City is receiving paltry community contributions in return for rezoning approvals

Gordon Fuller — August 23, 2010
Lately, in my role as Advocate for Social Change, I have been getting on City Councils case with regards to the paltriness of the community contributions by developers when requesting up-zoning/density bonuses for potential development projects.

My sphere of interest in this is with regards to Social Housing and so when a potential development, of more than 50 units, comes before council I have been encouraging the City to get a real contribution and not just the pittance they seem to be happy with. This year I have brought up the issue of Community Contributions at the February 18th public hearing to have the OCP amended to include the Oceanview (Cable Bay) Master Plan; the June 3rd rezoning to allow 231 unit development in the Stephenson Point Area; and most recently on Aug. 5th at the rezoning to allow a 26 story High-Rise on the Port Place Mall Property (no link to the hearing info or minutes at this point).

The common thread is increased density. Increased Density is the catch phrase for many potential developments, Cable Bay and Sandstone being the largest examples, getting their rezoning pushed through council. Never mind for these two that one could just as easily use the words urban sprawl as the outcome.

Density Bonusing is a system that allows for variations to zoning in exchange for community amenities or beneficial housing. An example, using the Port Place High-rise, would be allowing the developer to increase the floor space, 6 to 26 stories, in his development in exchange for some amenity, housing bonus or the designation of a specific number of units for social housing.

My suggestion at the public hearing was that the first two floors be designated for social housing or the retail equivalent be put to the City’s Housing Legacy Reserve Fund. Currently the Cities Housing Legacy Reserve fund sits at $2,765,046.00 and is only expected to grow by $165,000.00 per year, not a significant increase by any means.

Currently Nanaimo bases the amenity contribution at $1000.00 per door, far too low in my opinion and usually resulting in little more than a tot lot in many of the rezoned subdivisions. Amenity contributions should be made more realistic with the goal of adding to Nanaimo’s Housing Legacy Reserve, monies could also go towards purchase of lands for future parks.

An example from another City would be Vancouver’s 20% policy which since 1988 “has required 20 percent of the units in new neighbourhoods be available for the de­velopment of affordable housing.” Langford, with one quarter the population of Nanaimo, has a one in ten policy, not quite as flexible but interesting none the less.

Using $300,000 as an average for a housing unit Vancouver’s model on a cash contribution basis of 20% would be $60,000 per unit. In Nanaimo the $1000.00 contribution would equate to .3333%. Nanaimo doesn’t need to use the same percent base as Vancouver but it should be, at the very least, a more realistic $10,000.00 per unit or 3.3333%. Unfortunately the City is not looking at this though I continue to ‘encourage’, on a regular basis, they do so.

This would of course impact some of the smaller re-zonings so I would suggest for anything under 30 units the contribution be based on $5000 per door over 30 $10,000. These details could be worked out.

With realistic contributions we should have seen, based on a 3.3% or $10,000.00 contribution, $25 million from the Cable Bay project, another $25 million from the future Sandstone project and $2.3 million from Stephenson point. While this may sound like a lot the potential profits to the developers of these projects are in the 100’s of millions.

In my opinion the City is literally lining the pockets of developers with untold millions of dollars at the expense of the community.  I am not against development but it needs to take place to benefit the many not just the few.

With rising unemployment, poverty and an increasing population, the need for social housing, parks and other community amenities dictate the need for Nanaimo to do better. $10,000 per unit or 3.333% seems a little more equitable commitment and while nowhere near that of Vancouver and Langford it could see some of those potential profits trickle down towards real contributions to the community and possibly the above needs being accomplished.