Councillors vote to discontinue expensive tax break for owners of vacant commercial property

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Last year the provincial program cost the city $17 million.

Haley Ritchie, Metro

City councillors voted today to end a property-tax break enjoyed by landlords whose buildings have vacancies.

Last year commercial and industrial property owners in Ottawa submitted 920 applications for the rebate. The cost to municipal taxpayers was $17 million.

City staff had recommended that the program, which until recently was mandated by the Ontario government, be phased out over three years in order to give property owners time to adjust.

At Tuesday's meeting of the city’s finance and economic development committee, however, councillors voted to end the rebate program in 2018.

Property owners who benefit from the program were disappointed.

Dean Karakasi, representing the Building Owners and Managers Association, said the change “will have a negative impact on industry.”

Karakasi said property owners are struggling because of federal-government cutbacks and the ongoing rise of online retailers, whose businesses require relatively little commercial space.

“This is not a good time in terms of industry,” said Karakasi. “This was a nice partnership with the city in terms of transitioning space.”

Several people presenting to the committee expressed hope that the end of the program will motivate landlords to find tenants for vacant properties.

Coun. David Chernushenko said landlords in some areas are being too choosy with tenants, to the “overall detriment to the street health of the retail environment.”

Karakasi said the idea that landlords are forgoing leases so as to realize a 30 per cent of their tax break is “absurd.”

“It may happen, there may be examples, but we can’t quantify them,” he said. “But, overall, why would anybody want to pay a dollar so they get 30 cents back?”

Other Ontario municipalities, including Toronto and Prince Edward County, plan to cut the rebate program as well.

The final decision on the program will be made at city council on May 10.

Ottawa finance committee votes to kill vacancy rebate over two years

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The finance and economic development committee voted Tuesday to accelerate the cancellation of a commercial and industrial vacancy rebate beyond what the city treasury department recommends.

The committee backed a motion from Coun. Stephen Blais to kill the vacancy rebate over two years, rather than three years, to mirror what the City of Toronto is doing.

“We’re obviously disappointed that they would make that change,” said Dean Karakasis, executive director of Building Owners and Managers Association of Ottawa.

“We weren’t overly supportive of the original report. We still seem to be running into the same issue here of ignoring what this program was all about.”

Phasing out the vacancy-rebate program over two years would mean the city can stop budgeting $6.9 million for tax breaks in 2019. The money would be freed up for other city programs.

One man, however, is urging council to reinvest the money in small business.

Joshua Thatcher, store team leader at Whole Foods, said the money should be invested in local entrepreneurs during their startup phases. Those successful startups could then fill commercial real-estate vacancies, he said.

Today, property owners can claim a 30 per cent tax break for commercial land and a 35 per cent tax break for industrial land if parts of the buildings are vacant for 90 consecutive days.

Council approves contentious Glebe retirement home, despite Mayor dissent

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Eight storeys on traditional main street ‘not good planning’: Watson

By Jennifer McIntosh, Ottawa Community News

Despite concerns from the local councillor and Mayor Jim Watson, a proposed retirement home on Bank Street in the Glebe received overwhelming support from council on April 26.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said he supports the use, but not the height.

The city’s traditional main street policy — which is the designation for 890, 900 Bank St. at Holmwood Avenue — says that a building on streets with that designation shouldn’t be more than six storeys.

Watson said he wasn’t against height in principle, but argued the area already faces problems with congestion due to nearby Lansdowne.

Chernushenko said the Lansdowne development was not meant to be used as a precedent, but planning staff rationale for approval is the nearby taller buildings.

“We wouldn’t want people who had been opposed to Lansdowne to be able to say I told you so,” he said.

Glebe development gets council OK despite mayor's disapproval

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8-storey building 'not good planning,' Jim Watson says, as community prepares appeal to OMB

A rendering of the building designed by Barry Hobin that Canderel hopes to build on Bank Street in the Glebe. (Barry J. Hobin Architects)

By Joanne Chianello, Kate Porter, CBC News

Ottawa city council has approved a contentious project to construct a taller-than-allowed building in the Glebe, despite opposition from residents, the area's councillor and even the mayor.

In a rare move, Mayor Jim Watson spoke — and voted — against a staff-recommended rezoning for 890-900 Bank St., which would see an eight-storey building with retail space on the main level and retirement residences on the upper floors. The retail portion would include a Beer Store, replacing the one that's there now.

The rezoning application passed, but Watson joined Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko and Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney in dissenting, arguing that the building is too high for a traditional main street, especially one that's not near rapid transit.

'Not good planning'

"No one's arguing against tall buildings," Watson told reporters, reminding them that he recently voted in favour of a 22-storey building across from Westboro transit station.

"There are no transit stations in the Glebe. It's just not good planning from my perspective."

Watson also felt residents had shown good will, but didn't think the developer made an effort to compromise by offering to reduce the building's height.

"I don't know if the economics don't make sense, but really that's not our role to play. If they bought the land too expensively that's really the developer's problem, not the community's problem."

Although Watson didn't like the proposal, he didn't lobby his council colleagues to turn it down because he "didn't think the votes were there."

Appeal to OMB likely

Many in the surrounding community are against the project, and almost 600 people signed a petition protesting it.

In anticipation of council's vote in favour of the rezoning on Wednesday, the Glebe Community Association voted Tuesday night to appeal the impending decision to the Ontario Municipal Board.

"No one ever wants to go to the OMB ... especially with the roll of the dice that the OMB is, and usually feeling like you've only got ones and the developer has sixes," said Chernushenko.

The vote comes as the city has been trying to create more certainty around its planning decisions, Chernushenko noted.

"It is not certainty when the developer basically has got exactly what they asked for, and it's up to the community to dig into their pockets and try to defend their neighbourhood."