The Alliance was at City Hall on Tuesday to show our support for Vancouver 125, a celebration of the city’s 125th anniversary (which falls in 2011) that would have a strong arts component. It also gave us a unique opportunity to request Council’s support in lobbying the Province to reverse the cuts to the BC Arts Council. While there, we had the opportunity to follow the Council’s deliberations on what to do about the density bank.
As many of you know, for the past 25 years the City of Vancouver has had a density transfer program which has allowed developers to purchase more density by creating public amenities, such as cultural institutions. Recently, Council made a commitment to give developer Bruno Wall permission to restore the York Theatre - which was under threat of demolition - in exchange for a 100% density transfer.
Originally, the density was transferred directly - ie, a developer would apply for density in exchange for building a theatre on the ground floor. However, the policy was amended in 1993, to allow density to be “banked” and transferred off-site to facilitate rehabilitation and conservation of heritage buildings in the City’s “central area” (downtown and Broadway). Thanks largely to the City’s rehabilitation program for the Downtown Eastside, the density bank has grown to a point (1.5 million sq. ft. of unlanded density) where it imperiled the health of the program. Therefore, Council has approved the following motion to reform the density bank program:
FURTHER THAT the rebalancing plan for the density bank include the following components:
i) increase density absorption by establishing a target annual absorption rate of at least 200,000 sq. ft. per year;
ii) no new density would be created until the density bank balance is at equilibrium;
iii) equilibrium would be reached when density in the bank is no more than an amount equal to the previous 3 years of absorption;
iv) after equilibrium is reached, new creation would be matched to current absorption rates; and
v) a contingency strategy to deal with extraordinary circumstances where a significant heritage resource is threatened.
What this means is that, while the Council is committed to restoring the York, it is unlikely that any cultural instutions will be built using density transfer as a tool until the density bank can reach equilibrium. When this will happen will depend largely on how the market rebounds from the recession.
For further information, check out the report from the Special Standing Committee on City Services and Budgets.