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Turner Drake & Partners Ltd.
6182 North Street
Halifax, N.S.
B3K 1P5
Canada

Tel.: (902) 429-1811
Toll Free: (800) 567-3033
Fax.: (902) 429-1891

Suite 221
12 Smythe Street
Saint John, N.B.
E2L 5G5
Canada
Tel.: (506) 634-1811

Suite 11
109 Richmond Street
Charlottetown, P.E.
C1A 1H7
Canada
Tel.: (902) 368-1811

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St. John's, N.L.
A1C 5M3
Canada
Tel.: (709) 722-1811

4th Floor
111 Queen Street East
Toronto, ON.
M5C 1S2
Tel.: (416) 504-1811

E-Mail: tdp@turnerdrake.com
Internet: www.turnerdrake.com

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# Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Nova Scotia’s 2018 Preliminary Property Assessments are available on the Property Valuation Service Corporation (PVSC)’s website, and there is a brief window to discuss assessments with PVSC assessors prior to the assessment roll being finalized on December 1st.

Between now and then, the PVSC is encouraging property owners to discuss any errors or provide additional information which may have an impact on the value of their property. The benefits in taking advantage of this opportunity are:


1)     It provides a higher level of certainty in preparing tax budgets for the 2018 fiscal year (for both the owner, and the municipality).


2)     It provides property owners with an opportunity to address concerns with 2018 assessments outside of the formal appeal process, and before the values are finalized and inserted on the official assessment roll.


3)     Owners who are not satisfied with the results of pre-roll consultations can still file a formal appeal when official assessment notices are received in January.

 

Preliminary consultations are typically less formal and more timely (and thus cost effective) than an appeal.  This is especially so because at the “pre-roll” stage, assessors aren’t in the position of defending an assessment that has already been published.  The best time to address an assessment issue is before the problem becomes one.

 

The link to proposed 2018 assessment data is as follows: https://www.pvsc.ca/en/home/findanassessment/searchbyaan.aspx.  Preliminary 2018 assessments are publicly available; owners will need their Assessment Account Number and PIN Access Code (which can be found at the top-right hand corner of their 2017 Assessment Notice) to access the underlying valuation records.


 

Giselle Kakamousias is the Vice-President of Turner Drake’s Property Tax Division.  Her experience negotiating and appealing property assessments is extensive (don’t be fooled by the photo - her calculator is older than some of her colleagues): it is a wise property owner who follows her advice.  If you’d like more of it, she can be reached at (902) 429-1811 ext. 333 or gkakamousias@turnerdrake.com.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 12:49:18 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Nova Scotia | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Friday, 18 August 2017

Of Heaven and Sea and Earth 

Please be suitably impressed by this photo: it has all three of a church, a lighthouse and a commercial heritage building


Five years ago, the Chronicle Herald reported that some of Nova Scotia’s churches were exploring the option of deregistering their buildings’ heritage status under the provincial Heritage Property Act.  Nova Scotia’s churches are often their town’s signature property, featuring architectural details ranging from elaborate stained glass windows to ceilings built by 19th century shipwrights using the same techniques used on the hulls of wooden ships.  But cultural and demographic shifts have reduced demand for churches in the province.  Dwindling congregations mean reduced budgets unable to cope with the high costs of maintaining and operating historic properties.  Deregistration is required for demolition, the only option some congregations saw in the face of financial realities: maintenance requirements outweighed the ability to keep these architectural gems standing.  Recent years have seen other churches amalgamate congregations, keeping and maintaining a single building while selling the rest off for (hopefully sympathetic) redevelopment.

Wolfville United Church as it was

A more literal beacon facing a similar threat of extinction is the Canadian lighthouse.  Changing technologies have rendered redundant their function, if not their cultural attraction.  In May 2008, Parliament passed the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, a bill to designate and preserve lighthouses of historic significance.  It took effect in May 2010, only to be followed in June by an announcement declaring almost all Canadian lighthouses surplus, no longer to be maintained by the Coast Guard.  Since then, community groups have become the champions of select historic lighthouses, while the rest, presumably, will suffer the same fate as many an unfortunate ship along our rocky coasts.  

Peggy’s Cove lighthouse, a likely survivor

The foregoing each illustrate the perils of functional obsolescence: when a building’s functionality no longer meets market demands only its cultural significance can protect it – and then only if a champion steps up, e.g. government, community group, or passionate property owner.  Urban heritage properties are particularly susceptible to rising functional obsolescence due to the high value of the land on which they sit: the financial rewards of redevelopment contrast starkly with the economic pitfalls of retaining and maintaining them. Demolition is tempting. 

This year we celebrate Canada 150.  With our history and heritage, for better or worse, on prominent display, we decided to turn our attention to the uphill battle faced by commercial heritage properties in Halifax.

Size Matters

Hemlines are the harbinger of stock prices.  Construction of the tallest skyscraper marks the dawn of recession.  Floorplates sound the death knell of heritage properties?  

