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Fire halls to sidewalks: Burnaby looks at how developers can foot the bill

Should developers be allowed to fund fire stations and police detachments?
The City of Burnaby is looking to expand the kinds of community benefits developers can pay for in exchange for building more density. Photo Lauren Vanderdeen/Burnaby Now.

Burnaby city council is looking for new ways to have developers pay for big community benefits.

Staff recently recommended a change in policy which allows the city to get community benefits from developers, like child-care facilities, landscaping and public plazas, public art, non-profit program space, and affordable or special needs housing.

Developers pay the city for the amenities through the community benefit bonus policy, and in return the city allows them to build more housing.

The city says certain reserve funds and reserves are now “at risk of being depleted more quickly than others,” according to the report presented to council on April 24, and as a result, staff are looking how to “fund projects from other reserves in order to alleviate the pressures on the reserve funds and reserves at risk.”

Staff recommended that council expand the kinds of community benefits that developers can fund to include:

  • public safety facilities including fire stations and RCMP/police detachments;
  • active transportation infrastructure including cycling corridors, paths and lanes, multi-use pathways, trails, sidewalks, transit shelters, and bike racks or storage lockers;
  • composting and organic processing facilities including biofuel and organic diversion facilities;
  • public electric vehicle charging stations; and
  • extreme weather shelters.

But Burnaby Citizens Association Coun. Daniel Tetrault expressed concern that some of the proposed amenities went “beyond what the scope is” of community amenities.

While he supported adding active transportation to the list of allowed amenities, he noted public safety and composting facilities felt “out of place.”

“I do feel like we’ve gone beyond what is consistent with provincial legislation, or at least what community amenities are meant to achieve,” Tetrault said.

The city’s chief financial officer and deputy chief administrative officer, Noreen Kassam, said the provincial guidelines have broad criteria for density bonus policies. She added the staff recommendation is consistent with other municipalities but did not list specific cities.

Gu agreed with Tetrault, noting she considers public safety facilities and waste processing plants essential services.

“I think it would be inappropriate to include those facilities that are equally shared by all residents onto just being paid for through the community amenity bonus,” Gu said.

But BCA Coun. Sav Dhaliwal disagreed with his fellow party members.

He said council’s decision is to create the criteria for the policy, and noted adding the types of benefits doesn’t mean they will be funded through the policy.

“It’s a flexibility that’s provided to council, basically, that’s all it is,” Dhaliwal said, adding, “Ultimately, when we are sent the budgets and priorities, council will decide what projects we get.”

The policy works on a principle that the benefits won’t be used for “normal city infrastructure” like watermains, sewers or roads.

In 2022, the City of Burnaby received $250.7 million in community benefit contributions from developers.

The staff recommendation to expand the kinds of benefits was approved 5–2, with Tetrault and Gu opposed.

Residents can speak to the policy change at a public hearing on May 30.

📢 SOUND OFF: What do you think of the policy change? Should developers be allowed to fund fire halls and waste processing plants? Share your thoughts — send us a letter.