Knack’s Back With a Plan to Compensate Beleaguered Business Owners

Ward Nakota Isga councillor returns with a revised motion which calls for the City to give tax relief to businesses that are impacted by heavy construction

If at first you don’t succeed, revise, compromise and try again.

Andrew Knack has informed his council mates he will be introducing a motion that calls for the City to provide financial assistance to businesses that are severely impacted by long-term construction projects.

This comes about a year and a half after Knack’s previous attempt to convince council to provide compensation-for-construction was defeated by a single vote.

Knack’s position is clear. He understands that Alberta’s Municipal Government Act insulates towns from any liabilities when it comes to effects that large-scale public works projects have on neighbouring residents and businesses. But he believes that compensation for neighbouring businesses is the right thing for Edmonton to do when LRT tracks have to be laid, roads need to be rebuilt or bike lanes need to be routed. Montreal has a similar plan in place.

This motion differs quite a bit from the one that was defeated in April of 2022. It will be brought to council on October 4. It comes after Knack talked with the seven councillors who voted against the 2022 motion, asking what could be done to the plan in order to win their support. Tim Cartmell, one of the seven who voted against Knack’s previous go-round, helped draft the wording for the new proposal.

What the new proposal does is entrench that any financial aid to businesses will come in the form of property-tax forgiveness. There is no promise of subsidies. Businesses need to prove their losses. The property-tax forgiveness will be capped at 50 per cent through the construction years. The money has to go to the business owners, not landlords — and Knack said City staff have the tools to ensure this would happen. Businesses that boom after the construction has been completed — where revenues increase by more than 15 per cent — would need to repay some of the forgiven tax money. And, chains don’t qualify.

“It’s a case where something is better than nothing for businesses that are struggling,” said Knack.

Knack has seen the effects of LRT construction through his Nakota Isga ward, from the Colombian and Vi’s for Pies in Glenora, to Ch. Cafeteria near the corner of Stony Plain Road and 149th Street, to businesses west of 150th Street, like those in the Revolution Cycle building.

“I’ve talked to many business owners. I didn’t want to give up on this. I have seen how the LRT construction is affecting Stony Plain businesses at both ends.”

His push to reintroduce the assistance package has the support of the Stony Plain Road Business Association. It represents an area that is being impacted by the construction of the Valley Line LRT west. The road is down to one lane each way, with barriers erected in front of businesses on the south side of the street. The BIA has encouraged each of its members to write to Knack individually, because it feels that a large amount of messages and mail is more effective than one single push from an association

“The business community understands that there needs to be significant investment in the city, there needs to be investment in Valley Line,” said SPR Executive Director Todd Janes. ”The city needs to grow. We recognize that there will be immediate pain, so we’re not hit with something even bigger, later.”

But he said that “trust is eroding” between the business community and Marigold Infrastructure Partners, the contractor working on the Valley Line West. He said businesses are frustrated by lack of sidewalks, or sidewalks that have been replaced by wooden walkways, which are difficult to clean. He said it would be “unacceptable” to go through another winter like this. He said it’s frustrating when business owners see worksites with no work being done, while other areas are busy.

“The area is like a teenager in junior high; they want be beautiful, but then they get the braces, the headgear and the acne starts to act up,” Janes said.

“But the City has an obligation to hold the contractor’s hands to the fire.”

In the spring of 2022, I wrote a feature for our sister publication, Edify, about a number of small businesses — including Aminata’s Hair Braiding and Beauty Supply, City Liquidations and Koutures Afro-Continental Restaurant — on 118th Avenue that had parking and street access cut off by a major EPCOR sewer project. Some reported business slowdowns of up to 90 per cent. There was no compensation plan in place, so the business had to hope that potential customers could see the signage that would lead them to makeshift paths the construction barriers

When access to Stony Plain Road from 124th Street was first cut off because of LRT construction and bridge replacement (and that’s not expected to open again till late in 2024), Jonathan Gallo, the owner of the building that houses Bodega restaurant near that intersection, suggested that landowners should see a lowering of property taxes over the two years the project is expected to take.