Open concept office-in-waiting

Downtown heritage buildings in Atlantic Canada are at an inherent disadvantage versus modern construction because they are simply too small.  Even 30-year-old buildings are feeling the strain imposed by their new, more spacious contemporaries, whose design is able to accommodate demand for open concept offices.  In Halifax, total demand has yet to catch up with new supply. Rental rates are restricted and tenants can afford to move into the new buildings, leaving the last generation of Class A office space struggling to stay relevant – and occupied.  The trend is toward larger floorplates as companies are opting for large, open concept offices with collaborative workspaces and few individual offices.  Downtown Halifax doesn’t have a supply of unused historic warehouses with high ceilings and large floorplates ripe for conversion well suited to modern tastes. Instead, our heritage properties are mainly small buildings, 3-6 storeys high and with floor plates between 1,000 and 6,000 square feet (typically at the lower end of this range). 

Halifax has a few examples of what can be done to overcome this drawback.  Barrington Espace and the RBC Waterside Centre both maintained the façades of a number of adjacent heritage properties while completely overhauling their innards, joining the buildings within to allow for larger floorplates (Saint John’s CentreBeam Place is another example of where this technique was used successfully).  If done carefully, this can present a best of both worlds compromise.  If not, the result may be the Disneyfication of heritage: it looks about right, but there’s no soul.  Either way, it is not an option for detached heritage properties: they are left to find occupants happy with the original floorplates size.

Barrington Espace, RBC Waterside Centre, CentreBeam Place…thanks, Google Street View!

Finding a Fit

Heritage properties need a certain tenant.  The predominant competitor of the heritage office building is the home office: to attract a tenant away from this “free” space, a historic building must provide cachet and interest, and must find a tenant who wants (or needs) both as marketing tools for their business.  Heritage tenants are drawn from a pool of largely creative firms represented by public relations and marketing firms, IT companies, and (interestingly) employment recruiting agencies.  Often, these firms are start-ups; there is a symbiotic relationship between the two, with the heritage property providing an inspiring ambiance (and maybe cheap rent: see below), and the company providing income and life to the building.  What the heritage property has more trouble providing is a flexible workspace that can grow with the company.  When they become too large for their space, they must seek a larger floorplate in a more modern building.  There is a happy medium: mid-sized companies who could occupy an entire heritage property as a single tenant.  But in Atlantic Canada, most companies are either large or small, a by-product of provincial regulatory demands which force companies to “get large or go under” (Atlantic Canada is made up of four small provinces each with their own regulatory requirements for businesses: half the population and half the land area of any other province, but four times the regulations…but this is a topic for another day).         

The Champions

There are three classes of champions for heritage properties: passionate owners (hopefully with deep pockets), community groups who recognize the social benefit of maintaining our built heritage, and governments which either have a measure of both these characteristics or are open to the influence of those who do. 

Heritage property owners must appreciate the unique features of old buildings.  To quote one (you’ll never guess who), they “speak to you in a way new buildings don’t.  There is a sense of calm, a personality.  They have been there for centuries, and if the economics can work, they will be there long after you’ve turned to dust.”  Ah, the economics.  Heritage properties in Halifax do not attract a rental premium as they do in some larger cities, such as Toronto’s trendy Distillery District.  There may be a purchase premium, albeit not driven solely by heritage, but location as well, due to the prime situation some heritage properties enjoy by virtue of having gotten there first.  Halifax’s downtown is distinguished by its waterfront; heritage properties with a connection to it in particular may enjoy a purchase premium, provided this connection is maintained (pause now to be thankful for the public outcry that halted “Harbour Drive” before it started…and hopeful that the redevelopment of its first phase, the Cogswell Interchange, will be successful in repairing the fabric of the area). 

 

Toronto’s Distillery District, as modelled by a pair of junior TDPers

There is a social benefit to heritage properties, usually external to the site itself.  A 2011 study by Place Economics highlighted six areas of positive economic impact attributed to heritage preservation: jobs, property values, heritage tourism, environmental impact, social impact and downtown revitalization.  Heritage properties differentiate cities from one another, providing a unique draw to residents, visitors and immigrants alike.  The world’s most successful cities have vibrant heritage architecture, often interspersed with modern buildings.  Community groups recognize this and fight to preserve historic built environments, but it is often the building owners who fund these broader social benefits by bearing the increased costs of renovation and upkeep.  It is here that governments can play a vital role via heritage preservation policies, but they must take care that they get them right.       

Incentivise or incense?

Halifax Regional Municipality recently commissioned a study to investigate heritage incentives.  However structured, these are a means by which society as a whole, via taxes, can help pay for the social benefit of heritage properties.  Two of the largest pitfalls of which governments must be wary when enacting policies to protect heritage properties both involve the risk of (inadvertently) penalizing property owners. 

The first is the more obvious one, wherein the owner of a protected building is prevented from redeveloping a site to a more lucrative density, diminishing the ability to make money from the property and potentially its market value.  One avenue available to the city is to compensate the property owner for the diminished value by purchasing the air rights, i.e. the space above the building in which they would otherwise be allowed to build, but are prevented by heritage preservation policy.  This could be accomplished either directly, with the municipality retaining ownership of the air rights, or by opening the market for air rights trading, allowing heritage property owners to sell their air rights to developers of non-heritage sites to increase the allowable height on their sites.  (Yes, this has the potential to open another can of worms, but it’s a good theory if the policy is well thought out). 

