If Victoria wants to keep its downtown as the central hub for the region, it will have to relax rules restricting development.
City council took this warning from developers to heart as it approved higher allowable densities in the core Thursday.
“The next ministry building – do you want it built Uptown or do you want it built downtown?” asked Mayor Dean Fortin.
Allowing higher densities could result in taller buildings with wider footprints.
Developers argue the increase in necessary to remove barriers to building economically viable projects, based on typical parcel sizes.
But the argument left Coun. Pam Madoff with concerns.
“The only reason I can see for it, coming from the industry, is that some folks have bought land at inflated values based on their hopes to rezone,” she said.
Right now, the city collects “density bonuses” whenever a developer is granted permission to build larger than the guidelines.
The city spends that money on amenities, such as the Harbour Walkway.
By increasing the allowable density, “we’re further diminishing that fund … and that is a very significant fund,” Madoff said.
Others on council, however, said council should increase its allowable density, rather than frequently granting exceptions to its baselines.
“I think it is absolutely essential that we provide as much certainty as we can,” said Coun. Geoff Young.
“The pain that we have when we examine rezoning is pain that’s felt both by the developer who is faced with the uncertainty of knowing whether his project will proceed, after all the effort to design it … but also with people who live in the surrounding area who are faced with uncertainty about what will be there.”
Rezoning applications, he said, are also time consuming. “One of the things we constantly hear is that in other areas it is fast to get things done, and in Victoria it is slow.”
Council voted eight-to-one in favour of staff recommendations for the Downtown Core Area Plan, currently in draft form.
Under the new plan, the base and maximum floor space ratios for the central business area and Harris Green will be increased. FSR is defined as the size of the total floor space of a building, compared to the size of the property.
For instance, the FSR will rise from 3:1 to 4:1 for a chunk of land between Douglas and Quadra streets.