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Council adopts downtown BIA

After more than a decade of furious debate invariably leading to rejection, the downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association (BIA) is now underway.

After more than a decade of furious debate invariably leading to rejection, the downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association (BIA) is now underway.

On Tuesday (June 6), council for the District of Squamish faced a line of business and property owners snaking out of council chambers waiting to hear and sum up their thoughts on the BIA proposal.

Council put forward the final ruling on the controversial issue, adopting the BIA bylaw in a 3-2 vote. Mayor Ian Sutherland and Coun. Jeff McKenzie vehemently defended the BIA before being joined by Coun. Patricia Heintzman in supporting the bylaw.

"We have issues in the downtown to face in the next five to ten years. One's being built in the Industrial Park right now," said McKenzie, who is the owner of a downtown business. "Let's show some leadership, it's our heart. Let's do this."

Councillors Mike Jenson and Corinne Lonsdale were opposed and Coun. Raj Kahlon was absent.

Following a counterpetitioning process in which 50 per cent of property owners representing 38.5 per cent of assessed land value opposed, council voted to adopt the BIA on May 2. But when local business owners presented council with an anti-BIA petition - claiming that the legislated counter-petitioning process misrepresented the actual number of people opposed - Sutherland put forward a motion requesting council review the issue.

The BIA imposes a levy of $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed commercial property value on downtown business properties.

At Tuesday's (June 6) meeting, George Change, owner of Pause Cafe and Kitchen Corner, denounced the anti-BIA petition as a means of spreading misinformation. He said the body of the petition contained no information to verify what the signatories were supporting. He also accused individuals of signing several times.

"There were 11 owners and 36 signatures. One owner signed 22 times," he said.

Six individuals who signed the anti-BIA mass petition subsequently retracted their opposition in identical form letters to city hall, distributed by BIA proponents during Tuesday's meeting.

The retractions led Chang to speculate: "Clearly these point to abuse and misinformation inherent in obtaining signatures on a mass petition."

Paul Lalli, one of the anti-BIA organizers, defended his group's efforts.

"The petition was as simple as 'We the undersigned are not in support of the BIA.' You can't get any clearer than that," he said. "I expected that [accusations of misrepresentation] to happen."

BIA opponents followed up on Chang's presentation to voice their own concerns.

"We don't really oppose the BIA in general as long as everyone is included; that means the two malls," said John Lowe, referring to the exclusion of the Chieftain Centre and Squamish Station Mall from the BIA boundaries.

Lowe represented John Drenka, an owner of numerous downtown properties. He said the rising cost of property taxes is crippling building owners.

"The post office doesn't even cover the costs to keep it down there."

Lonsdale also questioned the legitimacy of a BIA that excludes the two malls. She also said she doesn't believe council has enough information to make a decision on the bylaw, which has a mandate of five years.

"Can the bylaw be amended within five years?" she asked. "If so, whose support is required?"

Dan McRae of the Squamish Sustainability Corporation, the man who helped organize the BIA process, said the malls pay into their own "mini-BIA" which includes promotions and security. He said the malls have agreed to fully co-operate with the downtown BIA and may even join up in the future. He said in order for changes to be made, the downtown would once again have to undergo the counter-petitioning process that led to its implementation.

Jenson said he supports the BIA in theory but, despite submitting his name to sit on BIA's executive just the previous evening, opposed it because of the "bad timing" associated with council's "significant" three per cent tax increase on business properties.

Heintzman said there will never be good timing to impose a new tax. She said she also wants the malls to be "full players" and leaned toward supporting the BIA provided stakeholders hold discussions to broaden support.

"If it does not have full support, it's doomed to fail," she said.

Sutherland said the next step is to hold such meetings, and assured stakeholders that malls will attend discussions.

The Squamish Town Centre Association held an annual general meeting Monday (June 5) officially changing their name to the Squamish Business Improvement Association in order to be in compliance with the new BIA bylaw. They are now in a position to utilize the first wave of funds, due July 2, for their mandate, which includes promotions, beautification and security.

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