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Separating church and taxes not so easy

The possibility of reducing charges and taxes for a housing complex being built at 429 St. Paul St. took centre stage at council Tuesday afternoon.
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KAMLOOPS — A United Church affordable housing project isn't any closer to getting some kind of tax break after a long, dizzying debate at council that led nowhere.

The debate Tuesday on the merits of asking staff to look at waiving development cost charges and revitalization tax exemptions took at least 25 minutes and at the end they realized that unless they change the bylaw, the charges cannot be waived.

In the summer, the Kamloops United Church began preparing the land next to the church for a housing project at 429 St. Paul St. and has already pre-sold 11 of the 54 units, some under the affordable housing mandate and several regular market units. In total, 41 units are designated for affordable home ownership.

The church, Vision 429 Housing Ltd. (owned by the church) and Total Concept Developments Ltd. are now asking to have cost charges lowered or removed or to qualify the project for a tax exemption to help make the costs even cheaper to help with the affordable housing options.

Coun. Tina Lange, as deputy mayor (Mayor Peter Milobar stepped out due to conflict of interest) and the council representative from the social committee, asked council to have staff  bring back possible scenarios to make costs cheaper. She saidt it's a renovation, not a new build, which typically doesn't face development cost charges.

Development and Engineering director Marvin Kwiatkowski said in order to qualify, the project needs rentals to account for 50 per cent of the units. Lange said there is no business case for rentals and wanted to try and make it work because of how innovative the church has been in bringing affordable housing to the downtown core.

The cost charges bylaw says improvements to existing structures in the amount of $100,000 or greater, typically to keep the heritage look to a facade, qualifies for rebate on charges, as does demolition. Because the church is changing from a sanctuary to housing, the rebates don't apply though.

Coun. Marg Spina said she would only support waiving the charges if they provided permanent rentals and cited examples of other housing projects, like the Mosaic, that committed to rentals to get charges waived but then sold them a short time later.

Spina was corrected by Lange and staff that those projects fell under the previous bylaw and would not qualify under the current one.

Coun. Ken Christian was the only one not wanting to talk about the development cost charges at all.

“I think the rules are clear in terms of rental. We went through a long exercise on DCCs, it was a lengthy process and there is a degree of sensitivity in the development community,” he said. “I think we have an agreement in place, and it was evident to the United Church going into the process.”

Council continued to bounce around the idea of having staff look at flexibility in the charges but CAO David Trawin was finally able to stop them in their tracks.

“Provincial legislation doesn't allow us to do that (extend payments over five years), it only allows us to extend up to three payments, if DCC amounts are over $50,000. So I can't help you there regardless of whether you want to go there,” he said. “We can't offer flexibility in the revitalization bylaw unless you want to amend the bylaw to include market housing.”

After that, council quickly voted to support a look at reviewing the tax revitalization bylaw at a May workshop.

The project has received support from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and a private mortgage insurance firm and the church will carry 10 per cent of the purchase price as a second mortgage on those units. The affordable units are available at one per cent down and cannot be sold for a minimum of two years. The church congregation has contributed $970,000 towards the project.

To contact a reporter for this story, email, call (250)819-3723 or tweet @JennStahn.

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