News item: Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority is launching a real estate division that could produce up to $1.5 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, modelled on an agency that has reshaped Hong Kong. …TransLink will purchase land along new rapid transit routes and around stations and ramp up the value of the land through denser zoning and partnerships with land developers to create high-density commercial and residential developments.
There’s an intriguing idea. I wonder why no one thought of doing this before.
Let’s take a real-life example: the extension of the Millennium Line to UBC – a high priority in the Premier’s announced $14 billion transit plan.
Excuse me as I reach for the back of an envelope.
Now let’s see. The line will likely cost way over $2 billion, particularly if it’s tunnelled, but let’s be conservative: two billion it is.
Now, how much can TransLink make out of development along the line? Development cost charges are the way the City takes in the money to pay for public benefits. In the case of Downtown South, the levy was raised to $13 in 2007 to pay for parks, child care and affordable housing. Let’s deal the city out of this and take all the money for TransLink – and raise the charge to $15.
In order to capture $500 million – a quarter of the cost of the line – at $15 a square foot, we’re looking for 33 million square feet.
Floorplates of residential highrises range around 8,000 square feet – let’s round it up to 10,000 square feet per floor. Highrises tend to go from 20 to 30 storeys. So 33 million square feet translates into 132 25-storey towers. (Development levies normally apply to only a percentage of gross floor area, but let’s keep it simple.)
Let’s allocate the towers to each of the stations – there will be about a station per kilometre if we take the Canada Line ratio – or 13 stations from Commercial Drive to UBC.
Now let’s pause and imagine the reaction of those who live within spitting distance of 10th Avenue and Sasamat, the heart of West Point Grey’s commercial village, to the announcement that ten 25-storey higrises will be placed on the surrounding blocks, without any additional money for community amenities, park space or services. Or how they’ll react at a public meeting when told, “Hey, it works in Hong Kong!”
We’re talking transformative projects in neighbourhoods that get nervous at the prospect of rowhouses. “Highrise” is a fightin’ word. And that’s assuming the community is going to be all that welcoming of rapid transit in the first place. Remember the reaction to the B-Line on Granville Street? Neighbourhoods not dissimilar to Point Grey, when faced with the introduction of longer-than-average buses, not even any change to the zoning, fought the proposal at some of the ugliest and most protracted public meetings in my time on Council
Mind you, raising money from cost charges applied after the fact may not be needed – especially if the money can be raised before the fact. That is, TransLink secretly buys up land zoned single-family residential and hopes to make a killing when the City approves the rezoning for higher density – assuming the City has any say in the matter. (Actually, given the high land values on the west side, it will have to boost the densities much higher if it hopes to make very much at all. And the number of 33-foot lots needed? About 2,700 Also, acquisition has to be done before there’s even talk of approving the transit extension, especially the particulars of the route, to avoid speculators getting in beforehand. The only speculator initially will be TransLink.
Of course my fundamental premise is ridiculous: TransLink would never be able to assemble enough land in the first place – at least not without expropriation. And any elected official, at any level, supporting such a prospect would be committing political suicide.
People like, oh, Gordon Campbell, MLA for Vancouver Point Grey.
Because that’s who the community will turn to (or more likely, turn on). Not the local Mayor and Council. Most likely, they’ll be on the community’s side. Not the regional Mayor’s Council;