Carol Robertson held a garage sale on the Easter long weekend, where she parted with the furnishings for her cabin at Canoe Beach.
It was not a happy occasion.
Robertson turned her cabin over to the City of Salmon Arm because she says she can no longer justify or afford the cost to lease the city-owned property.
Robertson was one of 28 lease-holders along Canoe Beach. She and her spouse purchased theirs about eight years ago for $50,000.
At that time, they were paying $1,200 per year for taxes and $1,200 for the lease, she says. The lease document at that time was one page.
The last lease she signed, the rates went up considerably, to about $5,000 per year. The increase was because the city decided to base them on assessed value.
The lease document is now about seven pages.
She said last year when the lease was coming up for renewal, the lease holders banded together in hopes of lobbying the city more effectively. On the advice of the city’s chief administrative officer, Carl Bannister, she said, they appointed one spokesperson, CJ Mitchell, so the city wouldn’t be hearing the same complaints multiple times.
That tactic was not successful. Robertson says she has never had a personal response from a council member.
“My issues go beyond the loss of our dream, and are more focused on the frustration of not having a voice in the process,” she says. “As a taxpayer in the City of Salmon Arm, I thought I would at least be heard.”
Mitchell says the leases have increased in the range of 350 per cent over the past six years. The last lease, from 2010 to 2013, includes a five per cent per year increase for each of the three years.
“We can’t get from council an indication of where they think it ought to be. If they’re going to keep raising it five per cent per year for the next 10 years, I would like to abandon it now,” he says, adding they acknowledge there’s a premium to be paid for beach front. “We’d like to know what that premium is going to be.”
Mitchell also said the lease can only be three years because of the Land Act, but he would like the city to restructure it to a cooperative group lease that would allow for a longer term – a suggestion that has been refused. The land is destined to be returned to parkland at some point. He said the short lease makes investing in renovations or selling the cabins impossible.
“It is impossible to find financing so any potential buyer must be by definition a gambler with deep pockets and all cash.”
Mitchell said the lease contains a number of onerous conditions that appear to be only for the purpose of making it easier to remove the current leaseholders. One is calling the properties “campsites” when all have permanent structures on them and another is allowing them to be occupied only seven months of the year. He adds that the last lease stated leaseholders could reapply for an extension under terms “mutually agreed upon.” He says, however, negotiations have not taken place and there is no mutual agreement.
Bannister, meanwhile, told the Observer the lease rates being charged are based on independent appraisal work done a number of years ago.
“Council and the city are only trying to charge fair market value for the properties to represent the taxpayers of Salmon Arm.”
As for Robertson’s cabin that she turned over to the city, he said it hasn’t been determined what will happen with it – but he doesn’t think it will be rented.
“The city has many rental properties but it’s not the business we want to be in so I doubt that will be the case.”
He said the lease document itself is longer because the city was acting on legal advice to modernize them.
He noted the leases at Canoe Beach have been a political issue for many years and council has gone through numerous discussions about them. He said typically staff responds on behalf of council regarding the leases.
“There are many letters to Mrs. Robertson in the file.”
In an email response to the Observer, Coun. Ivan Idzan said while he appreciates the sentiments of the leaseholders who feel the costs have gone too high, the costs of any waterfront property in the region have become significant – and the city’s taxpayers should receive a fair, market-rate return.
Regarding certainty, he said council can only set general guidelines regarding the community’s long-term plans and goals, such as the official community plan, and an election can mean a new council who changes plans for the property.
He said council has received and discussed a lot of input on the leases and collectively has made decisions that best reflect the greater interests of all the city’s residents and taxpayers. He said it’s not surprising those interests are different from those of the lessees, “and I make no apologies for doing what I believe is best for the whole community in the long-term.”
Both Couns. Alan Harrison and Kevin Flynn said they agreed with Idzan’s email responses. Harrison added that the draft OCP indicates the lease lots are planned to continue at least through 2020.
Flynn added that he would like to provide more certainty but can’t because of provincial legislation regarding lease terms, plus any future council can change the direction of plans. 2011-05-25