ECONOMY: City councillors cry foul over funding of Olympic Village

Endowment fund fiasco — Vancouver Sun 2004

A senior city planner is calling it the most advanced urban project in the world. But some are worried that the money is coming from the city’s sacred cow – the billion dollar Property Endowment Fund. Vancouver council has adopted a new vision for the 50 acres of land it owns on the southeast side of False Creek, after hours of debate and public hearings and over eight years of planning.

Construction over the next decade could include the Olympic Athletes village, towers up to 15 stories high, housing for about 4,000 people, and a new 26-acre waterfront park, said Ian Smith, the the senior planner for central Vancouver. “It’s going to be the most cutting edge, unique development in the world,” said Smith. “It’s taking a really comprehensive approach to sustainability.”

He said the project’s energy-saving measures could include: composting; Australian-style double-flush toilets; low-flow faucets and shower heads; a non-motorized boat service; and “edible landscaping” by channeling rain water onto rooftop gardens. “It’s kind of exciting. Something Vancouver can be proud of,” he said. He said he’s happy with the council’s changes to plans he’s been re-drafting since 1997. The limit for towers shrank from 25 stories to 15. The amount of low and middle income level housing grew from 20 percent of the total to 66 percent, leaving only one-third of units to be priced according to the market. Heritage buildings, including the Domtar Salt building, will be saved from the wrecking ball. Details of development plans won’t be finalized until after public hearings in October and further debate at City Hall in November and December, he said. But some are asking if the project’s 140-million financing sets a dangerous precedent. Coun. Peter Ladner says the 50 million dollars earned in the sale of industrial land on the site won’t be ploughed back into the Property Endowment Fund, as it should be. “We’re selling this land, but not putting it back into the fund.” He says it’s dangerous to take from the fund’s principal, instead of it’s $7-million dollar yearly earnings in interest, as is normally the case when building city projects. “What we did last night was unprecedented in 30 years of this fund,” Ladner said. “We decided to radically change the policy of how we use this fund, with only a few minutes of discussion about this in the council meeting. We should have a lot of thought on this, instead of jumping in and saying ‘Let’s plunder the fund’.”

Mayor Larry Campbell disagreed. “At some point you have to use this,” Campbell told BCTV News on Global. He said it shouldn’t be just “socked away for a rainy day.”

But Ladner says he’s worried that using the fund could hurt the city’s bond rating, which currently allows it to borrow money at low interest rates. “This is a signal that will be picked up by bond rating agencies. It’s a signal that somebody’s hand has slipped on the tiller and we’re not sure where this is going to go.”

He said that though the project could be “fabulous” in terms of creating sustainable living, “we should be disciplining ourselves to doing what we can afford.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s