Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Area plan needed for south of Dawson

The following article in the Burnaby NewsLeader highlights difficulties that developers may face when seeking approval of rezoning applications for property owned in and around Brentwood.  In this case, it's not an issue of conflict with an existing community plan but rather an issue with the fact that a community plan currently does not exist.  The area in question is the land located south of Dawson Ave between Willingdon and Beta on Alpha Avenue.

The City of Burnaby needs to develop a plan for the area in question and give prospective developers a definitive guideline for their plans and create more interest in the Brentwood area.

Stuck in redevelopment limbo near Brentwood

Published: April 23, 2013 11:00 AM

Wiinton Williams will likely one day get a nice windfall from the sale of a property he owns in the Brentwood area.  
Today, though, his industrial property has a breathtaking property tax bill based solely on its development potential. 
If only he could develop it.  For now, with the taxes so high, he’s having trouble just leasing out the place. Williams says he can’t redevelop his property and sell it for what it could be worth because Burnaby city hall has been slow to come up with an area plan.
Since 1993, his company, Vernon-based Sako Pacific Properties Ltd. has owned the property at 2450 Alpha Ave. in Burnaby where it also owned and operated Universal Concrete Accessories, a business that first opened there in 1970. Starting in 1995, Burnaby city hall started sending Williams’ company notices about redevelopment plans for the Brentwood area, including the industrial lands south of Dawson Street where Sako’s property is located. Williams said since then, his property taxes have soared from about $17,000 in 1995 to an expected $70,000 this year.
Seeing the writing on the wall, he started working with a developer several years back and has spent about $70,000 on site investigations necessary for any redevelopment. But while Burnaby city hall has indicated for years that redevelopment is on the horizon for the area, the planning department has yet to complete a plan for the area south of Dawson to allow any such transformation to begin. 
To make matters worse, when Sako sold its Universal Concrete business it continued to lease the property to its new owners. The business’ owners just vacated the site a couple months ago, relocating to an area with lower property tax costs.  Williams said he found two possible tenants in the film industry, but they decided to look elsewhere when they found out Sako planned to redevelop in the next few years and that the property taxes they’d be expected to help pay were high.
“We’re stuck in limbo, we can’t sell it, we can’t rent it, all we can do is click off 25 grand a month,” said Williams.  About eight years ago when the taxes went up to $32,000, Williams spoke to B.C. Assessment Authority and explained the land is zoned industrial, it’s being used for industrial so it should be paying industrial-level taxes.
“They said, ‘yeah, but it’s going to be high density and then it’s going to be worth a lot more.’”  Williams replied, “When it is high density then it will be worth a lot more, just like you actually have to win the lottery before [you can benefit].”
Sako has yet to appeal its assessment and while they’ve missed this year’s deadline, Williams said they may do so in future. He recently wrote to Burnaby’s community development committee describing his company’s predicament.
Coun. Colleen Jordan, chair of the committee, said the city’s master plan for the area bounded by Dawson and the railway tracks and Gilmore and Holdom avenues, “is kind of up in the air.”   Even in the late 1990s it was designated for redevelopment but the form and type was never defined by city hall, Jordan explained.

A property on the western section of the area was rezoned several years back for highrises but council decided to put any further applications on hold until a plan could be developed.
One of the issues to be determined is whether some areas are suitable for highrises since some of the land is peat bog.  “You have to consider whether or not stuff is going to sink,” she said.  As it stands currently, property owners could apply to rezone “but we would say no.”  Jordan said she sympathizes with the situation Williams and others in the area find themselves.  “We appreciate that so we’re just asking our staff how much work it would take to get this on the table and moving forward,” she said, noting staff already have their plates full doing similar work for other areas of the city.
Jordan hopes the planning work for the area south of Dawson will be completed by the end of the year.  Kash Kang, B.C. Assessment Authority’s area assessor for the North Fraser region, said Brentwood town centre is a “really good example” of such situations which are not unusual for urban areas in transition.
Kang stressed that property assessments are based on market value and take into account what similar properties in neighbourhoods have sold for recently.  The market will discount properties if there are constraints, such as the fact redevelopment is not yet able to go ahead. But if land is at the stage where it could be rezoned, its value would be “substantially higher,” he noted.
“There’s a distinction between what somebody could do with it if it’s already rezoned versus something that has a horizon that’s possibly three to five years out.”   Kang said similar situations have occurred in Richmond since the Canada Line has gone through there, and will likely also occur with the Evergreen Line out to the Tri-Cities.
He said property owners could appeal their assessments if they believe they’re higher or lower than those given to similar properties in a similar situation.  As for Williams, he said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the responsiveness of city hall staff and council.  “While we feel a little hard done by it’s not really anybody’s fault.”

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