Approaches to encouraging the addition of a variety of housing types and impacts that could bring for existing residents were up for discussion at Gibsons’s July 12 committee of the whole meeting. The recommendations that resulted are slated to be considered by council at its July 26 meeting.
To tax or not to tax?
The committee recommended a full permissive municipal property tax exemption for the first structure built for the Sunshine Coast’s Affordable Housing Society for the 2023 taxation year. That unit at 744 and 746 Franklin Road, contains one two-bedroom market rental unit in addition to a bachelor and a three-bedroom unit with “affordable” rental rates. The property will be charged applicable annual parcel taxes and utility fees.
While tax levy rates or property assessment values for 2023 won’t be finalized until next spring, based on 2022 rates, that recommendation could result in other Gibsons ratepayers having to come up with $4,218 to cover the taxes that property would have been charged. Based on 2022 data, the property would have paid about $1,400 in Town taxes. By providing an exemption, the remaining parcels in Gibsons must all chip in more to make up the amount the exempted property would have paid to cover levies charged to the Town for schools, regional district services and to other taxing authorities.
How much of an exemption to recommend was a committee debate point, with Coun. Stafford Lumley saying that a full exemption was “unfair” as it covered taxes on market rate and affordable housing. He also noted that once an exemption is granted, it can be a “difficult thing” to take away. And in this case, the current Council would be foisting that unpleasant duty onto the Town’s next set of elected officials.
On the issue of tax equity for others with rental properties, Mayor Bill Beamish suggested that the Town explore allowing groups or individual property owners with rental suites the opportunity to covenant units to the Town as affordable rentals. If suitable arrangements were in place, he said he could see an argument for those units to be considered by the council of the day for some form of permissive tax exemption.
Despite the issues raised by Lumley, and what the precedent of such an exemption could mean for future larger affordable housing projects, like the one on Shaw Road, other members of the committee supported a full 2023 tax exemption for the Franklin Road units. The committee's recommendation to council for the exemptions for the coming year will include that property with the 15 other parcels that were granted full or partial tax waivers in 2022.
Should South Fletcher be pre-zoned for higher density?
There was support at the meeting to forward a rezoning request for 504 South Fletcher Road to council for initial readings and a potential public hearing in September. The application is to increase the lot's density from two residential units to five residential units.
Council raised the idea of pre-zoning all similar sized lots on the street to that density.
Staff advised that pre-zoning was possible, but if endorsed it could result in increased property taxes for existing owners who are not interested in selling or re-developing their lots with additional units. Staff's recommendation was to consider the application at hand and to discuss pre-zoning at a later date.
The recommendation related to 504 South Fletcher also includes a community amenity contribution from the proponents of $15,000 based on the Town’s policy; $5,000 for each new unit with a $10,000 credit for existing density. The rezoning proposal does not include design details for the development. If rezoning is granted and the project proceeds, council will consider the design details at the development permit stage.
How much is enough?
“This is my home… you are asking people to give up their quality of life for millionaires to have their third home,” a Town resident, identified only as Kathy, commented during the meetings's inquiry period. Her remarks about the pursuit of material wealth through property development and “how much is enough” followed committee support for updating of the garden suite policy, which could include allowing more parcels to have one of the small detached secondary dwellings on their sites.
The speaker’s points about protecting the qualities that lower density developments provide were recognized by Mayor Beamish as he thanked her for her input. The committee also received the results of a community survey, which indicated strong support for having extra stand-alone accommodation units on residential properties, where lots sizes allow. Key items that community members said needed to be considered were allowing only family or long-term rentals in the secondary units, having structures designed to avoid overlooking neighbouring properties and with landscaping to enhance privacy and the appearance of the added units.