If BC Housing is intent on moving forward with a vision for the Riverview Hospital lands that includes the potential for market housing, the provincial entity should be treated like any other developer.
That was the message Monday from several Coquitlam councillors, who said the proposal outlined by BC Housing is at odds with the city’s priorities. That means that the municipal staffing costs associated with the project should be taken on by the province, according to Mayor Richard Stewart.
“We are not going to subsidize the province’s efforts to develop their lands any more than we would with any other developer,” he told The Tri-City News. “It is a non-starter that a development that isn’t our priority should be funded by us.”
Stewart’s comments align with those of several other council members, including Brent Asmundson, who said the city’s planning department “is running at full tilt.”
He added that the Riverview file would likely require a three-year project team, which would be a large expense for the city, particularly given the development taking place on Burke Mountain and along the Evergreen Extension.
Having an outside entity take on the costs of planning a project not deemed a priority by the city is not unusual.
For example, last summer Chevron put forward a proposal asking the city to allow self-serve gas pumps at its two Coquitlam stations. When council decided it could not devote the staff resources to analyzing the changes, the company was told to join other members of its industry in bringing a comprehensive plan back to the city.
The province and the city have put forward competing visions for the Riverview lands.
Coquitlam’s proposal, outlined in a report by John Higenbottam, states that the 244-acre property should be dedicated as a health campus, with education and training facilities and a specialized psychiatric hospital. The plan also includes some residential and rehabilitation facilities.
BC Housing’s proposal includes some health care elements but also calls for a complete community and an economic development precinct. Coquitlam council has taken issue with the provincial government’s call for a “break-even mandate,” which means the costs associated with revitalizing the site are generated from revenues from the property — which would likely mean selling land to be developed.
“There is no other city in the province that has ever had to break even on properties in order to get some kind of medical facility,” said Coun. Mae Reid. “I don’t know why Coquitlam has to be the first.”
Michael Flanigan, the vice-president of development and asset strategies at BC Housing, said the organization is still working to define what the break-even mandate would look like. But he noted that any future hospital programming would not have to be paid for from revenues generated from the Riverview lands.
Flanigan also outlined a number of different ownership models for parcels of land on the site. It is possible that BC Housing would enter into 60-year leases and retain ownership of some lands while there could be other opportunities to work with the private sector on other developments.
When asked what percentage of the housing on the property would be non-market residential, Flanigan said that work is expected to be conducted in the next phase of the planning process.