Under the noses of city hall a perfect little parcel of land at 450 East Fifth Street (Ridgeway Annex) is about to be swallowed up by density while council attempts to negotiate space for amenities at 13th and Lonsdale at a fraction of the return to the applicant.
The negotiations have not gone well. Massing on this site has many rightly concerned, while citizens as a whole are thrown mere crumbs for such generous density bonusing. But then we've become accustomed to that under the current city council and administration. As we saw on Monday, three members of council would wish for this practice to continue at any cost.
With more than one million square feet of density bonused since 2008 it has become obvious to many that we don't really have a handle on what we get in return for giving developers vast increases in allowable density for their projects. Proponents of the existing, ad hoc, case-by-case density bonusing scheme will point to various buildings and features around the city in defence of their approach.
The problem is that there is no way of measuring to see if what we got is worth what we gave to the developers. Who knows if 35 daycare spaces are a fair return to taxpayers for granting a developer two or three extra floors in their project? It would be much simpler and more transparent to charge developers for extra density using an agreed formula and then let council debate how to spend the cash.
A simple formula that has been suggested many times (and is in use elsewhere in Metro Vancouver) is to require that a fair percentage - say, 75 per cent - of the upswing in land value arising from the increase in density go to the City of North Vancouver for the municipality to use as it sees fit. Simple, open and honest! We could look forward to annual reports on how much extra density has been granted, how much money the city got in return and what public amenities (e.g. daycare spaces) were bought with the money.
If this practice had been in effect in the city over the last few years, density and amenities would have gone hand in hand.
What is 194,427 square feet of buildable space worth? Well according to a recent residential land report by Metro Vancouver, North Shore property is worth about $140 per buildable square foot. That would place a value of $27 million that three members of council were willing to give away for what seems like little in return last Monday night.
How about this for a plan:
1. Develop a policy (and a formula) of cash for density.
2. Trim down the size of Onni's 13th and Lonsdale mammoth proposal. At the prices we are giving away density, no wonder they request so much.
3. Begin negotiations with the school district to acquire Ridgeway Annex now. Use a portion of the Onni density bonus funds to buy Ridgeway Annex for community use. These uses could be to retain the soccer field and play area in one that has little park space and to house non-profit daycare and seniors' care. Put some funds away to set up housing partnerships in the future for those in need. Then take the rest and place it in the amenity fund for Harry Jerome and the new museum.
Ron Polly North Vancouver
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