Metro file photo A pedestrian walks in front of a business on Barrington Street.

A study of public and private businesses in HRM suggests commercial taxes aren’t a top concern when owners decide where to hang their shingle.

The city’s Community Design Advisory Committee got an update Wednesday on Phase 1 of Business Location Study, which is being conducted by Stantec Consulting.

HRM staff member Andre McNeil told the committee the consultants interviewed more than 100 local business owners and managers and asked them to rank 17 factors, including taxation rates, for the impact on their choice to set up shop in the urban core or suburbs.

“Property tax did rank near the middle for suburban, they were a little more price-sensitive than urban business owners,” McNeil said. “For those than chose an urban location, it was down at 11 or 13 out of those 17 factors.”

The preliminary report shows issues such as parking availability, proximity to clients, commute time, profile and image, availability of space and rental costs were of greater concern than tax rates when choosing a business location.

Leanne Hachey of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says commercial taxation rates are a primary concern for her members, but says the issues affect the choice of location may not be the same that affect everyday operation.

“Once you’re past those first two or three critical years when you’re trying to keep it all together, then you start to see the flow of issues and you start to get a better understanding for what helps drive business success and what hinders business success,“ she said.

The study is now proceeding to Phase 2, when the consultants will evaluate the results and generate recommendations to improve the appeal of the downtown core as a business environment.

“We’ll be looking to see what options we have as a municipality, what tools do we have available that can change these decisions,” said McNeil.

Boosting population in urban core could boost HRM’s bottom line

Increasing population density in HRM’s urban core could result in serious savings for the municipality, according to a consultant’s report.

Quantifying the Costs and Benefits of Alternative Growth Scenarios evaluated the social and fiscal impact of increasing the population share in the urban core from the current 16 per cent to 25 per cent by 2031, as targeted under the regional plan.

The report authors also evaluated two hypothetical scenarios, in which the urban population shares rose to 40 and 50 per cent.

An overview presented to the municipal Community Planning Advisory Committee Wednesday culminated in a breakdown of the costs and revenues associated with each scenario.

The number-crunching reveals that pushing population share in the urban core to 50 per cent of HRM’s total would result in savings of more than $1.7 billion, thanks to the creation of a more compact, transit-oriented community.

The hypothetical scenario shows costs for municipal services such as local and regional roadwork, and haulage for solid waste, would drop significantly with the increase in population density.

Planning Services Manager Austin French told the committee the final report, which will be used in the development of the HRM by Design Centre Plan, doesn’t set anything in stone.

“What was in our minds…was to see how much money could be saved if we were doing better relative to our targets, and what if we did even better than that,” he said. “The 40 and 50 per cent are quite hypothetical…the purpose of study was not to direct us there, just saying ‘what if.’”

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