Selling Cup Cakes.

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I just finished getting caught up on a few articles about “The Crossing” a multi-use development proposed by the Northrup Group. The good thing about opinions is that everyone has one and they range everywhere from a great idea to a terrible idea. The following is one “terrible” comment that I lifted from a CBC News story.

“There is a reason why downtown Moncton is a dire embarrassment. Far too much development with Champlain mall, Dieppe and in the north end of the city has left downtown with nothing left. Imagine if they had built the mall and the casino in the downtown area and then added the arena complex too it. Moncton would actually then have a downtown instead of a village main street. Dont make the same mistake Saint John, channel the investment into uptown and show Moncton the right way to build a city. Moncton is a mess with no coordinated plan of what it wants to be. I am all for investment but not by developing empty land when there are other parts of the city in need of regeneration”

On the other hand our Council Merrithew as well as city officials think it’s a great idea. Should we as taxpayers go along to get along or should we question political wisdom? The good Councilor thinks we are getting a better deal than our neigbours even with the higher tax rate of $1.784 per $100 of assessment.  CBC Apr 2014“Merrithew argues owners of a similar home get a better deal in Saint John than in Fredericton and Moncton.”We are not taxed the highest in the province,” he said. “Even though we have a higher tax rate our taxes are lower here in the city of Saint John.”

Let me subject that statement to the acid test. It’s important for folks to be aware that housing stock in Moncton, Fredericton, Quiispamsis, Rothesay and other communities have been “appreciating” in value while many residential properties in Saint John have been “depreciating” in assessed value thereby lowering Saint John property taxes on a “comparable” home. I would suggest there is little consolation in having a lower property tax bill as you watch you major investment go down is value. You don’t mind paying a few hundred more in property taxes if your home appreciates to the tune of several thousand dollars offsetting the tax increase.  Would you agree?

But I digress , a few questions: What ever happened to Plan SJ and infill development?  If you 2016-03-10_1932 take a close look at the old north end, ripe for infill development,  I can certainly understand why no developer in his right mind is interested in “infill development”  Who wants to invest $125 per sq foot building a house for a total of $200,000 to have broken streets and sidewalks as well as boarded up buildings next door?

Tell are there any senior city staff. Councilors and proponents of Plan SJ interested in building a neat little bungalow in any one of the many empty lots in the old north end? No, I didn’t think so.  It’s too bad we don’t get to elect City Management as well as Council. So much for Plan SJ and infill development.

Next question: With  glut of residential properties for sale in Saint John as well as a 20% plus vacancy in commercial and retail space where is the logic in approving putting yet more building stock on the market? Will it serve only to drive the rental and lease per sq foot prices even lower? Does anyone one at City Hall see any value in more empty store fronts and more commercial vacancies? Or is the City simply looking at the short term benefit in propping up the tax base with a long term consequence to the City as a whole?

Public memories are short. When the new City Hall building was completed a few decades ago the core area of the city: Prince William, Germain and Canterbury Streets were decimated caused by the commercial glut that hit the market. many buildings sat vacant or under-utilized for years. Some were sold for a mere fraction of their replacement value. You could have fired a cannon down any street without fear of hitting anyone, it took decades to “partially recover”

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana

I like everyone likes to see nice new developments however if approving new developments  simply makes the retail, commercial, residential supply demand equation even more out of balance my vote is no.   Saint John’s problem is and has been convincing the rest of the world, business and families that Saint John offers the best value. Until such time that Saint John con articulate it’s “definable, defensible difference” in the competition for businesses and families  it makes no sense, to use an analogy, bake more cup cakes when we can’t sell the ones we have.  What do you think?

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