City eyes incentives for more rental units
Developers who offer affordable housing deserve huge bonus density, Hughes says
Jeff Bell, Times Colonist
Published: Friday, September 21, 2007
Encouraging more rental units downtown should be priority for the city as it drafts a policy that will help govern development in the core, says acting mayor Helen Hughes.
"The vast majority of new condominiums or highrises have no rental in them," Hughes said yesterday, adding the exception is where individual suites are rented out by owners.
With surging downtown growth and predictions for thousands more residents in the core in the next two decades, council is seeking a new format for dealing with "bonus density" -- a tradeoff where developers can build more units into buildings in exchange for public amenities such as art, green space or cash contributions.
Hughes said developers who commit to a certain level of rental accommodation should receive "a huge bonus density." While Victoria is not a resort community, she said, it's comparable to places like Whistler and Banff because all have large numbers of workers in the service industry who need affordable rental units.
Victoria council's formal debate on "bonus density" policy for the downtown area has been put off until next month, but the issue is sure to be a hot topic until then.
How to protect the public interest while ensuring developments remain viable is a balancing act, Coun. Chris Coleman said yesterday to a depleted committee of the whole at Victoria City Hall. Mayor Alan Lowe and councillors Pam Madoff and Bea Holland were all away.
Striking a fair balance is vital "so the public is getting as much out of a project as the developer is," Coleman said.
"We have to serve both sides of the equation."
Such dealings are now done on a case-by-case basis, said Mark Hornell, the city's manager of community planning, whose report to the committee on the density issue was tabled to allow more input from council members and affected groups, such as the Downtown Residents' Association and the Urban Development Institute.
One of the options suggested by the report is establishing set guidelines for added density while bringing in a consultant to determine how much value the new density level creates at a site.
Suitable amenities would then be established.
Hornell told councillors one recent trend is that developers are building far more residential units than office space -- an 18-to-1 ratio. His plan says the density bonus for office use should be equal to that for residential use.
"It's important to try and maintain office competitiveness downtown because certainly from a Regional Growth Strategy perspective and the city's own policy directions, it's essential to maintain downtown as the primary regional employment centre."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007
Edit: I suppose it should have been posted in "affordable housing". Sorry 'bout that.