White Rock council has received a copious amount of feedback from residents in the quest to find the best uses for some $13 million in Community Amenity Contributions from ongoing development in the city.
Preferred uses, according to a staff report on public engagement to date, range from building a Centre Street walkway and a hillside funicular railway to investments that would boost arts and cultural activities and “social supports” such as affordable housing and child care.
But planning and development services director Carl Isaak admitted – in presenting the report at the regular council meeting on March 30 – that it’s a topic that “has been somewhat eclipsed in terms of importance” by the current COVID-19 crisis.
“But we didn’t want this data to be stale when it did come to you,” he said.
Council endorsed a motion from Coun. Anthony Manning that staff continue to research the issue and continue in-depth discussion with council – including a separate workshop on the matter – nonetheless.
The city conducted a community forum (information meeting and workshop on Jan. 20) and two pop-up events (Feb. 4 and Feb. 9).
“We would not be able to be conducting that kind of engagement under the current circumstances,” Isaak observed.
An online survey gleaned 523 responses (from Jan. 20 to Feb. 18) and council was presented with 20 pages of verbatim comments from the survey as part of the report.
Also noted was a post on the city’s Facebook page which logged more than 274 reactions, comments and shares.
The top-five possibilities – according to a summary of ‘sticky note’ suggestions logged at the commmunity forum and pop-up engagements – were (in order of preference) a Centre Street walkway, a funicular, affordable housing, enhancements to the pier and waterfront parks.
Of online survey respondents, 64 per cent favoured parks and recreation uses, 30 per cent preferred social support amenities and 22 per cent advocated for increased mobility.
Some 19 per cent advocated for arts and cultural uses, while 12 per cent were in favour of more civic facilities.
Isaak said there was some skew to these responses, with a higher proportion of seniors at in-person public events and a higher representation of youth in online engagement.
“There’s a different emphasis based on the kind of engagement that was done,” he said.
“Staff’s intention was not to determine how much council spends, because obviously there’s a different price tag associated with a funicular than there is with public art,” he added.
“Things like public art are more a regularly occurring thing – you could set a certain amount for a number of years (while) a number of projects, such as purchase of land for affordable housing is more a one-time thing, with additional ongoing expenses if we are actually operating affordable housing.”
Coun. Helen Fathers wanted to know the ‘touch rate’ – means of determining the quantity of engagement among city residents – on the events and surveys conducted so far.
“How many people were able to touch this, by the means we afforded them?” she asked, noting that the survey response was small in comparison to a population of some 20,000 residents in the city.
“We do have thousands of touch points,” communications manager Donna Kell told council, adding that Facebook and Twitter response was very positive.
“I think we did have a very robust engagement in that short period of time.”
“This is a very good start to rolling forward those important decisions that you’ll want to make in the future.”
Manning also noted Isaak’s comments that engagement has been steadily increasing in recent years.
“Incremental will get us to where we want to go,” he said.
The city currently has approximately $9 million of CACs that are not allocated to a project, and an additional $4 million is expected to be received in 2021.
Generally, amenity contributions have to be used for the capital costs of new assets to offset the impact of new development, but can’t be tabbed for operating funds, to repair and maintain existing assets, or to subsidize city fees or taxes.