The second potential pitfall lies in supporting some, but not all heritage properties; such as with the creation of a heritage preservation zone.  While those properties (and their owners) located within the zone stand to benefit from financial incentives offered by the municipality, any heritage properties outside the zone are placed at greater disadvantage.  Still competing against larger modern buildings, they are now on an uneven field against their direct (heritage) competition.  The supported properties have the money to modernize without deficit to their owners’ bottom line, while unsupported properties are further penalized physically and financially. 

For more on heritage rights and wrongs, don’t miss our Summer 2017 newsletter, coming soon to a mailbox near you.  If you are not already subscribed to this informative and gutsy publication, please get in touch with us at 902-429-1811 or tdp@turnerdrake.com.

Alexandra Baird Allen is the Manager of our Economic Intelligence Unit, a position which makes surprisingly good use of her liberal arts degree in history & cultural studies, as well as her expertise in GIS.  For more information on our Economic Intelligence Products, visit our website or contact Alex at 902-429-1811 ext. 323 or abairdallen@turnerdrake.com.

Friday, 18 August 2017 12:21:25 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Counselling | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Thursday, 01 June 2017

I can honestly say that these 13 weeks have been nothing short of amazing, over this time I have learned so much and gained experience that will help me throughout my life. I expected to come in one day a week for 8 hours a day and job shadow someone. I never thought that I would have my own space to work and be able to do so many things on my own. Every Tuesday morning I would meet with Ashley Urquhart (my boss for the day) and she would tell me the plan. If I had any questions that her door was always open, she was always very upbeat and happy, that made it extremely easy to talk to her.

I got into a morning routine of doing certain jobs, I would do Tenders, Google Analytics, and they even let me post on their social media accounts! I got to tweet about news that I thought was important, that was probably one of the best parts of my Co-Op experience. I never thought that they would give a Co-Op student in high school this much responsibility, I am beyond grateful that they did.  I always had someone close by to help me if I ever needed anything. The person sitting closest to me was Michael McCurdy, he made the day fun and I got to see how to be professional in the workplace and how to talk to clients over the phone. I worked with a great bunch of people that made this experience a lot of fun and helped me learn new things. My aunt, Patti Farewell, has work at Turner Drake & Partners for 26 years and now I see why, it is a very enjoyable place to work and everyone makes you feel welcome. The owner, Mike Turner, would always talk to me and ask me how things are going, along with his wife Verna, who would always make a point of talking to me and saying how nicely I was dressed, they were nice little conversations that made me smile. One day I got to sit in on a support staff meeting, we got lunch and talked about new ideas for TDP, I felt very included and like I was a part of the team.

The Co-Op interview was with Mark Turner (Vice President of the company) it was professional like a “real” interview would be so that I would be prepared for the actual thing when I go to apply for my full time job later in life. He was very nice and made me excited to start, I later got to work on a small project for him.

Right away I was being trained by two people who did exactly what I wanted to do. Ashley Urquhart and Alex Baird Allen were my safety nets throughout this time. The first few things they let me do on my own was, Tenders- finding new jobs and properties for the company to look at. The next job was Google Analytics- finding out how many people looked at the websites and how many people follow TDP’s social media accounts. They also trained me to do a few other jobs that would help me later, Data Mining- updating client’s information, Media Sheets- updating who they send things to. There were also basic jobs such as, photocopying, mail-outs and manuals. After a bit of time went by I was able to post on the company’s twitter. I was given the job of making a new flyer that would later be sent out to clients, I was surprised that they felt like I was doing well enough to be given a project that important. I spent many hours on it and got nothing but positive feedback. It’s going to be weird not seeing these people for a while, I would really like to come back for my grade 12 Co-Op and give it my all once more. Lastly I liked how much responsibility I had. They gave me my own place to work but it was also around people so I never alone. This is definitely a place I would love at work at after I finish school.

Help us prevent youth migration, hire a coop student today!


Thursday, 01 June 2017 16:08:11 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Counselling | Economic Intelligence Unit | Lasercad | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Monday, 08 May 2017


(Image via Global News)

Symptoms of an Election
In the run up to the now transpiring Nova Scotia provincial election, our governing party engaged in the time-honoured tradition of the spending announcement roadshow. A few million for a community centre here, a few million more for an overpass there, culminating finally in the double whammy of a new outpatient facility in suburban Halifax, and toll-free twinning of several sections of highway.

Unlike most spending announcements, the outpatient facility drew immediate criticism. While the highway twinning has started to attract some rightful critique, the patently foolish choice of locating a medical facility in the retail backlands of a dysfunctional industrial park was apparent to many; not the least of which being senior municipal staff who’d advised the Province of these issues months prior. Embarrassingly, the location is a miserable failure when measured against the Province’s own aging population action plan, Shift, which it had announced along with nearly $14 million in funding mere weeks before.

As an aside: of the opportunities for criticism of the outpatient location, and there are many, the purchase price of the land is not a fruitful one. Without the benefit of knowing the particular details of the deal, the $12.00/ft² paid by the Province for the raw land includes the cost to bring the site to a state of development-readiness. Land in this condition elsewhere in Bayers Lake has sold in the neighbourhood of $11.50/ft², so this is hardly the 12,000% markup insinuated by some reporters and rival politicians. (For future reference, comparing purchase price to assessed values for development land – or any real estate for that matter – can be extremely misleading. Media Types: if you’re looking for a real estate angle on a story, give me a call… I know some people.)

