Downtown density bonus system faces criticism

The city plans to eventually collect 75 per cent of the value of the added density, as calculated by an independent consultant

Despite protest from the industry, Victoria embraced a new direction for the downtown that will charge developers a fee for building larger than typically allowed.

The density bonus system has been adopted by many municipalities.

Under the system, the city offers developers an opportunity to build more floors than prescribed in the zoning, up to a maximum size, in exchange for a monetary contribution.

“The benefit of this approach,” according to West Coast Environmental Law, “is that the developer receives an increase in density that is not normally allowed under existing zoning while the municipality receives a desired amenity that furthers public policy goals.”

Whistler, Quesnel, Salmon Arm, Sidney, Port Alberni and the City of North Vancouver are among those that have adopted the system.

In Victoria’s case, the city plans to eventually collect 75 per cent of the value of the added density, as calculated by an independent consultant. The money will go toward improving the public-realm improvement fund, and toward seismic upgrades of heritage buildings.

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association, however, predicts the policy will stunt high-density development in the core.

“They’re making it extremely difficult for developers to build,” said Casey Edge, executive officer of the association’s Victoria branch.

Higher density should be awarded based on the merits of the project, not based on the revenue it can bring, he said.

The density bonus fee will get passed along to the consumer, resulting in a price point beyond what average income-earners can pay, he added.

“If Victoria wants to talk about housing affordability, they can start by not demanding 75 per cent.”

City officials did not respond to a request for an interview.

Despite Edge’s arguments, city council approved the downtown core area plan after a public hearing. The plan outlines the city’s strategy to build a vibrant and economically resilient downtown. The density bonus system is among its policy directions.

Next, city staff will develop an action plan to implement the directions set out in the plan, and report back to council.