— In Development —

The Upside of Upzoning

New rules could rebalance neighbourhood needs in the age of towers

A recent policy shift that spells out what and how much developers must contribute to a community in order to gain rezonings when they propose tall towers in them could have a profound effect on future developments in Oliver.

In June 2017, Westrich Pacific, a Vancouver-based developer, proposed a 28-storey residential tower in the Grandin area of Oliver. But the Oliver Community League spoke out against the proposal, and then council rejected it – the first tower council turned down in eight years. The lot, council said, was too small for the proposed structure and its height would compromise its neighbours’ view.

Fast-forward to September and Westrich Pacific returned to council to pitch The View, a 23-storey tower with 178 units on the same lot. This time, council approved the revised proposal. The main changes? Westrich Pacific had worked with the Oliver Community League and also within new rules that govern community amenity contributions.

In July, council passed Policy C599, which establish that when a developer wants to upzone a property – that is, when the proposed building is larger than what’s allowed by the existing neighbourhood plan – they must contribute community amenities that benefit residents of that neighbourhood.

Community amenity contributions can include new parks or upgrades to existing parks, as well as sidewalks, trees and benches. They can also include family-oriented housing with three or more bedrooms, public art by a commissioned artist, heritage preservation and upgrades to community league facilities. A developer’s contribution amount is determined by the increase in floor area proposed through rezoning. For 2018-2019, each additional square metre of floor area prompts an amenity contribution of $37.50. This amount is updated every two years.

How are amenities chosen for a neighbourhood? According to the City, multiple stakeholders, including the community league, the business association and nearby residents are consulted. Community members put together a wish list of amenities, which is then reviewed by city bureaucrats, and followed by a public hearing. The developer creates their own list of amenities that they’re willing to contribute, and submits that as part of the rezoning process. Council eventually votes whether or not to approve the rezoning application, and this list of community amenity contributions is part of their deliberations.

The View proposal includes a clause that the developers must pay at least $100,000 to the Oliver Community League for “the creation of a community hall, community garden, and/or another amenity within the Oliver neighbourhood,” in addition to spending a minimum of $54,800 on public art for the property. There also must be a minimum of 11 three-bedroom units in the building.

That alone is a plus for a neighbourhood where, at the moment, “there aren’t enough family units,” says Oliver Community League President Lisa Brown.

Brown says the new policy will ensure developers aren’t making extra money by building bigger towers – which put additional strain on a neighbourhood’s existing amenities – without giving back to the community. “It needs to improve the services in the neighbourhood,” she says. “You’re adding to the density and the developer needs to contribute in some way so that there isn’t an overall decrease in services available for all residents.”