A Bad Prognosis if Left Untreated
So here’s the rub. Atlantic Canada, as we’ve described many times, is facing a serious demographic crunch that will constrain income tax revenue to the provinces, and property tax revenue to municipalities (in Nova Scotia, see Canso, Springhill, Hantsport, and Parrsboro for a preview). Given the scale of these trends, immigration is not likely to alleviate this difficulty. This means public investment utilises increasingly precious dollars; long gone is the time where we could rely on growth to overcome poor decisions.

Yet, public capital spending is and will remain one of the most significant factors in the trajectory of our communities. The provision and location of these facilities influences development trends for decades. A new medical facility is not just a site for convenient patient care. It is also a major employer, and consumer of both public and private services. It generates broader impacts; spinoffs that if harnessed properly can enhance the benefits of other facilities, strengthen neighbourhoods and local business, and mitigate future infrastructure costs. A newly twinned highway is not just a safety improvement for the travelling public, it is a half-billion dollars no longer available to be spent on other priorities. We’ve got to get serious, we’ve got to be scrappy, and we have to be careful to maximise the benefits our public spending generates. Opportunities of an equivalent scale from private-sector activity are few and far between.

By narrowly constraining their site selection study (I presume, as this information is also not publicly available), the government has perhaps saved money on the land for the outpatient facility, only to create far greater costs in the form of municipal servicing expenses, diminished economic spinoff, and foregone social benefits. This short-sightedness is not resigned only to our provincial overlords, municipalities large and small consistently miss opportunities to strengthen and improve neighbourhoods or commercial main streets. At best, we have a habit of placing community facilities in a location that only performs well on measures of land price and vehicular accessibility. At worst, it is directed by decades of parochial bickering and ends up in a location agreed to be equally terrible for everyone.


Nice wellness centre you have there, shame about the sidewalk.
(Image via Pictometry ©2015)

Prescription As the highway twinning issue has shown, no “overwhelming public consensus” is going to emerge on any policy or funding choice other than those promising a free lunch. It is going to take political guts to lead the way: the decisions we need to make are pound-wise at the risk of appearing penny-foolish. Better analysis can help identify the optimal site selection and communicate the wisdom of that choice. A paltry million saved in cheap land will pale in comparison to full lifecycle costs of poorly located public infrastructure. The property taxes generated by that good natured economic development project might never recoup its initial cost. And increasingly, methods are available to help quantify and communicate the broad community and economy strengthening effects that government undertakings can create. A complete approach to site selection and capital project analysis in a time where each dollar counts is the difference between spending decisions that achieve lasting public value instead of fleeting public relations.


Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we have the skills required to evaluate your options in the context they deserve. Neil Lovitt, our Senior Manager of Planning & Economic Intelligence can be reached at 428-1811 ext. 349 (HRM), 1 (800) 567-3033 (toll free), or nlovitt@turnerdrake.com.

Monday, 08 May 2017 10:29:39 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Counselling | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Property tax is by far the most important source of revenue for municipalities in Canada, accounting for 49.5% of revenue in 2008 with an annual average growth rate of 1.6% (1988-2008). As reliance on property tax increases, so does the complexity of administering this regressive but necessary evil. Increased computing power in the mid-1960s prompted a shift towards automation of property tax systems, beginning with simple tasks and culminating in today’s fully automated assessment, notification, and payment systems. Modern Automated Valuation Models (AVMs) allow for rapid processing of data with minimised human-bias… but (and this is a large but) real estate appraisal is a nuanced trade: reducing the role of Appraiser to AVM Technician can have significant negative repercussions.

Service New Brunswick’s ongoing cleanup of their attempt at an AVM is a prospective case study in the dangers of a “hands-off” approach to the valuation process. Massive value errors were created by a computer-driven system with insufficient checks in place to alert users to suspicious results. When reviewed by human appraisers many of the shockingly incorrect valuations were easily overturned based on traditional market comparison valuation. Autopilot replaced the flight crew and actual appraisers are left cleaning up the crash, while their political and bureaucratic colleagues deal with the rightful public outcry.

While seemingly seductive, potential time and cost savings offered by an AVM should never mask the fact that, in order to operate successfully, an AVM must integrate human expertise throughout the valuation process. At Turner Drake the “A” in our in-house AVM stands for Accelerated to reflect the role that expert opinion plays in our two-stage computer-assisted mass appraisal model. Stage One combs through real property sales to select comparable properties based on locally relevant, value-defining attributes such as size, location, and design. Stage Two adjusts and weighs a unique set of comparable sales to create a market-based value estimate for each subject property in an assessment area. Throughout each stage of the model, a professional appraiser defines the selection criteria and adjustment values for comparable properties based on market evidence and local expertise. The model does the heavy lifting but certified appraisers evaluate and refine the results.



Outliers - which no system can avoid - can wreak havoc on the results of an AVM unequipped to handle the inherently diverse nature of real estate. It is critically important to flag potential outliers for review so the model can be adjusted for future assessments. During the initial rollout of an AVM model, refinement is time consuming but absolutely necessary for creating reliable, equitable assessments in successive years. In developing our Accelerated Valuation Model, we put the time in up front so the system flags out of the ordinary results, and the professional appraiser, made aware of the potential issue, is able to quickly and easily account for them.

