THE City of North Vancouver is hiring an outside consultant to put one of its most critical pieces of development policy under the microscope.
Council voted Feb. 4 to put up $45,000 for a study into density bonusing - the practice of trading development density for community amenities - after a deep philosophical divide between elected members resurfaced.
Some on council argue the city would be better served by insisting developers put up cash on par with the value of extra density granted, which can then be spent as council sees fit, while others felt more comfortable having developers incorporate community benefits into their projects.
Under the official community plan, council can allow extra height and floor space in a building if the developer offers heritage preservation, community amenity space, affordable or non-profit housing, market rental housing, adaptable designs geared towards seniors and people with disabilities, commercial space or higher environmental building standards.
During a council workshop last fall, members of the public delivered a list of complaints about the way council handles density bonusing now, particularly that council has been too willing to allow unpopular, dense developments in exchange for amenities of questionable or unclear value.
Coun. Pam Bookham led the charge to stop council's practice of waiting for developers to include community amenity perks with large developments.
It should be for the city to decided whether North Shore Neighbourhood House or a Presentation House facility gets rebuilt first, not a developer, she argued. "These should be our priorities, and the way to do it is to direct all density bonusing on major projects in the form of cash into our amenity fund and, as we finally work out our plans as to what order and what design . . . we will at least know we have funds on-hand that will offset the need to create additional density or density that's inappropriate."
Bookham found allies in Couns. Rod Clark and Guy Heywood, who cautioned that the city avoid taking on responsibilities outside of a municipality's jurisdiction, simply because the infrastructure was offered by a developer.
Defenders of the existing policy, Mayor Darrell Mussatto, and Couns. Craig Keating and Linda Buchanan noted that the city has fared well, garnering many loved community assets, including the new city library, and a number of badly-needed non-profit housing projects by trading density for amenities.
"I think the city has done extremely well by the past density bonusing and what we've been able to achieve," Mussatto said. "I get mayors from all over the region asking me how were we able to do that"
Mussatto said the complexity of the bonusing policy makes it difficult to explain simply to the public, and council should put more effort into clarifying that.
Coun. Don Bell agreed that council should mainly accept cash in the interest of transparency for the public, but keep the option for trading for on-site amenities available for when it makes sense.
Bookham tried to no avail to persuade her colleagues that councillors should be amply prepared to have an informed discussion and vote on potential changes to its density policy without an outside study.
The study is expected to take three to four months to complete.