Tension mounts as BIA deadline looms

Race addresses business owners' claims that council's decision set process up to fail

The Downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA) has two weeks to collect at least 50 per cent approval from 97 downtown landowners representing 152 parcels of land or the BIA will cease to exist.

The applicant-led process is underway and BIA president Eric Armour said its an overwhelming challenge but he hopes the BIA will pull through.

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Supportive tenants and council members are concerned about the BIAs survival and more than a dozen business and landowners submitted comments to council voicing their support.

Since the BIA came to be, I have seen increased customer traffic downtown and increased traffic through my stores, said Kimberly Martin, Funky Monkey owner and Fetish for Shoes co-owner.

Residents who frequent the downtown area seem to agree.

The loss of the BIA would be a nail in the coffin for the downtown area, said resident Shannon Kerr.

Over the past decade, the events run by the DSBIA have encouraged new businesses to open, and brought the community together in a positive atmosphere. These days, when I take my daughter downtown, we enjoy the shops and local culture on a regular basis.

Several downtown business owners, including the BIA president, werent happy about the District of Squamishs decision to have an applicant-led petition.

You [council] have all made a decision regarding the renewal of the DSBIA that puts its existence at a serious risk to the local business community, EAT Communications Cinci Csere, wrote in a letter to Squamish council.

By voting to have a BIA-led petition you have quite bluntly set us up for failure, Armour wrote in a separate letter.

Those statements were accompanied by warnings and pleas to make the right decision.

There is a new demographic of business owner and citizen who is looking to you for some political backing, wrote Colleen Myers, The Hive owner and a partner in Zephyr Caf.

As there is a municipal election this year, I assure you that my vote, and those within my sphere of influence, will reflect the votes you give in support of downtown.

Please take careful consideration before you dissolve a group that benefits this community, Lauren Pratar wrote in a letter to council.

During the council meeting Tuesday (March 1), some council members defended the property owners right to decide whether they want to pay the extra BIA tax.

Coun. Doug Race had some strong words for the BIAs submission.

Generally this correspondence asks us to support the BIA and I think over the past several months thats exactly what district staff have been doing, Race said.

The important thing to remember about the BIA is that this is not an organization like Tourism Squamish, for example, or the Chamber of Squamish which we support, which has similar business development goals. The BIA involves a separate tax being placed on specific properties separate from the rest of the properties in the district.

Race said provincial legislation requires the district re-pass the bylaw with at least 50 per cent support from landowners every five years, either through a counterpetition or an applicant-led petition.

Five years ago this went through by counterpetition, but it went through just narrowly, he said. In other words, almost half of affected property owners expressed their disapproval.

Race said if a small amount of voter apathy was factored in, it was possible that less than half the property owners really did approve of the bylaw.

Nevertheless, it went through the legislation requires this bylaw to be re-passed every five years so the BIA therefore must not only establish approval by the majority, but must maintain it, otherwise they will cease to exist, he said.

Race said if the bylaw had passed five years ago with little or no opposition, he might have considered a counterpetition but it didnt.

It is for the property owners protection, he said. This will not be decided by council, this will really be decided by the property owners.

Its them who must pay the tax, so theyre the ones who must indicate their approval and theyre the ones the BIA must get the support of.

He added that the BIA has had five years to cultivate a relationship with the property owners and it now has a track record of accomplishments that it can, in effect, sell to those owners.

But the BIA must get their [property owners] support because if not than it wont exist and really, it shouldnt exist.

Coun. Patricia Heintzman, who argued for a counterpetition, said that wasnt the issue.

The applicant-led petition is a much more onerous task with a compressed timeline, she said.

We cant delude ourselves into thinking that we havent done something that could jeopardize the BIA.

Raiser agreed and was not optimistic.

Theres a reason why almost every BIA in the province goes counterpetition and as much as I hope theyll pull it off, it doesnt look good.

Gregory Fischer, who owns Gelato Carina, said hes more than happy to pay the $700 a year required to be part of the BIA. He said its the cheapest advertising hes ever used and the association does much more than just advertize.

Most downtown business owners agree a major challenge is contacting all the landowners, 50 per cent of whom reside outside Squamish.

Anna Kirman, who owns Annas Attic, said she thinks getting all the landowners to sign will be difficult.

Its going to be a struggle trying to get a hold of some of the absentee landlords, she said.

My landlord is looking forward to the package, but some of the landlords dont care they should, though, because its all in their interest in the end because if downtown fails then theyre going to have empty stores and no value from their property.

However, some landowners from outside the municipality have already voiced their support.

I strongly support the renewal of the BIA, said Alex Zbar, owner of three buildings covering a total of 10,000 square feet in the downtown. Any activities that will bring more business to the area will benefit all of the tenants, and their landlords, and hence Squamish as a whole, and we will see better times.

Other property owners who operate their own businesses downtown see the direct benefits on a regular basis.

Scott McQuade, who owns the land and operates the Ocean Port Hotel and Pub on Second Avenue, is one of the converted.

Five years ago I was opposed to the BIA and an additional burden to my annual taxes for who knows what, he said.

After five years of seeing the work the BIA does, I am now in support of the renewal of the BIA and I believe it represents the landowners of downtown, and some of the special attention they might need, without being an added burden on the taxpayers in the rest of the district.

McQuade said change of heart aside, he doesnt think its fair that an unreturned petition still counts as a no vote.

I would hope that only votes sent in by the required date are counted, he said.

According to applicant-led petition proceedings, that is not possible.

After March 18, staff will do a review of the BIA submissions and should have a report back to council in April.

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