Saanich councillors have summed up residents’ descriptions of Uptown using milder terms such as “uninviting,” “imposing” and “monolithic.”
And while there appears to be no shortage of opposition to any or all aspects of the mega-development, Mayor Frank Leonard says Uptown was a godsend amid an economic downturn.
“It saved us through this economic slowdown because there hasn’t been much other growth,” Leonard said, pointing to a huge jump in property taxes the owner now pays.
In 2007, while the former Town & Country strip mall occupied that site, the property was valued at $34 million. The owner was paying $800,000 in taxes, $435,000 of which went to Saanich.
But Uptown is a much larger, much more bustling development. The property is now valued at $240 million, with Saanich receiving $2.8 million in property taxes from the site.
“I don’t know what we would do to bring taxes (to a reasonable level) if we didn’t have the Uptown revenues,” Leonard said.
Last week Saanich council approved a 3.25 per cent tax hike – lower than the 3.6 per cent originally forecast, after council asked staff for a reduction. For a Saanich home at the average value of $626,000, that equates to an additional $65.30 in property taxes.
Leonard predicts that, had Uptown not come along when it did, that property tax increase for homeowners would likely be higher, to maintain the level of service that residents expect from the municipality.
“We’ve been able to maintain (an operational) tax increase of 2.5 per cent year to year. We accomplish that by restraining all departments except police and fire,” Leonard said. “If we didn’t have the Uptown revenues, council would have to decide what they’d do to bring taxes to that level.”
Paul Murray, Saanich’s director of finance, says homeowners would likely be paying roughly $10 more per year if Uptown wasn’t around.
“We get extra revenue from subdivision, or adding more inventory. And that’s what’s happened at Uptown,” Murray said. “With the economy going south, and housing starts and commercial building activity slowing, Uptown’s sort of kept us going. It’s made up for the difference.”
Leonard says now that Uptown’s second phase is nearing completion, council remains “receptive” to redevelopment proposals in the Saanich core.
If the economy doesn’t recover, and redevelopments don’t happen, he says council will be forced to make some even tougher decisions.
“We want to encourage (property owners) to redevelop sooner than later – sooner would make a positive impact to the municipality’s bottom line,” he said.
“But as long as Greece is the word, we’re not going to be coming out of this for a while.”firstname.lastname@example.org