In a Case Study of condominiums on the Halifax Peninsula, the Turner Drake AVM out-performed PVSC assessment values by a margin of up to 45%. That is, 86% of TDP value estimates were within 5% of an actual time-adjusted sale price versus PVSC’s 41% and 98% of TDP values were within 15% of actual sale price versus PVSC’s 84% in the same pool of properties. Our combination of custom programs and a traditional direct-comparison valuation can produce a list of unique comparables with adjustments for 1,000 properties in about two seconds.

Property tax administration systems are as diverse as the municipalities they serve and every region relies to a degree on the convenience of computers and automation. However, no matter the size or complexity of a property tax system it is important to follow best practices, and learn from the success - or failure - of others. When the pursuit of speed comes at the expense of quality there is a significant risk to the accuracy of valuations and the credibility of the property tax system as a whole.

For more information on how our AVM can benefit you, call James Stephens at 902-429-1811 ext. 346 or email jstephens@turnerdrake.com

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 10:21:10 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Counselling | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Property Tax | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Monday, 03 April 2017



Our Economic Intelligence Unit is always on the hunt for new data sources to bolster our maps and feed our spreadsheets: any good analysis begins with high quality data. The majority of our databases are populated with a wealth of information via a process of blood, sweat, and tears (though increasingly data is graciously released by provincial gatekeepers) and it could be that our next trove of valuable data is being cultivated on farms across the Maritimes. The movement of food from field to plate involves numerous stops along the agricultural supply chain and, when property tracked, that data can prove valuable for a host of analytical tasks.

The ability to track an item from Point A to B in a large-scale supply chain is known as traceability. The theory behind it is relevant in all aspects of our lives: be it an Amazon package or a donair pizza, consumers - and businesses - have discovered that real-time knowledge of where a product is, physically, at any point in time is a competitive advantage in terms of marketing and efficiency. Agriculture is no exception. Traceability is already in use as a health risk management tool: it allows for rapid response to health emergencies by identifying exactly where and when afflicted produce or livestock stopped along the supply chain. Efficiently pin-pointing sources of contamination (think E.coli outbreaks) and creating cost-effective responses, such as targeted treatments and recalls, are critical in a modern, globally connected agricultural sector.

In addition to the obvious benefits of using traceability from an epidemiology perspective, there is also major potential for economic spinoff benefits from tracking the movement of agricultural goods. At a recent gathering of Nova Scotian Agrologists, speaker Chris deWaal of Getaway Farm (of Seaport Market fame) touted the very real benefits of offering consumers the entire life history of their food as a competitive advantage over mass-produced “mystery meat.” The introduction of the “Trace My Catch” program for canned seafood provides an example of how seafood processors are embracing traceability as a marketing tool, and provides an indication of the feasibility of doing so. In a province with a growing love affair for all things local it is no surprise that demand for local meat and produce is on the rise.

Benefits beyond health and marketing can be opened with traced agricultural data. Used in conjunction with GIS, the location and density of animals, farms, stockyards, abattoirs, and processing facilities become inputs for site selection and trade area analysis and indicators of economic health in rural economies - an issue of pressing concern for many Nova Scotian communities.

Imagine opening a meat processing and distribution facility to feed growing demand for local, organic products while still maintaining capacity for foreign exports. A standard GIS-based site selection analysis would use static location data (suppliers, purchasers) with network data (highway, rail, sea) to build a short-list of potential development sites which minimize transportation costs for both inputs and outputs. Additional variables such as workforce availability, machinery and equipment suppliers, veterinary services, and property taxes can all be integrated with locational data to suit the needs of the processor. But a standard analysis does not take into account how many animals are produced by individual farms or the variability in production from year to year.

Traceability data can enhance GIS analysis by optimizing site selection so it is based on not just the density of farms within a trade area, but the capacity to bring high volumes of livestock (or produce) efficiently to market. Historic tracking data of individual animals could forecast future production including where livestock are ultimately processed and sold. A savvy processor would use this data to identify opportunities for expansion and generate reliable, defendable business projections.

The agricultural sector already collects traceability data for use in health risk management; leveraging that same wealth of data for marketing and day-to-day business operations is the logical next step. The agricultural sector is a ray of light in the gloom of rural Nova Scotia: according to Statistics Canada’s census, between 2006 and 2011, Nova Scotia was the only province in Canada to see an increase in the number of farms, total farm area, and number of farm operators. Should the 2016 census indicate continued growth, it will clearly indicate that it’s time for all players in the agricultural game to leverage their existing data infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage at home and abroad.

For more information on how spatial analysis can benefit your business, call James Stephens at 902-429-1811 ext. 346 or visit: Economic Intelligence Unit

Monday, 03 April 2017 10:02:51 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Counselling | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake  | Valuation
# Thursday, 02 March 2017



If you own property in New Brunswick your 2017 assessment notice is in the mail and is likely to hit your desk later this week. There will be some surprises this year. Apartment and camp ground owners… sorry! The number you are looking at isn’t a mistake… both were re-assessed this year... Before you call the Premier’s office, grab another cup of coffee and give me a call and I’ll share what I know so far!

We’ll be compiling some data over the next few days and will have some more insights on what has changed but until then there has been some talk of reforms to the New Brunswick property tax system of late and there is one important issue that hasn’t been brought up but should be.

