$140M False Creek Plan Adopted

Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

City land on southeast side to become a sustainable village

Chris Johnson


VANCOUVER – Senior city planner Ian Smith calls it the most advanced urban project in the world.

But Coun. Peter Ladner is worried the money to pay for it is coming from the city’s sacred cow — its billion-dollar Property Endowment Fund.

After hours of debate and public hearings and more than eight years of planning, Vancouver council has adopted a new vision for the 20.8 hectares of land it owns on the southeast side of False Creek.

Construction over the next decade could include the Olympic athletes’ village, towers up to 15 storeys high, housing for about 4,000 people, and a new 10.4-hectare waterfront park, said Smith, senior planner for central Vancouver.

“It’s going to be the most cutting-edge, unique development in the world. It’s taking a really comprehensive approach to sustainability.”

Smith said the project’s energy-saving measures could include composting, low-flow faucets and shower heads, a non-motorized boat service, and “edible landscaping” through channelling rainwater onto rooftop gardens. “It’s kind of exciting, something Vancouver can be proud of.”

Smith said he’s happy with council’s changes to plans he has been re-drafting since 1997. The height limit for towers shrank from 25 storeys to 15. The amount of low- and middle-income housing grew from 20 per cent of the total to 66 per cent, leaving only one-third of units to be priced according to the market.

Heritage buildings, including the Domtar Salt building, will be saved from the wrecking ball.

Details of development plans won’t be finalized until after public hearings in October and further debate at city hall in November and December, he said.

But Ladner wondered if the project’s $140-million financing sets a dangerous precedent.

He said the $50 million earned in the sale of industrial land on the site won’t be plowed back into the Property Endowment Fund, as it should be.

“We’re selling this land, but not putting it back into the fund.”

Ladner said it’s dangerous to take from the fund’s principal, instead of its $7-million yearly interest earnings, as is normally the case with city projects.

“What we did … was unprecedented in 30 years of this fund,” Ladner said.

“We decided to radically change the policy of how we use this fund, with only a few minutes of discussion about this in the council meeting. We should have a lot of thought on this, instead of jumping in and saying ‘Let’s plunder the fund.’ “

Mayor Larry Campbell disagreed.

“At some point, you have to use this,” Campbell told BCTV News on Global.

He said the money shouldn’t be just “socked away for a rainy day.”

But Ladner said he’s worried that using the fund could hurt the city’s bond rating, which currently allows it to borrow money at low interest rates.

“This is a signal that will be picked up by bond-rating agencies. It’s a signal that somebody’s hand has slipped on the tiller and we’re not sure where this is going to go.”

He said that although the project could be “fabulous” in terms of creating sustainable living, “we should be disciplining ourselves to doing what we can afford.”

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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