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British Columbia Developer cash for day cares, art facilities dries up as Vancouver pushes for ‘community benefits’

New daycares, neighbourhood houses and arts facilities in Vancouver that were built as part of rezoning projects used to benefit from a special kind of developer contribution: cash to help cover some of the cost of their operations.

But four years ago, the province issued new guidelines for such payments, known as community-amenity contributions. Before the change, when land was rezoned, developers offered payments or assets to provide additional services to areas seeing big population increases.

The province’s new guidelines, created by a committee of developers and municipal politicians, discouraged cities from asking for any payments for operating costs from builders, saying that contributions should only be for capital costs – that is, buildings or other tangible assets.

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Four years later, the change is hitting home, as new facilities that are either about to open or planned for the future are struggling to replace that money.

And leaders at one neighbourhood facility about to open in May – a $5-million new annex to Collingwood Neighbourhood House on the city’s east side – are not sure how it will fill the gap in operations money.

“If we were still operating by the 2011 rules, we would have been able to lobby for cash for our new annex. But now we can’t,” said Jennifer Gray-Grant, the executive director for the community facility.

The area is seeing massive new development. Negotiations for one of the recent rezonings, done for Wall Financial Corp., ensured that a major new community benefit at its Wall Centre Central Park project would be the Collingwood annex.

Twenty years ago, when Concert Properties redeveloped the area and built hundreds of apartments there, the company provided money to an endowment fund aimed at providing the neighbourhood house with operations money.

That $2-million fund, which also got contributions from other sources, still provides a financial cushion for the centre. But the new rules mean that other developers building in the area since then couldn’t be asked for any cash to be used to operate the annex..

For daycares, the situation is even worse.

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Until 2014, city planners negotiated hefty contributions from developers for cash to help with startup costs and operations for the many daycares that Vancouver has been pushing to see built.

When the Oakridge Centre shopping mall was rezoned, the agreement with the developer required not only the provision for the building of a 69-space daycare, but another $2.53 million “for facility reserves and startup costs for the childcare.”

At that point, the city had almost $20-million in its childcare reserve fund, from which it distributed grants to new daycares.

“Previously, almost every [facility] was accompanied by cash,” said Chris Robertson, the city’s acting director of city-wide planning.

But that reserve fund is almost depleted.

Mr. Robertson said that does mean there is a gap for those facilities, but the city is hoping that the new provincial government, which has made ambitious promises about funding childcare, will provide some relief.

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Councillor Andrea Reimer said she too is hopeful that the province will come up with the money needed to support childcares.

She said the city could lobby the new NDP government to change the guidelines that had been issued four years ago. But she and others wonder if that is the right approach, since getting money from developers to operate childcare centres was a kind of desperation manoeuvre to get them funded when there was no provincial support.

At Collingwood Neighbourhood House, there is no solution like that in sight.

Instead, the community facility’s managers are looking at potentially having to rent out their new annex space much more than they wanted to in order to generate income for operations.

“But if we have to keep renting it out, then we’re not using the space for what was intended – the community,” said Ms. Gray-Grant.

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