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Pemberton considers rescinding community amenity policy

To date, no developer has had to pay voluntary charge



The Village of Pemberton is looking for new ways to pay for community amenities as council considers rescinding its Community Amenity Charge.

The agenda package for the Nov. 3 council meeting carried a Notice of Motion from Councillor Lisa Ames to rescind the charge and replace it with a density bonusing bylaw during review of its Official Community Plan (OCP).

The motion, which did not go to a vote, was prefaced by a staff note that said council has been getting ongoing presentations and staff reports relating to the amenity policy, which asks for a voluntary contribution from developers to community amenities when seeking rezonings or subdivisions.

The previous council adopted the policy on July 10, 2007, with only a single dissenting vote. Now Pemberton wants to give it another look.

"It was supposed to be reviewed after two years so it's been pretty much two years," Ames said in an interview. "I think there's better ways of collecting for amenities and that we need to re-think that. It's also voluntary so it's hard to enforce."

Council enacted the policy at a time when demand was building for more recreational facilities, such as an ice rink or swimming pool.

Consultations with developers led village staff to draft a policy that would see a charge of $9,165 apply to building lots and $6,110 to multiple-family dwellings in rezonings and subdivisions that include residential components of more than three units.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said the policy was adopted in the hope that the village could apply the charge to new developments in town and collect about $8 million over time. Thus far, the charge has yielded nothing.

"It's really based on development and we were really hoping to see that some development took place," Sturdy said. "In a hot market, (with) demand, you're going to collect it sooner."

Now, instead of the policy, council is looking into a density bonusing bylaw that it hopes to implement as part of its OCP review. Density bonusing offers developments a density that exceeds permitted Floor Area Ratios (FAR) in exchange for amenities needed by the community, according to a B.C. government website.

This includes amenities such as parks and affordable housing, but increased density can also be seen as an amenity, according to the website.

Local governments are asked to establish maximum overall densities in their OCPs and to concentrate density in "strategic areas" to encourage transportation choice. They're also asked to define and prioritize amenities and housing needed by the community.

Council's decision to revisit the policy came as welcome news for Bruce van Mook, a Pemberton developer who's working with partner Garth Phare to put a neighbourhood of just under 300 homes on lands adjacent to Signal Hill Elementary School.

The development, currently known as Signal Hill Homes, sits at fourth reading with Pemberton council as its proponents struggle with the costs of building the thing. On top of development cost charges and paying to help fix an unsafe dyke on the property, the developers are also subject to the amenity charge, which they feel they cannot afford.

Van Mook said in an interview that rescinding the charge is a "very important piece" of delivering affordability and viability to development in the community. If the amenity charge were applied to Signal Hill he said it could cost them over $2 million.

"It really acts as an inhibitor overall and it really was pushing us beyond viability," he said. "We applaud it, we were pleasantly surprised that that order of motion was on the agenda. We weren't aware of that, so we applaud that."

Village staff nevertheless supported giving the Signal Hill developers "in lieu" credit to the amenity charge instead of making them pay it in full, meaning they may never have to pay the charge at all.