HOW much extra density should developers be allowed on a project in the City of North Vancouver, and exactly how much should they be giving back to the city in exchange?
Those are the questions council will have to clarify as it moves to update its density bonusing policy for the new Official Community Plan.
Councillors spent three hours listening to suggestions, questions and grievances about the current system whereby extra density is traded for community perks at a special workshop held Monday night.
Under the existing OCP, the city can use extra density as incentive for developers to include affordable or below-market rental housing, market rental housing, heritage preservation, community amenity space, adaptable design ideal for seniors and people with disabilities, higher environmental building standards and employment-generating commercial space - most of which are not profitable enough for developers to do on their own in today's market.
But those policies - like every line of the OCP - are up for review as council marches toward a fall 2013 target for implementing a new plan.
Among the more frequently mentioned ideas from the approximately 60 attendees at the workshop: increasing transparency around the density bonusing process, having more consistent guidelines and ensuring the community gets a fair deal.
Every member of council agreed the public deserved to have access to a transparent system of bonusing, but fundamental disagreements about development philosophy and city priorities quickly arose.
Any system that allows council to routinely approve projects with double the density allowed by the OCP is fundamentally flawed, Coun. Rod Clark argued.
"That, to me, throws the Official Community Plan out the window and will guarantee gridlock and the unlivability of our city in very, very short order," he said.
The remedy would be a "cleaner and simpler" system, along the lines of developers contributing to a fund within proscribed limits.
While the amenities achieved from bonusing are laudable, Coun. Pam Bookham agreed the system was out of control.
"I don't think the community is happy with what they see as a constant game of Let's Make a Deal," she said. "There is a point where the community is saying: 'Too much, too fast, too unpredictable.'"
The city shouldn't shy away from density in exchange for community benefit, argued Coun. Guy Heywood, a frequent critic of the city's practice of trading density for market rental housing, but it should change its priorities for what will be included in the bargain.
"Every dollar we spend trying to promote rental over ownership, we leave behind and make unavailable to rebuild Harry Jerome (Community Recreation Centre) or North
Shore Neighbourhood House," he said.
The system as it stands now is shrouded in mystery, Coun. Don Bell agreed, and it's incumbent upon council to make its density decisions more up front - especially when it comes to how much more density it will allow.
"I think the bonus-limits approach should be studied, so that we have a clear policy that we will bonus a certain percentage," he said. "That will provide some clarity as to what's going to happen and make people feel more comfortable."
But the city's existing policies still have advocates on council.
Allowing the city and staff to negotiate with developers provides an opportunity for "flexible innovation," Coun. Linda Buchanan said, and it means the city can respond to residents' many requests without raising taxes.
"What I hear is: They want new infrastructure; they want a new Harry Jerome; they want a museum; they want new amenities . . . they want affordable housing; they want daycares," she said.
Coun. Craig Keating said he could not support a system that allows the city to accept money in lieu of perks, arguing it would do nothing to increase transparency. Beyond that, council needs to consider the good that has come from density bonusing before deciding to do away with it.
"If we want to make radical change to the way we're doing density bonus policy, ask the question this way: Which of the amenities that we've achieved over the last 20 years do you want to do away with? That's the question," he said. "No John Braithwaite? No library? No Market rental housing?"
Mayor Darrell Mussatto thanked the meeting's participants and acknowledged the difficult task of striking a balance.
"I've heard many people say the City of North Vancouver's policy is working, because it's pissing off both residents and the developers," he said, tongue-in-cheek.
But, like Keating, Mussatto made a long list of much-loved community assets that wouldn't have been possible without trading density for amenities.
Staff will take the suggestions from the workshop and include them in a future report to council.