Equity, Uniformity, Fairness – The Missing Link

Ignoring the process part of the system (which is largely a function of resources committed to it) and the “my tax bill is too high side of it” (which is a function of municipal spending), the assessment part of the system which is governed by the New Brunswick Assessment Act generally represents the gold standard in assessment. New Brunswick has a market value system, requires that values be updated annually, and has a current base date (January 1st of the current year) so taxes are allocated based on the most current economic conditions. There is however one glaring omission and that is a provision to allow owners to challenge their assessment on the grounds their assessment is higher than other properties.

How can this be? Certainly equity and fairness is something all stakeholders would want in a system of taxation. During question period on December 13th, the current government confirmed that they want a “system of taxes that is relevant, that is fair, that is progressive…” During the discussion the word “fair” was referenced six times along with the word “equitable”. Similarly in 2012 when reforms were last made to the Act, the White Paper that was published referenced fairness 25 times, and the word equitable 12 times.

If we go back further… much further… to 1963… The New Brunswick Royal Commission on Finance and Municipal Taxation chaired by Mr. Edward Byrne (Byrne Commission) set out its vision for an equitable system of property assessment:

“The accurate assessment of property is as difficult as any tax administration problem. And it is impossible to have equitable taxation without accurate assessment. A primary aim in levying any type of tax should be to treat similarly-situated taxpayers similarly … In order to accomplish this, all property must be valued on the same basis … The only satisfactory basis is market value. If there are variations among different properties in the ratio of the assessed value to the actual market value, the taxes imposed by applying a uniform rate will be inequitable. The owner of property with an assessment ratio that is higher than the ratio for another owner will bear an unjustly heavier burden.”*

Nonetheless, despite more than 50 years of consensus that a fair and uniform property tax system is in the public interest, New Brunswick is among the few jurisdictions in North America that doesn’t give tax payers the right to seek tax relief on the grounds that their assessment is not equitable with other properties.

How is this possible? This requires some speculation. Before the Province took over the assessment process from municipalities during the mid 1960s assessments were ad-hoc. Assessment Levels (the ratio of assessed value to market value) varied by municipality from 23% in York County to 102% in St Andrews and most municipalities had at least one piece of special legislation setting municipal taxes for its major tax payers. When the modern Act came into force, legislators intended to bring consistency to the process and required that:

“all real property shall be assessed at its real and true value as of January 1 of the year for which the assessment is made.”

It can be difficult to know the exact intent, but knowing that the legislature was seeking a fair system of taxation that would ensure that assessments were uniform within and across municipal units it stands to reason they were assuming that the Assessment Services Division would be able to consistently achieve an assessment level at 100% of market value across all municipal units. At the time, the Act also included a provision for owners to appeal other assessments in the municipality providing at least a partial remedy for owners assessed at levels higher than their neighbors.

Legislators may have felt these provisions would be sufficient to ensure an equitable assessment roll, however the task of assessing tens of thousands of properties isn’t an easy one particularly when it comes to commercial properties. It requires developing models for all the different types of properties and for all of the individual neighborhoods in the Province and it isn’t always easy to return an assessment roll where all of the properties are assessed at 100% of market value. In fact, looking at statistics contained in SNB’s annual report from 2006-2014, the commercial level of assessment provincially has ranged from a low of 89% in 2008 to a high of 93% in 2010. The practical implication of this is that a property owner assessed at 99% of market value has no remedy for a reduction despite all other properties being assessed on average, at 89% to 93% of market value. Even had the owner been willing to appeal all of the other commercial assessments in the municipal unit, that option was removed when the Act was amended in 2008.

In the past, the New Brunswick Court of the Queens Bench has ruled there is no remedy within the Act or at common law for owners to have their assessments reduced on the grounds their assessment is unfair relative to other properties. Rather than hoping the Court of Appeal will provide a remedy at some distant future date, lets ask the legislature to give assessors and the Assessment and Planning Appeal Board the tools to ensure tax payers truly have a fair and equitable property tax system when they review the Act this year.

* Excerpt taken from Report of the Auditor General - 2005


Written by Andre Pouliot, Vice President of our New Brunswick operations and Senior Manager of our Property Tax Division. For more information about our counselling services, feel free to contact Andre at (902) 429-1811 or apouliot@turnerdrake.com

Thursday, 02 March 2017 09:50:50 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | New Brunswick | Property Tax | Turner Drake
# Thursday, 16 February 2017



Finding Answers in the Bottle

Recently our Brokerage Division closed a deal that will see a mid-century commercial building transition from a hair salon to Halifax’s first cidery – a business dedicated to the production and enjoyment of hard ciders. It is the city’s newest addition to the burgeoning craft beverage industry, and by my count, the fifth such business within short walking distance of our head office. Thanks to double digit year-over-year growth in the industry, such businesses have been setting up shop throughout our region, but I have good reason to believe we at Turner Drake are working in the very nexus of Beer Oriented Development.

The craft beverage industry is booming throughout the continent evidently. However, BOD is a specific variant distinguished by integrating the production element the brewery, with the social gathering element of a retail/food service business, wrapping it all in a locally authentic brand identity and plunking it in walking distance to residential neighbourhoods. The term itself was apparently coined in the weary rust-belt city of Buffalo where a pattern of revitalisation lead by the craft brewing industry has been observed in neighbourhoods otherwise dogged by the Midwest’s manufacturing decline and hard hit by the Great Financial Crisis.

