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Vancouver city council renews WEBIA for longer term

'We're just thrilled to have seven years': Hellyar

Vancouver city councillors voted unanimously to renew the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) for a seven-year term at a meeting of the Court of Revision Feb 5.

“We’re just thrilled to have seven years,” WEBIA’s executive director Lyn Hellyar told Xtra West. “It makes so much sense to have a longer term to work.” The lengthy renewal process, she adds, takes up a significant portion of the BIA’s term, citing this as a reason she advocated for more time.

While Hellyar originally moved for a 10-year WEBIA mandate, which has been undertaken with varying success by two other Vancouver BIAs, the departure from the five-year standard left some with doubts. After the membership voted to renew for seven years at the BIA’s extraordinary general meeting in September, Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva told Xtra West that he was satisfied by the compromise despite his initial concern that a longer term might reduce BIA accountability.

The BIA, which provoked controversy in the queer community last year when it removed the rainbow banners lining Davie St and put up new ones promoting the 2008 BG Triathlon World Championships, received minimal objection to its renewal.

When dissent is voiced in the renewal process, Hellyar says that it is often due to a lack of awareness on the part of building landlords. “Our biggest problem with our stakeholders is that they don’t read what we send them,” Hellyar told Xtra West after the WEBIA secured its new term. “They don’t know what we do.”

The WEBIA’s role in the West End is “integral,” says Deva, who says he continues to work on new ideas as a WEBIA board member but doesn’t have any specific goals for the next term.

In order to be approved for renewal each BIA in Vancouver is required to contact all of the property owners and business tenants in their district. The main point of contention for affected persons within a BIA zone is the yearly BIA levy, a tax charged on the properties based on their relative value. The funds are then passed directly by the city to the BIA for use in local projects. For 2009, the WEBIA budget calls for a levy of 97 cents per $1,000 dollars of assessed property value, which ranges from between about $280 to just under $45,000 annually.

Although the anonymous objection process protects property owners and tenants from potential pressure from BIA supporters, Hellyar says she is familiar with the common concerns. She maintains that while some businesses, especially those without street-level exposure, may not fully appreciate the work of the WEBIA, it is often offshore property owners who object to paying levies.

“We don’t just hang banners on the street,” says Hellyar, remarking that the WEBIA’s mandate includes negotiating for better tax rates in the area and working for improvements in foot traffic flow and local safety.

Hellyar says she supports the proposition by a representative from another district that the city act as a liaison between the parties to encourage dialogue between business and property owners and their BIAs.