Property-tax freezes for new apartment rental projects in the downtown area are a step closer.
Mayor Sam Katz and his executive policy committee voted Wednesday to endorse the plan, which now moves to council for final approval.
"This program is a great start" to address the shortage of rental accommodations downtown, said Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, one of four EPC members who voted to support the program.
The program would give developers a property-tax freeze for 12 to 20 years for the construction of new rental-housing units in selected areas of downtown.
The tax freeze would apply only to the increased property taxes that would result from the higher value of the new development. The owner would still be required to pay the same amount of property taxes as if no development had occurred on the property.
The proposal is a joint city-province initiative, in which the freeze would apply to both municipal and education portions of the property tax.
Taxes for the first 12 years would be frozen for construction in downtown -- but not within the new SHED (sports, hospitality and entertainment district) zone surrounding the MTS Centre. The tax freeze would be extended for another four years if the project was built in a strategic area with high visibility and supported adjacent development; two more years, if the project was built on a surface parking lot and another two years if the project included a parkade.
Katz said he believes the proposal fulfils the campaign promise he made in the 2010 mayoral campaign to eliminate the glut of parking lots throughout the downtown.
However, the program proposed by the administration isn't the same as the one proposed by Katz four years ago. Katz promised a blanket five-year freeze on taxes for any kind of development on a surface parking lot, and the freeze would only apply to parkades if the structures included retail or commercial development on the main floor.
Katz said the current program is meant to entice property owners to develop surface parking lots with the promise of a long-term tax freeze, adding it will accomplish the same goal as what he had proposed in 2010.
"My commitment was to basically get rid of as many surface parking lots as possible... to get development on the surface parking lots," Katz said after the meeting.
But the length of the tax freeze concerned Coun. Jeff Browaty, who voted against it at EPC.
Also in opposition was Coun. Justin Swandel, who was critical condo projects are not eligible for the tax freeze even though most of them will be rental properties.