Arts proposal for Comox heritage building stays alive

A historical building in Comox may get a second lease on life, as Comox council passed two motions Wednesday.

A historical building in Comox may get a second lease on life, as Comox council passed two motions Wednesday to aid Kelly Pound in her hope of creating an arts community centre.

On Dec. 9, Pound approached council with her idea to purchase, renovate and restore the St. John the Baptist Church on Comox Avenue into an arts and community centre, with her main goal of preserving the crumbling building.

The building was designated as a heritage building by the Town of Comox in 1986, and Pound explained it has been sitting on the property for a number of years without any work to its structure and foundation which she noted has suffered a lot of damage.

The property does contain a residence which was used to house members of the church, particularly the priest at the time, but is now rented out, despite a bylaw which restricts its use as a rental home.

Pound asked council in December to consider fast-tracking the rezoning process for the rental house to help subsidize part of the cost of renovations, along with requesting a tax exemption for the duration of renovating the building.

Coun. Barbara Price questioned Wednesday what the downside would be to allow a tax exemption to the property.

“At the moment, we don’t get any taxes from it … and we never had as a church, so I don’t see that we’re giving anything up,” she noted. “If we leave this building any longer, we won’t have an issue because it will fall down, it will be beyond repair which often happens with heritage buildings.

“If someone comes along and is willing to put that time and energy and money into it, I would hope that we could find a way that we could work with her.”

Coun. Ken Grant inquired about the viability of Pound’s business, and the implication it could have by withholding any potential tax dollars.

“My concern is not so much that we would be saving an old church — I think that’s a very admirable thing — but I’m concerned about the viability of the business that’s going to go there,” he said.

“… because we would be tying up tax dollars for the Town of Comox, and if five years from now we start taxing and that puts them in a position they can’t pay or couldn’t pay in the first place, then we’ve really tied up taxpayers’ dollars. I think we need to look at that part of it as well.”

Price added if the project does fall through, the risk involved for the Town is minimal.

“Aren’t we looking at the actual heritage building? If she does all the work, completes it and if she hasn’t done her homework properly and business doesn’t work out, isn’t that really her problem? I don’t see how that could affect the Town. I’m sure another use would come along. I don’t see how the Town is at risk.”

Mayor Paul Ives added council does have time to look at viability of the project, as the tax exemption bylaw would be brought back to a meeting in February.

“We do have time … to look at viability, but ultimately, it will be the proponents just like any other proponents in a development to determine if it is viable. It’s not our role to potentially babysit the applicant in terms of its business success,” he added.

Coun. Patti Fletcher said she is in favour of fast-tracking the rezoning application.

“I understand someone is renting the house right now, and perhaps that’s an oversight of the church or they are unaware that’s it’s not actually truly conforming,” she noted.

“I think that’s a good piece to our housing stock is to have a rental house in Comox. I would like to see it fast-tracked for it to be cleaned up for everyone — for the present owner, for a potential new owner and for the community.”

Ken Grant inquired about the time delay for applications currently in queue for rezoning. Planner Marvin Kamenz said it could add about a three-week delay to other applications.

A motion for staff to create a report on tax exemption along with a motion to fast-track the rezoning application for the house was approved.