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Councillor floats uninhabitable buildings tax

St. Albert city councillor Sheena Hughes has asked administration to study the possible benefits and consequences of implementing an penalty or increased tax rate on properties that have been deemed uninhabitable.

St. Albert city councillor Sheena Hughes has asked administration to study the possible benefits and consequences of a penalty or increased tax rate on uninhabitable properties.

"What are the potential benefits and risks of implementing a penalty or an increased tax rate ... for properties that have been determined (uninhabitable), such as after a fire, that have not been demolished after a specified amount of time, such as a year," reads Hughes' information request, which was submitted on Aug. 29.

"My (information request) is just simply to ask if there's anything that we can do and what are the consequences, both good and bad, of putting in some kind of time limit before the owners are going to face consequences for not addressing a building that needs to be demolished," Hughes said in an interview.

"Right now, there's no financial consequences for an owner that has a building that needs to be demolished because of fire or any other situation that just makes it really unsightly or a danger for anybody to enter."

When asked if certain properties came to mind, Hughes was quick to mention the Citadel Mews West seniors complex on St. Albert Trail near the Sturgeon Community Hospital.

Citadel Mews West has sat vacant for more than two years now after a serious fire displaced over 100 residents in May of 2021.

The seniors complex, owned by Christenson Developments, has not been repaired, and was recently wrapped in tarps.

"Obviously, the Citadel building has prompted this question because they've been clear that they're not intending to do anything because there's financial motivations for them not to do it right now," Hughes said. 

"When I look at the Citadel, it's on St. Albert Trail — a major thoroughfare — and it's representing our city," she said. "It's just brought to light the fact that we need to have some standards in place up front for people to have reasonable expectations about what they need to do to address the situation, and realize that there will be consequences if they choose not to."

Christenson Developments and company president Greg Christenson didn't respond to the Gazette's interview request; however, in an interview with City News Edmonton last month, Christenson said the company has delayed doing any sort of work on the fire-ravaged building because of high interest rates.

"We don't need to tear the whole building down, but until you actually start rebuilding the whole building and occupying the building, it's a big burden," Christenson said. "In the spring of 2022 and into 2023, interest rates started going up, so right now we're just waiting for the right time because ... mortgage payments on (Citadel Mews West) is almost $200,000 a month."

"While it may look like somebody's stalling or delaying, it's actually a very deliberate strategy to time it."

Hughes said besides the impact a tax increase might have to motivate Christenson Developments to repair the Citadel building sooner than later, she thinks it might be a good policy to have in place for the future.

"I think we just need to be doing this as a preventative measure as opposed to always reactionary," Hughes said. "That way, if something does happen, people do realize that there's financial consequences in not addressing it upfront."

"It could happen again with other buildings in the future as well, whether (it's caused by) flooding or other fires or something else where (a) building's been determined that it's not going to be fixable ... that way people know upfront that there's a time limit they're working under, otherwise there will be financial consequences."

Hughes said she isn't fully committed to the penalty or increased tax rate, but administration's report will determine her next steps. 

"This is just a question to find out what we can or cannot do, and how we can go about it," she said. 

When a councillor submits an information request, city administration generally has 30 days to submit a report; however, deadline extensions can be granted.

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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