Burnaby set to see more density bonus money

Burnaby city hall is set to receive more money from two proposed developments through its density bonus amenity program and it's reviewing the best ways to use it.

A project proposed for Beresford Street, fronting onto Cassie and McKay avenues, is for two condo towers of 42 and 27 storeys in height and a four-storey commercial podium. If council gives final rezoning approvals, it will provide a community amenity bonus of $16.52 million.

Over at the redevelopment of Brentwood mall, the proposed second residential tower is 53 storeys tall on top of the three-storey commercial structure. If it gets final approvals, it will generate $4.56 million in amenity bonus funds.

The program allows developers to build more density on certain sites in town centre areas than would otherwise be allowed. In turn, a contribution is made to the city, either in the form of a project, such as the new Bonsor Seniors Centre, or in cash to be used for a community amenity in the same area sometime in the future.

In both the Beresford and Brentwood proposals, council decided on Monday to take the cash for now. In addition, city policy is to put 20 per cent of that money aside into a fund for affordable and special needs housing projects city-wide.

A city staff report outlines the benefits to the city, valued at more than $115 million, since the program started in 1997. They include three childcare centres, 19 affordable and/or special needs housing units, construction or improvements to seven parks and open spaces and four office spaces for non-profit groups. It has also resulted in the building or renovation of Tommy Douglas Library, Alan Emmott Centre, the Bonsor seniors centre and Bonsor Recreation Complex.

City staff are now working on updating the city's policies to guide how that money will be spent, and on what priorities, to meet Burnaby's future needs.

Coun. Colleen Jordan, chair of the city's community development committee which requested the review, said it's "overwhelming" to see what's been achieved through the program.

Coun. Paul McDonell noted the program has seen significant amenities added to Burnaby at no cost to taxpayers other than their upkeep.

While residents may raise concerns about traffic and the impact of development, Coun. Sav Dhaliwal pointed out those neighbourhoods also benefit from the amenities the density bonus program provides.

In a similar vein, Coun. Pietro Calendino said in a recent speech by "condo king" Bob Rennie, the real estate marketer chastised developers for complaining about having to contribute the money. That's because those contributions not only help create the livable communities, the amenities become a selling feature.

Coun. Nick Volkow said at a recent Urban Development Institute event he attended, there was also grousing about the lack of clarity in some communities about their density bonus programs.

But Burnaby was the exception. Volkow was approached afterwards by people in the development industry who all offered kudos to the city because "they knew when they came into Burnaby what was expected of them." They also have a good sense of what that money will be used for.

Said Volkow, "$115 million over 17 years isn't chump change."

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