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Richmond council puts brakes on Polygon development

The proposed development would have nearly 1,300 residential units when complete
Conceptual design for the Polygon Talisman development in Richmond's Capstan Village area.

Richmond city council put the brakes on a large development in Capstan until it has rental housing policies in place.

City council voted 6-2 on Monday to hold off on making a decision on the Polygon Talisman development at Garden City and Cambie roads until two long-awaited reports on rental housing are completed.

“The intent of the referrals was that we would come up with a reasonable plan for both affordable housing and market (rental) housing, and what percentages we would require (developments to have) so that it would be required of all developments,” said Coun. Harold Steves, who made the referral, at the meeting.

“I certainly don’t think that the amount of market rental housing or affordable housing in this (Polygon) plan is enough.”

Currently, the proposed development would have nearly 1,300 residential units when fully built: 120 market rental units (units built and zoned specifically for rentals), 156 affordable or below-market rental units and 1,014 market strata condos for sale.

Under the city’s affordable housing strategy, 10 per cent of the residential portion of the development was required to be zoned for affordable rental housing. However, city staff explained at the meeting there currently isn’t a similar, mandatory requirement for market rental for development applications – an issue that one of the two awaited reports will address.

Instead, there is an incentive-based policy for market rental housing, and the proposed 120 market rental units at the Polygon development are the result of a “site-specific negotiation,” staff said.

Steves pointed out council learned its lesson with Richmond Centre, which was rezoned decades ago.

Because it was fully rezoned in one go, council couldn’t ask for  any changes when the mall’s owner, Cadillac Fairview, finally started developing; however, Cadillac Fairview did agree to raise the number of affordable units from five per cent to 10 per cent.

The Capstan rezoning received unanimous support last week at council’s planning committee, but after considerable pressure from the Richmond Rental Housing Advocacy Group, the majority of council was willing to take a step back and wait for city staff to bring back the new policy on market rentals.

Coun. Chak Au told the Richmond News he would like to see a larger percentage of the Polygon development zoned for market and affordable rental units.

“I think somewhere between 25 to 50 per cent, combined, would be a good starting point for discussion.”

He added he would also like to see a “proportional ratio” of rental units in new developments – meaning larger developments would have a greater number of rental units.

“That’s what I would advocate for instead of a fixed percentage for all developments. For example, in this Polygon Talisman development, because there are over one thousand (strata condos), perhaps we should ask for the maximum percentage (of rental) which could be 50 per cent.”

John Roston, co-ordinator of the Richmond Rental Housing Advocacy Group, said he would like to see 65 per cent of the development zoned for market rental.

Covenant on strata condos questioned

Last week, the city’s planning committee voted to add a covenant onto the Polygon development’s title, which would prohibit future stratas from restricting rentals in condo units in perpetuity.

Developers are already able to file a rental disclosure agreement under provincial law, which prevents stratas from restricting rentals in condo units for a specified period of time, such as 100 years.

“Therefore the proposed covenant will actually not make a single difference to rental housing in Richmond until after 99 years,” said Richmond activist Laura Gillanders, who spoke at the meeting.

She added that it was “particularly troubling” that the covenant was “referred to as securing rental housing forever.”

“Condos that are rentable are not rental housing,” she said. “Rental apartments are built to be rented…We’ve been building condos steadily for the past 10 years – most have been rentable, and yet the housing crisis is as bad as it’s ever been.”

City staff said at the council meeting that a covenant on the title can be enforced by the city if a strata is found to not be complying with it, whereas it would be up to the strata and individual condo owners to deal with any issues under a rental disclosure agreement.

The two rental policy reports will likely be back at council by the second quarter, according to city staff. The Polygon application will come back to council after those reports are completed. 

Couns. Alexa Loo and Linda McPhail voted against the referral.

  • With files from Maria Rantanen