cent discount on one dwelling unit per parcel area greater than 290 m2.

The proposed changes were approved, with more readings and final adoption still to come before they are law.

The only councillor to vote against it was Coun. Frank Wray.

“This is very different than what was proposed to the public during the public consultation in January and February. I myself would not have supported even looking into this if I had thought there was going to be exemptions on the entire amount,” said Wray.

The original plan was to have exemptions only on any increase in assessments. Now it would be on the whole assessment.

Wray also pointed out he did not move here for density.

That got Coun. Gladys Atrill’s attention, who said she agreed on Wray’s concern about density. She voted for the changes to, “see the bylaw.”

For his part, Smithers Home Hardware owner Theo Bandstra said he is still on the fence on whether this proposal would convince him to include a residential component to his new store being built this summer at Third Street Avenue and King Street.

“I’m going to wait until I have a piece of paper in my hand that says what it is,” said Bandstra.

Design of the planned new Home Hardware building on Third Avenue in Smithers. (Bulkley Valley Engineering Services illustration)