There are many benefits that come with development: new shops, restaurants, and commercial services, more housing options, increased vibrancy, and a larger tax base to cover municipal costs. However, there can be downsides as well: increased traffic, lack of parking, strain on local public services and infrastructure, etc.
Municipalities have a system in place that recognizes the burden of development that is placed on existing residents, and in theory, “compensates” them for this. In the words of the District of North Vancouver’s Community Amenity Contribution Policy, “to ensure that the community obtains benefits from new development through a fair and equitable approach.” Developers are required to pay Community Amenity Contributions (CAC’s) at a rate per square foot set by the municipality. As the name implies, these are amenities like parks, plazas, trails, rec center upgrades, child care centers, and care homes. The particular type of benefit on any given project is negotiated with developers by District staff. Sometimes developers build these amenities, but here, more often than not, they make in-lieu cash payments to the District.
There are some issues with the CAC system. One is that residents of the District themselves don’t get to decide what type of benefits they receive. At best, a few of them are consulted. Another issue is that some residents may make little to no use of the public amenities, possibly because they don’t live in the immediate area. A third issue is that the cost of providing CAC’s gets priced into the cost of housing, making it less affordable.
I’d like to propose two alternative models for deciding on CAC’s:
- Referenda of all District residents, ranking on a list the top types of amenities or other compensation they wish to receive. Such votes could happen every couple years to keep up to date with changing priorities. The District would then have a clear mandate from residents on which type of CAC’s to require of developers.
- Votes held by Community Associations in the area impacted by the proposed development. The residents involved with these associations will be in a good position to judge what amenities their neighbourhoods need. The District would then collect the results of votes held by the Community Associations, possibly with weighting of the results based on the proximity of each association to the development site.
Other models for bringing decision-making on the type of CAC’s closer to the level of the citizen could be imagined.
If CAC’s are meant to compensate local residents for the downsides of development, it could make sense to expand the range of benefits, and not limit them to “amenities.” Below is a list of suggested benefits, which focus on the two primary concerns of North Vancouverites (traffic and high cost of housing):
- Subsidized housing for the family members of existing District residents, or others designated as “in-need” by the Community Associations
- Credits for the payment of tolls (see my post on road pricing) or public transit fare
- Cash payments, perhaps with some incentive program to encourage residents to donate some or all of the payment to their local Community Association
- Reduction in the amount of property tax payable to the District
Benefits like these might be more aligned with the actual development-related “pain points” of most existing residents, and do more to garner their support for future development. And decision-making processes for CAC’s like the two described above would give existing residents a stronger voice in how development benefits their communities.
2022 Candidate for DNV Council
Clayton ran for District of North Vancouver Council in 2022. He holds a BA in International Development from Trent University, and works as a project manager in the construction industry.
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