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-Goodey 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, 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.