Back in our corner of North America, we can certainly attest to the healthy “third place” function of Beer Oriented Development. That is to say, in addition to the production itself, many businesses serve as a nexus for community development outside of the home and workplace. They are small enough operations to revitalise defunct or underused properties without the timeline and complexity of projects requiring land assembly. The size and design of the retail operation typically creates an enjoyable atmosphere and promotes interaction between customers (who are often neighbours). Where the sale and service activities are able to spill outside onto a patio or sidewalk café, they further add to the vitality and liveliness of the entire street. With seemingly endless groups of engineering school buddies (it’s always those engineers) keen to start their own sudsy venture, why do some areas see a flourish of BOD while others simply get an increase in breweries?

The Broken Window Fallacy

There’s a classic economic parable that goes something like this: A baker’s shop window is broken and he hires a glazer to repair it. Passersby observe the glazer at work and remark on the economic activity stimulated by the broken window. Meanwhile, the baker having spent his money on the window now postpones his plan to purchase a larger oven to increase his production. In this way, the passersby are mistaken about the benefit of a broken window because they consider only what they see, and not what they can’t see. That is, they do not consider the opportunity cost; the lost benefits that would have been generated by things that were prevented, often without conscious purpose, from ever happening in the first place.

We don’t often think about opportunity cost in planning. We like to have the initiative; there are no problems that can’t be fixed through the application of more regulation or better policy. In this mindset, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that many (perhaps even most) good things tend to happen on their own if we leave the space for it. Nevertheless, Halifax, like many Atlantic Canadian cities, does benefit from not having gone too far off the deep end when it comes to land use regulation… at least compared to standard practices west of our region. Consider the present (if outgoing) land use bylaw for the Halifax Peninsula area where residential land use is governed by 6 zones. Contrast that with London Ontario, a city of comparable population and municipal budget, where no less than 17 zones are needed just to regulate single detached housing! Clearly one approach provides more “regulatory space” than the other.

Six of One Ain’t Always a Half Dozen

London, like Halifax, is a university town with no shortage of thirsty students or courageous engineering buddies. Like Halifax, it has its own litany of recently launched microbreweries. And finally, like Halifax, London did not, and does, not specifically target or promote Beer Oriented Development. What London does have is its hyper specific approach to coding land use which classifies microbreweries as “Food, Tobacco, and Beverage Processing Industries” and among the 20+ flavours of commercial zoning, relegates such uses to the “General Industrial” areas of the city. In Halifax, some microbrewers also set up shop in the industrial areas, depending on their business model. However, Beer Oriented Development is mostly occurring under the General Business zone which allows – to paraphrase – basically any business that doesn’t create problems in the area.

The shocking result? All of London’s new microbreweries are segregated into soulless industrial parks. Sure, they’ve got a quality product, backed by the same witty, self-aware marketing, and most even have attached tasting rooms and offer brewery tours, but to access any of it you’ve got to drive out past electrical suppliers and find their docking bay among the other distributers and warehousers. So while both city economies are benefiting from growth in the craft beverage industry, only Halifax is gaining the additional benefits to neighbourhood revitalisation and contributions to a lively pedestrian atmosphere. These are not just intangible perks for urban hipsters. There is a hard dollar cost to London in terms of lost economics spinoffs and unrealised gains in property value, but that cost is the new oven, hidden behind a broken window.

The Future is Delicious

Beer Oriented Development is just a microcosm of a larger dynamic. No one was anticipating an explosion of craft brewing or the potential of BOD when the zoning codes were written twenty years ago, just as the codes we write today do not address a futuristic possibilities like the rise of distributed manufacturing, or an explosion of artificial intelligence. In truth, it’d be foolish if they did. In dealing with an ultimately unknowable future, it is basic human nature to play it safe; control what is knowable, and regulate the unexpected out of existence. The costs of this approach are easy to ignore because we are never fully aware of paying them. Yet, as Beer Oriented Development clearly demonstrates, there is a benefit, indeed a competitive advantage, to the city that sets itself up to embrace the unknowable future and capitalise on the unexpected.

Our Role

What can you build on your property? The answer to this is determined by interpreting the local planning policy and regulation. However these are living documents, and project timelines are often measured in years. Thus, it is essential to not only look at the present-day context, but peer into the future for additional opportunities. This is precisely why all our Planning Policy and Regulatory Review reports contain a Long-term Outlook section.

For a recent client, this feature paid dividends. For their property, the desired outcome would have required multiple amendments and the negotiation of a Development Agreement under present requirements; an expensive and risky process overall. However, by casting a wider gaze in our investigation, we identified an opportunity to pursue the same goals through a larger policy update the municipality was preparing to make. While this didn’t save our client any time, it lowered the risk, and greatly reduced the cost.

We’re finding our Planning Division lends vital assistance to our other areas of operation, improving the detail and delivery time of Valuation, Counselling, Economic Intelligence, Property Tax and Brokerage assignments. More importantly, it creates value for our clients, aiding with development projects big and small.



