Vancouver’s new planning chief – faced with growing revolts in the city from both major builders and resident groups over development – has promised a more open system for figuring out what a community should get in benefits from big projects.
“I know that we expect a lot from you,” Brian Jackson told a packed meeting of 500 at an Urban Development Institute lunch. “The demand for facilities and services in Vancouver far exceeds other municipalities.”
He said the city would come up with a set percentage for how much it will ask most developers going through a rezoning to give back for city benefits such as social housing, parks, cultural spaces, daycares and other services.
He also said the city, in a joint task force with the developers’ organization, would reduce the time that negotiations take.
As well, the task force will work to ensure that most community benefits go back into the projects from which the developer contributions are coming. And the city will establish defined heights and densities for new buildings in whole areas rather than individual projects.
Mr. Jackson, who started his job in September, six months after the previous director of planning was fired, also begged developers to help the city communicate more with residents.
He said city staff are being drowned out by residents’ new capacity to get their message across through social media when they oppose a particular project.
“We are being out-tweeted, out-Facebooked and out-blogged,” Mr. Jackson said, on the eve of a rally at City Hall by residents unhappy about developments in Dunbar, Oakridge, the West End, the Downtown Eastside and elsewhere.
For almost two decades, Vancouver saw a phenomenal burst of development on its converted industrial lands downtown with relatively little public opposition.
Developers, as well, seemed relatively satisfied to negotiate their contributions to the city. Concord Pacific provided a seawall, parks, daycares and space for social housing with little visible tussling in the 1990s.
But as developers ran out of room downtown and started moving to more established neighbourhoods in the past few years, public opposition started to mount.
As well, the city’s system of negotiating with developers to exchange extra density for community benefits came under more scrutiny.
Both developers and residents started to object to the fact that there were no clear rules or explanations of who paid what in each project.
Mr. Jackson said developers are usually asked to contribute 75 to 85 per cent of what they gain in land value when their property is rezoned for more density.
But the chair of the Urban Development Institute, which is getting accountants to scrutinize the deals the city has approved in recent years, said the range is more like 70 to 100 per cent.
Brian McCauley said that kind of variation is hard on developers. He is hopeful that the new task force and Mr. Jackson can come up with a better system.
“It’s not really so much about the money,” he said after Mr. Jackson’s speech. “If we can just understand the rules of engagement. What we’ve experienced is a very inconsistent process.”
The institute has become increasingly vocal in recent months about a system that it says has no transparency.