Council grants tax-exempt program for development around Ottawa airport, rejects attempt to make forest protection part of deal

Since it is a portion of the property tax increase resulting from the development that would be forgiven, the program is considered self-funded.

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Billed as a way to support the pandemic-hit city’s airport and tourism industry and potentially improve flight deals to and from the national capital, the council on Wednesday approved a tax-exempt program for businesses developing around from the Ottawa International Airport.

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Under the new community improvement plan (CIP) for some 100 hectares of federally owned land around the airport “that has been underutilized for many years,” as described by the city’s planning chief , Steve Willis, tenants who lease properties from the airport authority and develop value-adding projects on it would be eligible for annual grants reducing their council tax bills for up to 25 years.

Since it is a portion of the property tax increase resulting from the development that would be forgiven, the program is considered self-funded.

Mayor Jim Watson encouraged his colleagues to vote for the proposed grant program, describing it as “one of the few tools we have as a city to help an important sector of our economy. It would allow the airport, which is a not-for-profit entity, to increase revenue through rent collection and potentially the number of flights operating from YOW, Watson said.

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Even before the pandemic period, with a 77% drop in passenger numbers between 2019 and 2021, Willis said the Ottawa airport had been losing international flights due to factors “well outside of its control.” And while the airport has done well in attracting smaller airlines, such as those offering regional and northern services and vacation charters, he said increasing its rental revenue stream would also give the airport additional resources to try to arouse the interest of the largest airlines.

While the federal government has provided millions in pandemic-related aid to the Ottawa airport, in addition to investments in its border security infrastructure and the airport’s future LRT branch, Willis said he was not aware of any federal government programs to try to get the airlines to spread. its offer of flights to different airports. He compared that to the Netherlands, which recently encouraged airlines to move from the crowded Amsterdam airport to Rotterdam.

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“If our federal government took the same approach and depressurized Toronto and Montreal via routes through Ottawa, I think we’d be delighted,” Willis said.

Count Keith Egli obtained a commitment from the mayor to write to the federal government and ask for help to increase the offer of flights at the Ottawa airport. As the national capital and seat of the federal government, Cond. Theresa Kavanagh added that people visiting Ottawa shouldn’t have to commute to Montreal and Toronto, as they do now. “We are not a backwater.”

Airport Area Councilors Riley Brockington and Diane Deans sought support for a proposal to make the grant program contingent on the airport’s agreement to protect a large Scots Pine plantation along Hunt Club Road, outside of the CIP limits. It has already been threatened once by a proposal to develop a parking lot and storage facility, Brockington noted, prompting more than 21,000 people to sign a petition to save the urban forest. It’s something city and airport staff are discussing, through a possible land swap.

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But doing this now by attaching it to the tax relief program is about leverage, Brockington said.

“We are going to enter into an agreement that will have significant economic benefits for the airport and its future tenants, in the tens of millions of dollars, and in return, based on the strong desire of the community, (the requirement) is to remove these 10 acres from the development. future”.

While it is something the council could do, Willis shared his position that the airport is negotiating the land swap in good faith, and for it to stay that way, the issues need to be addressed separately. Brockington’s motion failed 17-7.

While most of the council supported creating the grant program, which will remain in place for at least 10 years, Deans, Kavanagh, Jeff Leiper and Shawn Menard voted against it. Menard said nothing in the plan required the airport to show that the development would not have happened anyway in order for tenants to receive tax breaks.

While Willis confirmed that, he said no tax relief under the program would be approved without a council vote and that staff would try to provide evidence at that time to show how the inducement resulted in a particular project being considered in airport grounds.

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