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REPORTING · 29th November 2013
Walter McFarlane

The District of Kitimat is making changes to their planning fees. At Council, on November 18th, the bylaw was put to APC for comment. On November 25th, at the Committee of the Whole Meeting, Council reviewed the comments and made some suggestions of their own.

In the report to Council, City Planner Gwen Sewell wrote: “Kitimat’s Planning fees have not been updated in 23 years. The fees are not adequately funding direct expenses or staff time, resulting in these costs being covered largely through taxation The District Could update its fees to the proposed rates while remaining regionally competitive.”

At the meeting, Council forwarded the bylaw to the December 2nd Regular Meeting of Council. Councillor Mario Feldhoff suggested going through the rates one at a time. Feldhoff pointed out in Kitimat, the District subsidises many things. He wanted to cover some of the differences between private development and home based businesses.

The motion was called and carried before Council started going through it.

Feldhoff suggested the fees to the Board of Variance be no higher than $300. He wanted to make it more affordable for citizens to approach the Board of Variance. The proposed fee is $450, the current fee is $150. Councillor Corinne Scott compared the fees around the Northwest and suggested the $450.

Councillor Phil Germuth wanted examples of what a Board of Variance did. He was told a home owner or a property owner could apply to the Board of Variance if there is a hardship for them to meet existing regulations.

Councillor Rob Goffinet expressed he sat in on the APC Meeting and they discussed the costs. They compared the fees to the costs and decided the proposed fees would keep with the true costs. He pointed out the change in fee would be miniscule to the developer.

Feldhoff pointed out there were subsidies already in place for the taxpayer, be it on the bus or at the pool. People go to the Board of Variance for Hardship cases and they should not be looked at in the same light as a developer, because only home owners apply. Council agreed somewhere between $300 and $450.

The development permit was next. Councillor Corinne Scott pointed out the base cost of the service is $685 and they were moving up to $700 from $150. She suggested moving it down to $600. Goffinet stated this was done because it does not include advertising.

Council was told development permits were for construction in City Centre and for Multifamily Housing Developments. He stated the cost was minor compared to the cost of the permit. These are not to be confused with Building Permits are handled through a different department and are a percentage of the cost of the work.
Acting Mayor Edwin Empinado asked Council how much money was spent advertising the Development Permit. He was told it was about $500 to place two ads in physical newspapers. He was told it was varied based on which newspaper it went into and how small it was. He was told they usually place ads for the renovating of multifamily dwellings.

The Development Permit for the Down Town Revitalization Area (DTRA) also got special treatment, jumping from $20 to a whopping $50, despite costing the District $525. Councillor Phil Germuth asked why. He was told when Council developed the DTRA, they did not want to hinder people building in the down town area. They did not want to place burdens in this area.

Scott wanted to know what the reasoning behind some of the changes, because some of the rates were higher than the baseline costs while others were lower. She was told they calculated the average and they found the quickest scenario. Some of the reasoning was to keep costs lower.

Under the OCP amendments, they jump from around $300 to $1,700. She wondered if they could change the costs incrementally. Feldhoff stated these applications were usually made by large developers. Rezoning is also suggested to go up from $300 to $1,500.

The next issue was under Temporary Use Permit, as it affects home owners who are operating a business from their home which may not be available within the community and he did not want to discourage home based businesses. The fees would be changing from $350 to $800. He suggested they increase to $400.

Feldhoff then suggested finding a way to reduce the advertising costs to help out home based businesses. They are advertised on the District Website as well. It was suggested they issue the permits on a three year basis rather than two.

Councillor Corinne Scott stated she was about to not make any friends. “I can understand the temporary use permits for home based businesses Councillor Feldhoff has been talking about. I currently believe temporary use permits for home based businesses should have a finite timeline that they can operate at home and they should be moving into the retail sector because they have an unfair advantage by operating at home than to be paying lease fees that others in the community are paying and I know that’s not going to go over well with a lot of people. Temporary use should be that, temporary. If you’re talking home based businesses, they should be temporary. And if they are not ready to move into a retail area, then maybe it’s not really a viable business,” said Scott.

She stated Kitimat was fortunate to have a physical newspaper and thought more people should subscribe to it to support it. She stated to decrease advertising costs, the paper should sell more subscriptions.

Germuth agreed the cost of home based businesses should be higher because they are charging the same costs to customers and getting the added benefit of not having to pay rent on the store front. “I don’t feel that they should be getting special exceptions. As Councillor Scott pointed out, you start up, build your clientele for a few years, but after that, you have a viable business and you should be able to have a store front and paying taxes like everybody else in a store front. I think those fees are well within line,” said Germuth.

Feldhoff stated this has come up in the past and he has arguments at home which he could dust off. He stated there are plenty of viable home based businesses in town including dog grooming, gun smithing and piano lessons which could not justify paying full rent in the mall. The community wants the services and stated they should be encouraging the businesses.

“I know that certain members of the small business community have strongly advocated for closing down the home based business sector, making it difficult for them. Suggesting that they could only be in business for a certain number of years and then they had to get a store front. I’m not from that school,” said Feldhoff.

Goffinet stated this was discussed and the ground rules were change to three years and a renewal for three years. A permit and renewal would be $600 over six years. He suggested it could have been $1000 for 6 years, but stated the APC reasoned the 6 years should be no more onerous than the previous fee.

Empinado agreed with Scott, that a locally owned newspaper would be willing to reduce the cost. He asked Cameron Orr from the Northern Sentinel if this was true. Orr stated Empinado should refer the question to the publisher.

The item is a comfort letter, which is jumping from completely free to $200. The Comfort Letter is asking whether or not there is anything wrong with a building in town, such as is it in non-compliance and is the District willing to act on non-compliance, does it meet the current building code, does it have a valid occupancy permit or does it have a fire safety record. They have written 22 comfort letters this year.

Germuth moved back to the small business for a second, agreeing that businesses like piano teachers could never make it in a store front. However, he stated there are businesses operating out of houses that have competing businesses which are in a store front. He suggested looking at this further down the road.

He was told by administration most of the Single Family Zones can have a home based business as an outright approval. Only several zones would require outright approval and a temporary use permit. Feldhoff chimed in saying as a part of the process, if the neighbours all indicate they do not want it, they will make a decision accordingly.

The final item is License of Occupation, which shoots up from free to $1000. Germuth wanted to know what it was. The License of Occupation is a license which is used by a business to occupy Municipal Land. The most recent case is a restaurant which needs to use municipal land to put their dumpster and they need a license to put it there.
Get your cheque books out...
Comment by nbo on 1st December 2013
Obviously the home based business has an advantage regarding overhead compared to a store front owner. Say for example a mobile mechanic uses his home only for office work and storing some parts, but adjusts his prices to reflect his savings. Would this be acceptable to the store front owners then? The answer is simple; the store owners will cry foul because lower prices are drawing customers away from them and they want to stamp it out. The very ones that benefited in the past who have grown their business to where they now enjoy certain tax breaks, loop holes, local recognition, and bulk rates on product, now want to rewrite the rules. Not fair.