Developers bank too much office space: City

Coquitlam Council would 'like to see us be a lot more assertive'

Coquitlam is contemplating not letting developers of residential/commercial projects defer building office space, as part of a strategy to generate employment growth in the city.

A staff report to council proposed seven strategies to encourage office development. At the top of the list of four short-term solutions was no further banking of office space.

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The report said in the city centre area there is 380,000 sq. ft. of banked office space going back more than a decade. That suggests "permitting this practice, at least in the past, has hindered the city's ability to achieve its employment targets. (This banked office space would directly support an estimated 2,500 jobs assuming one job per 150 sq. ft.)"

In the future, said the report, the city should take steps during the zoning and development process to make sure "employment generating floor space is not permitted to be deferred beyond the completion of the residential component of the project."

The report cited three city centre developers who have shifted the commitment to future phases that remain undeveloped while they focus on the residential components of their projects. They are:

• Morguard Corporation, 171,000 sq. ft. at 1150 The High Street deferred since 2005;

• Unimet Homes, 160,000 sq. ft. at 1170 Pinetree Way deferred since 2006; and

• Cressey Developments, 49,000 sq.ft. at 2992 Glen Drive deferred since 2011.

"There’s obvious demand for office space now and we could really, really benefit from this as a city so I’d like to see us be a lot more assertive," said Coun. Chris Wilson. “I believe we’ve been too timid and if we’re going to attract what we really want and what we need in our community we need to be bold."

Chris Wilson
Coquitlam Coun. Chris Wilson - Tri-City News file photo

Wilson said he is frustrated by the situation but doesn't put all the blame on the developers.

"We let them off the hook," Wilson told The Tri-City News. "We said when the market gets better, let's build an office. But that's pretty loose.

"It's just unfortunate there's nothing else in the agreements to put a little force in it."

The other short-term strategies call for the city to promote Coquitlam office space, create new zones in the city centre and advocate for decentralization of office space in the region.

The last strategy is something Mayor Richard Stewart and Coun. Brent Asmundson have been advocating for a while. They'd like a moratorium put on office development in downtown Vancouver so more of it can be spread across the region.

"We need to press Vancouver," said Stewart.

The report noted Coquitlam's main competition is coming from Burnaby – particularly the massive new developments at the Brentwood and Lougheed town centres currently in the works — and Surrey City Centre.

The medium-term strategies proposed are for Coquitlam to adjust its density bonus program for the city centre, and to ensure there is adequate parking in developments not only for residents and office employees but office visitors.

In the long term, the report suggested, the city should explore developing financial incentive programs to attract office building and businesses to Coquitlam.

"We need to find the sweet spot of incentives and encouragement to spur development of more office space. Then we'll find more of them coming to Coquitlam, but we haven’t found that sweet spot yet," said Stewart.

Council gave its blessing to city staff to consult with the development and business communities, undertake more research, and begin implementing the short-term strategies.

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