Commercial property owners in Sidney are one step closer to participating in a new business improvement area (BIA) after council on Monday unanimously set into motion an alternate approvals process.
Under this process, expected to be sent out to owners of class five and six commercial properties in downtown Sidney by late January, owners would have 30 days to register their opposition to a BIA in writing to the Town of Sidney. Chief administrative officer Randy Humble says for the BIA to fail, there would have to be a clear majority (just over 50 per cent) of property owners who oppose it. Those owners, as well, would have to represent more than 50 per cent of the value of commercial properties within the proposed BIA boundary. A lack of any one of these goalposts by the time the 30-day notice period ends, would mean the BIA would pass.
The alternate approvals process (AAP) is controversial — a fact not lost on town council. In a prepared speech, Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey said his only concern with the BIA proposal was with how it was seeking to be implemented.
“I have heard it is unfair and undemocratic from some of the business owners,” he stated. “It’s also highly improbable that the BIA will fail under this process.”
That, he said, raises issues of fairness in his mind. It wasn’t enough, however, to keep him from voting in favour of a BIA bylaw. Lougher-Goody said while he has reservations with the AAP, a majority of business owners appear to support the BIA plan — a fact he cannot ignore.
“Since there is a lack of support for (other options), I have to support (this option).”
Mayor Larry Cross said there are threats to Sidney’s economic well-being — from Victoria-area shopping centres to proposed new commercial developments closer to home.
“Those represent big risks to our town,” he said, “especially in this economy, both provincially and nationally.”
Coun. Marilyn Loveless and Melissa Hailey both said council’s only concern was the use of the AAP, not the effort put into the BIA proposal.
“Now, all business organizations have to somehow unify,” Loveless said. “Using this process to create a single voice is the right thing to do in Sidney.”
Coun. Tim Chad added similar debates over BIAs have happened in town for years and finds this effort positive and the best way to stave off the economic doldrums.
“Councillors are short-term caretakers of the town,” added Coun. Steve Price. “We make these kinds of decisions every day and it’s no small task to find the balance for the community.”
Price said that in the end, it will fall to business owners to have the final say on the BIA.
Developed by the Sidney Business Development Group (SBDG), the proposed BIA would place a levy on some 300 downtown businesses over a period of five years. Raising an estimated $250,000 in its first year, the BIA’s members (all downtown business owners) would use it to better market the area to customers.
SBDG board member Angus Matthews says the group is encouraged by the town’s support, adding they set out to meet Cross’ challenge to business groups earlier in the year to come up with a singular vision.
“The best thing to come out of this is getting business owners working together,” Matthews said. “I don’t think the business community has been as unified. We’re in it together now.”
Matthews is hopeful that BIA will pass and when that happens, said the SBDG members will step away from that entity. Some will then join other business owners in a BIA board of directors who will oversee the marketing strategy.
“We are eager to get on with the fun part,” he said, “directing what we are going to market outside of Sidney, what our brand is, sharing ideas and articulating them.”
Matthews said if all goes to plan, a BIA board should be rolling out a marketing campaign by May or June of 2013.
Notice period expected by January
The proposed business improvement area (BIA) was formulated by the Sidney Business Development Group. A collection of local business owners led by Cliff McNeil-Smith of Tanner’s Books and Steve Duck of the Tides Group, the SBDG asked the Town of Sidney to implement the BIA following months of research and lobbying their peers. They had received a grant of $18,500 from the town’s economic development fund earlier this year to conduct the research and present options for economic renewal and partnership.
Randy Humble, the town’s CAO, said staff are now tasked with preparing a BIA bylaw, setting out the levy (estimated at $1.22 per every $1,000 in assessed value), money to be raised (est. $250,000) and length of term of the BIA (five years is proposed).
The bylaw will be brought to town council by mid-January. If they grant it three readings, Humble said the BIA and alternate approval process (AAP) would be sent out to the 300-plus class five and six commercial property owners for a period of 30 days.
A clear majority (more than 50 per cent) of those owners, representing more than 50 per cent of the assessed value of downtown commercial properties, would have to write in their rejection of the BIA for the AAP to fail.
Once the 30 days are up, Humble said it could take one or two weeks for the town to review the process with formal declaration of the results by mid-March