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PUBLISHER'S PREROGATIVE: A vocal non-minority

When is 50 per cent a minority? Ask the merchants in Squamish's downtown who don't want to be part of a Business Improvement Area (BIA).

When is 50 per cent a minority?

Ask the merchants in Squamish's downtown who don't want to be part of a Business Improvement Area (BIA).

Fully half the property owners in the area marked for a BIA voted no to the idea in a counterpetition recently - but because their combined property value didn't equal 50 per cent, Squamish council voted to approve the BIA anyway, despite a report from municipal staff recommending council back away from the plan.

That kind of response on a counterpetition is practically unheard of. We're not talking about a referendum, where people were asked to vote yes or no - this is a process where it was assumed that, unless you voted "no" to the BIA, you were in favour. It's a negative-option vote.

By comparison, local governments have to offer counterpetitions when it wants to make certain types of financial commitments - commitments that usually mean a few extra dollars per year per taxpayer. In those cases, only 10 per cent of the voters have to sign a counterpetition to force a binding referendum on the issue, and it's a rare day that a petition gets to that threshold.

The merchants opposing the BIA had to meet that goal five times over to stop a process that would tack on hundreds of dollars a year to their tax bill, not just a few bucks. And they met their goal, only to lose on a technicality.

Personally, I think a BIA is a great idea for downtown. Individual property and business owners can only do so much by themselves - but pool those efforts and funds and there will be much more bang for the buck.

And face it, downtown still needs the help. Despite the boom in housing, the promise of waterfront development and the Adventure Centre, doing business in our town centre is still a tough job - and waiting for the ships to come in on the waterfront isn't easy if you're running a mom-and-pop store on Cleveland Avenue on a month-to-month basis.

But trying to cram a good idea down the throats of that many unwilling property owners and merchants just isn't going to work. Even if the opponents of the BIA don't technically meet the requirements to quash the proposal, it's obvious that a significant number of merchants and property owners aren't going to play along, and that's going to handicap the whole process. How much promotion is going to get done with merchants lining up against their fellow merchants and the BIA?

It's not a matter of moving the goal posts, as the mayor said last week - it's a matter of refining the sales pitch. Rather than sticking to technicalities, the District and the Squamish Town Centre Association should try to build consensus and listen to the people opposed to the BIA.

Then we can promote our downtown effectively.