Rec centre off the radar as North Van City reconsiders development practices
North Vancouver city council rejected plans Monday to move forward with a major redevelopment of the Harry Jerome rec centre, putting the matter aside while staff and council do some serious soul-searching over the city’s density bonusing policy.
Community consultations last fall chose one of three redesign options for the Lonsdale Avenue rec centre. The winner had called for a new seniors’ centre, a revamped ice rink, a pedestrian bridge over East 23rd Street containing administration offices, new gymnasiums and a 25-metre pool beside a reconfigured Norseman Field.
To help cover the $70-million cost, the plan also included two 18-storey condo towers and one five-storey mid-rise totalling 350,000 square feet of market residential space; catnip for developers whose amenity contributions might have, in turn, offset the price tag by half.
It’s a similar model to what the city used to fund its new library and municipal hall. But, with little density around the Harry Jerome site, all on council believed the residential-tower plan was a poor fit.
And while some consideration was given instead to redirecting amenity contributions from other development projects around the city to help pay for Harry Jerome, there were still outstanding concerns about the rec centre’s rushed redesign.
Among them was the loss of the original plans to include a 50-metre pool, which many in the swimming community had lobbied for as the main thrust of the whole rec centre redesign. But Mayor Darrell Mussatto called the 50-metre pool idea “too expensive” for the city to operate without help from the districts of North Vancouver or West Vancouver.
“This is really a recreation centre designed by a committee,” Coun. Guy Heywood said, dismissing the plans. “We haven’t even talked about the incremental costs when you put an administration building on a bridge above 23rd Street. That has to cost the project a lot more and we have stuck them there just because we couldn’t bring ourselves to offend any of the various sacred cows that are haunting this precinct and preventing common sense.”
Council agreed to defer the rec centre discussion until Jan. 1, 2014.
But it was just a precursor to a wider debate about the city’s policy on density bonusing, or as Coun. Heywood put it, on how the city tries to “buy virtue” from density-driven developers.
The debate would end with council voting 6-1, with Mayor Mussatto opposed to spending $45,000 to hire an outside consultant to study the city’s density bonusing policy.
“I think the city has done extremely well by the past density bonusing and what we’ve been able to achieve,” Mussatto said, defending the status quo. “I think the challenge lies not in that we don’t have the right process, it’s that it’s complex.”
Coun. Pam Bookham also rejected the idea of hiring a consultant to essentially remind councillors what they already know, but warmed to the idea after trying to amend the terms of the vote to include a temporary policy of taking cash from developers in place of any community amenities, until the city’s policy is resolved.
“We should be taking cash in-lieu of amenities on major projects and I would like to move that as an amendment,” Bookham said. “We know we need to find the capital to fund our cultural facilities, our recreation facilities and North Shore Neighbourhood House, and we need to start planning for that now.”
But while Coun. Rod Clark agreed, saying “Cash is king,” Couns. Don Bell and Craig Keating pointed out that money isn’t always the most transparent or cost-effective amenity a developer can offer, especially if their development is already atop a desired amenity site.
Gary Penway, the city’s director of planning agreed, saying that demanding cash in lieu of amenities for either Onni’s 13th Street and Lonsdale development or for Concert’s Harbourside plans, would be equivalent to slamming the door on either project.
“There’s a variety of reasons you may want to not take cash — you don’t have to build it, you don’t have to provide a site for it, the applicant takes those tasks on and delivers a site for you,” Penway said. “Cash-only eliminates a wide range of... benefits that you’ve achieved over the years.”
At Harbourside, for instance, Concert is looking for added density to build more market-rental housing, something the city needs and could not themselves build more affordably with a cash-in-lieu payment, Penway added.
As for the Onni amenities, it can be tough, if not impossible, to quantify and monetize the values of things like eco-design and daycare space. And it’s not something Onni has any interest in doing, Penway said.
After much debate, the temporary cash-only idea was watered down to a mere commitment that, until the completion of the consultant’s report, the city would at least consider taking cash in lieu of project amenities — an arrow council already had in its quiver prior to the lengthy debate.
Still, Coun. Bookham was steadfast in asking that Onni show council the money.
“I hope that we will get cooperation from them that they will be willing to provide cash in lieu of those amenities that have been under discussion,” she said. “And if not, well we’ll see how the vote goes at the public hearing."