June 12, 2015 2:46 pm
Updated: June 12, 2015 9:04 pm

97% property tax increase spurs complaint from Calgary bistro owner

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WATCH: The owner of Escoba Bistro is using social media to try and protest high property tax bills. Erika Tucker reports.

CALGARY – If you’ve seen the $4.7-million “for sale” sign on Escoba Bistro , you might be wondering how property values got so high in downtown Calgary.

Owner Darren Hamelin tweeted the below to bring attention to a 97 per cent increase in his property taxes this year. He’s not actually selling the restaurant, but trying to make a point. He’s “strongly considering” putting it on the market at $4.7M for the next six months to prove there will be “not be one single buy” at the price it’s been assessed at by the city.

Hamelin, who’s owned Escoba on 8 Ave. for the last 18 years, claims the city has moved from a “revenue to land sales method” in assessing properties. He says the problem with that is “there’s no basis in revenue” and that the city is now “taxing small businesses at a rate that’s basically the same as a 20-story building.”

“What has made it jump is they’ve left behind the normal model of evaluating a commercial property, and gone with land valuation based on previous sales, which has doubled the value of my property in their eyes overnight,” he told Global News.

The interior of Escoba Bistro on Calgary’s 8 Avenue.

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Hamelin says he paid $34,000 last year and is now being asked to pay $67,000.

“I can’t sit silent when people wonder why small businesses are starting to shutter their doors because we just can’t afford to have that kind of a hit on our cash flow.”

“Without smaller businesses like mine–restaurants, dry cleaners, stores, dentists–there’s no value added for anybody working downtown,” he said. “At the same time, they don’t want to pay more than average market price for goods they’re receiving. You can’t sell a can of coke for $4 just because you’re downtown and paying those kinds of fees.”

Hamelin tweeted his concerns at Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who responded by asking if Hamelin was going through the process to question the assessment.

Hamelin has hired Altus Group to do just that, but says the process will be costly, and he’s been told the city’s original assessments aren’t likely to be overturned.

Nenshi won’t offer further comment on this specific case, but the city’s assessment department says the increase is supported by “market evidence.”

“Land values in the downtown rise significantly in 2014 over 2013 as evidenced by the sales,” said Assessment director Nelson Karpa in an email. “We do have market evidence that supports the land value.”

Karpa said Hamelin’s complaint will be heard later this year, when the city will present evidence in support of the assessed value and Altus Group will present evidence in support of their value.

“The Assessment Review Board will make a determination,” said Karpa. “If the board does reduce the value, we will abide by the board’s decision, and any taxes will be refunded to the owner.”

Hamelin has says he’s never experienced such an “assault” on his revenue, and he’s not sure what the future holds for his business.

“When you go from $3,000 a month to $5,600 a month, that money has to come from someone,” said Hamelin. “And [Escoba] is already stretched to the limit because of loss of revenue to oil going down.

“I’ve never faced this kind of cash flow crunch in the 18 years I’ve been serving clients downtown.”

Calgary’s Escoba Bistro, next to Vern’s on 8 Avenue.

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