Whether you’re musing about options or working towards a clear goal, ask Neil Lovitt, our Planning Division Manager, how we can help: 1 (902) 429-1811 (HRM), 1 (800) 567-3033 (toll free), or nlovitt@turnerdrake.com

Thursday, 16 February 2017 12:26:42 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Atlantic Canada | Brokerage | Counselling | Economic Intelligence Unit | New Brunswick | Newfoundland & Labrador | Nova Scotia | Planning | Prince Edward Island | Turner Drake
# Thursday, 03 November 2016

On the 1st of this month, Bill 52, an amendment to the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter allowing HRM Council to set separate commercial tax rates in areas it designates, received its First Reading in the Nova Scotia Legislature.

The Bill (as tabled) provides that Council may:

(a) Set different commercial tax rates for commercial property located in areas of the Municipality designated by Council, based on the assessment of commercial property under the Assessment Act;

(b) Set different commercial tax rates for commercial property located in areas of the Municipality designated by Council, based on the length or proportion of frontage of a property on a street, including a private road;

(c) Set additional tiered or escalating commercial tax rates based on the factors set out in clauses (a) and (b) that are in excess of the rates set in clauses (a) and (b); and

(d) Set additional or different commercial tax rates using any combination of clauses (a) to (c).

The infusion of flexibility into the taxation regime is laudable, and while the tools could allow Council to, for example, provide assistance to owners affected by construction in the Downtown, or to reduce the tax rate in areas in the City that have been impacted by rapidly rising assessments, the potential changes allowed by the Bill won’t be the panacea for all commercial tax woes.

The potential for inequitable tax loads where “street frontage” is used, in whole or part, to calculate the tax rate is alarming (and puzzling) especially for properties located on corner lots or developed less intensively than neighbouring properties. It appears to be a way of circumventing the current ad valorem methodology for distributing the tax load. There have been many attempts worldwide to eliminate or “improve” the ad valorem (market based) method of allocating property taxes: none have yet been successful… some, such as the late Mrs. Thatcher’s infamous poll tax in the United Kingdom, resulted in riots.

There would be winners and losers for each amendment being proposed; any change to tax rates in one area, or upon one class of property, will shift the burden onto another, because there is nothing in the Bill that would reduce the overall contribution of the commercial sector to the City’s tax base. The true elixir would be a change that would make all commercial owners better off.

It’s unclear how Council will utilize their new tools, but it’s not anticipated that the Bill will result in any widespread changes to commercial taxation in the short term. We are monitoring the situation closely, and will provide updates as changes occur. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 03 November 2016 15:05:43 (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Nova Scotia | Property Tax
# Wednesday, 05 October 2016

The City of St. John’s Assessment Division recently mailed out its Year 2017 Assessment Notices dated 20th September 2016. You have until 1st November 2016 to file your appeal. This is the second year of the tri-annual assessment cycle: a successful appeal will continue for the remaining two years of the cycle.

The legislated basis for your Year 2017 Assessment is your property’s market value on 1st January 2014 (the “Base Date”) having regard to its current physical condition. If you filed an appeal last year and it has been resolved, you have nothing to fear for the remainder of the re-assessment cycle (assuming your new notice reflects the reduction you secured for 2016). If you did not appeal last year, or your appeal from last year has not yet been resolved, the time to act is now.

If your property’s market value is less than its assessed value, it is over assessed and you should file an appeal on or before 1st November 2016. Market value is the price the property would command if it were sold to an “arm’s length” purchaser (i.e. to a nonrelated buyer) for cash or subject to conventional financing. It is not necessarily the price that would persuade you to part with the property but rather the price you could expect if you decided voluntarily to dispose of the real estate. The best evidence of market value is the sale prices of similar properties that were sold within six months of 1st January 2014. If your property is assessed at less than its 1st January 2014 market value, you may still be over-assessed because the Assessment Act mandates that your property has to be assessed in a uniform manner. This provision attempts to ensure that the tax load is spread across the municipality’s property inventory in an equitable manner. It also discourages the City of St. John’s Assessment Division from deliberately under-assessing property to thwart appeals. So, if for example, commercial properties are assessed on average throughout the municipality at 70% of their market value, you will have grounds for appeal if your property’s assessment exceeds this percentage. If similar properties to your own are assessed at lower unitised rates (e.g. per square foot for office, industrial and retail property; per room for hotels, apartments and seniors’ housing), that is also a sign that you may not be equitably assessed, and may be grounds for appeal.

The Bottom Line: If you did not appeal last year, or your appeal from last year has not yet been resolved, you get another kick at the can. You should appeal if your property is assessed at more than, (1) its market value on 1st January 2014, or (2) the assessment of other, comparable properties… or if you harbour any doubt that your property is overassessed. A successful appeal will continue for the remaining two years of the reassessment cycle.

Action Required: If you file an appeal, be careful not to restrict your grounds of appeal. We recommend that you use the following wording: “The assessment is excessive, unfair, not uniform with other assessments, and any other grounds that may appear.” If you prefer, we will file the appeal for you. For advice on whether to appeal, call our Newfoundland Tax Team, André Pouliot or Mark Turner at (709) 722-1811 (St. John’s) or 1-800-567-3033 (toll free), or email them at apouliot@turnerdrake.com or markturner@turnerdrake.com.

Wednesday, 05 October 2016 15:41:10 (Atlantic Daylight Time, UTC-03:00)  #    -
Newfoundland & Labrador | Property Tax