DAYS AWAY FROM from the federal election, we may believe that politics is about monumental changes, such as the election of a new government.
But just as often, politics is about the debate around incremental changes. It is these incremental changes that collectively create the place we live.
The council is currently reviewing and approving changes to the Revitalization Tax Exemption (RTE). The RTE is a bylaw that gives tax-free exemption for up to 10 years for new construction or renovations within specific areas of the city.
Council is reviewing whether the boundaries of the tax-free area should be expanded, so that, for example, a larger area of the downtown of the city is granted tax-free exemption.
Specifically, the parking lot between the Sandman Centre coliseum and the South Thompson River may be given tax-free exemption.
That is to say, if a building was built on the area between the Sandman Centre coliseum and the South Thompson River at the east end of Riverside Park, property taxes could be waived.
The change to the Revitalization Tax Exemption is an incremental change. But there could be long term consequences for everyone who enjoys Riverside Park.
Which is why Councillor Denis Walsh tabled a notice of motion for the September 21 meeting stating “THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that City Council reconsider the decision to allow commercial development to take place on the lot located between Sandman Centre and South Thompson River and also consider reverting this lot back to P1 zoning to protect it from development and reintegrate back into the Riverside Park area lands.”
There are many who would consider the area between the coliseum and the river to be park space. I certainly did, as did Walsh, back in 2007 when a developer proposed to the council of the day to build a large, multi-story hotel on the site. In fact, two previous councils had also considered allowing a hotel to be built on the parcel, and one of those council had rezoned the parcel from park land to commercial to allow hotels to be built on the parcel.
Walsh and I, at the time passing acquaintances, joined forces with others to form “Save Public Waterfront,” a grassroots group that opposed such a large development adjacent to the river and park.
In the end, the developer had a change of heart because of construction costs. But the C-9 commercial zoning on the site that would allow for a hotel remained. And is there to this day.
At present, there is no talk of reviving the plan for the hotel, though zoning would allow it. City staff sent me the following statement: “If it was as a convention facility (a permitted use in the zone) and had a private sector operator it would be taxable and the exemption would then apply.” This suggests that the City is thinking of having a convention centre built on all or part of the footprint.
A convention centre, with a low profile, is not the same as a hotel. It wouldn’t have the same visual dominance a large, multi-story hotel would have. A convention centre might be a good thing for Kamloops in general, and especially for the tourism sector.
But a convention centre on part of the site would still leave room for a hotel down the road. With tax-exemption and permitted zoning both in place, it is easy to envision the possibility of a hotel being built some time in the future on the remaining parcel.
Walsh is right to critique the change to the Revitalization Tax Exemption. Changes to Riverside Park need to consider broad needs of many park users. The tax exemption skirts public input that is afforded when parks plans are revised, and considers only the commercial value of the area between the coliseum and river.
I agree with those who would argue that a convention centre would be good for Kamloops. However, it is debatable where that centre should be. I would counter that there is no clear consensus on what Riverside Park should be. For as many that want it to have more amenities, others want a quieter park.
What is important in the end is that things like tax exemptions, which are about growth and development, do not ignore the importance of parks, which are about preservation of nature and space.
Granting a tax exemption to the parcel ignores the importance of public consultation around the future of Riverside Park. Granting a tax exemption without clear parameters of what will or won’t be built, be it convention centre or hotel or both, is a disserve to public consultation.
Granting a tax exemption opens a pandora’s box of what could be built that may revise “Save Public Waterfront 2.0” at some future date.
Politics, whether at the large federal level, or around small changes to municipal policies, come down to ensuring all voices are heard. Here’s hoping Walsh’s concerns are considered by his colleagues.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.