Developing Story: Short-term community gardens get mixed reviews

Seven per cent of city's community gardens are temporary conversions

(Note: This story has been altered since first posted Aug. 8)

Like other short-term gardens sprouting up on land slated for development in Vancouver, the Hastings North Temporary Community Garden is attracting both praise and criticism.

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The garden is going in on a 22,000-square-foot site on the 2500 block of East Hastings until London Drugs, the landowner, moves forward with its Alba development, which it decided in May to delay until the market improves.

Some residents welcome the transformation of the empty lot into a garden until then, while some critics consider such projects greenwashing. They lament the loss of long-term businesses knocked down to make way for developments, especially when they're delayed for long periods, and complain landowners get a tax break while the land is being used for a garden, so the city loses out on cash.

B.C. Assessment determines the taxable assessed value of properties and assigns property to a property class based on actual use.

Some developers and commercial landowners are able to temporarily convert their sites to recreational properties, which include parks, playing fields and community gardens.

As of 2012, about seven per cent of all community gardens were temporary conversions, according to the City of Vancouver. In 2012, there was no conversion of taxable commercial property to parks, gardens or playing fields for tax-savings purposes. In 2011, two properties were converted to recreational properties, resulting in tax savings of approximately $47,300 for the owners.

London Drugs won't comment on financial details associated with the Hastings community garden, including specifics on how much it's saving in property tax or how much of those savings will be invested in the garden itself.

London Drugs is making a contribution to the start-up cost for the Hastings North Temporary Community Garden. Because we are a private, family-owned and operated company we do not discuss financials, Donna Figuerira, director of real estate for London Drugs group of companies, told the Courier in an email.

London Drugs did not comment on greenwashing accusations, but noted its website, which outlines its green measures.

Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie said land use re-classifications should be monitored carefully and there should be standards on how the space is used and what opportunity there is for the community to use it. Louie said the city has talked with B.C. Assessment about the process of how they assess the land and re-classify it.

"But overall, I think it's a positive thing when the land, which would otherwise be sitting fallow as a big brown space, is now used for the community to come together and have a growing opportunity," he said.

Louie added that council is concerned about businesses being demolished to make way for developments such as Alba that end up being delayed.

"We're concerned, of course, when we allow for redevelopment to occur that the development proceed in a timely fashion," he said. "We want the community to have those businesses available to them and this is a situation that I don't think sits well with us. Certainly, as a resident of Hastings-Sunrise, I know many of those businesses that were there were a positive addition for our neighbourhood and my hope is we move through to development of that site sooner versus later."

Louie noted some developers, such as Concord Pacific, have donated taxes saved through land re-classification to the community.

The Hastings North Temporary Community Gardens grand opening is 11 to 4 p.m., Aug. 10. All the plots have already been allocated, but Shifting Growth, the registered charity managing the garden, is keeping a waiting list.


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