Wednesday, July 15, 2020
July 15, 2020

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Vancouver city council mulls tax break for waterfront developer

Exemption would trade $2.78M taxes for $500K playground contribution

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Vancouver city leaders may extend a tax exemption to a proposed $60 million apartment complex on The Waterfront Vancouver. In exchange, the project’s developers would contribute up to $500,000 to make over the playground area of Esther Short Park.

The seven-story, 248-unit residential building would be located on Block 20 of the waterfront development, four blocks west of the Grant Street Pier. Projected monthly rents would range from $1,600 for a studio to $2,850 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The developer, California-based Jackson Square Properties, applied for an eight-year market-rate exemption. That allows the business to price units at the normal market rate as long as it agrees to include funding for a public project, according to Peggy Sheehan, Community Development Programs Manager. That’s where the Esther Short Park piece comes in.

“The development agreement requires there to be a public benefit to that project,” Sheehan told the city council before the group’s regular meeting on Monday evening.

In exchange for the exemption, Jackson Square Properties would provide a half million dollar sum to the city, which would in turn coordinate with nonprofit Harper’s Playground to install an inclusive play structure. The structure would be more accessible to kids with special needs.

The last time the structure saw any updates was 19 years ago, said Parks and Recreation Director Julie Hannon. And it’s starting to show its age.

“It’s definitely showing wear and tear,” Hannon said. “It is extremely well-used.”

The new playground would be Phase I of an Esther Short Park overhaul. Phase II would include tearing down the current restrooms and building three or four loo-style restrooms like the ones on the waterfront.

If all goes according to the proposed schedule, installation of the new play structure would start in fall 2020.

Sheehan said that Esther Short Park was selected for improvements because it’s close to the waterfront but hasn’t benefited directly from funds designated for the massive project.

“We just spent a ton of money and effort to put a public benefit down at the waterfront. We didn’t feel like there was something they (the developer) could do down there that wasn’t already paid for or in the plan,” Sheehan told the council.

If city leaders approve the tax exemption, they would be agreeing to give up an estimated $2.78 million in projected tax revenue over the eight-year period of the exemption. They would still collect an estimated $6.14 million from the apartment complex over the same time period.

Councilor Laurie Lebowsky said she was thrilled to see the city leveraging private funds in order to improve Esther Short Park.

“I’m just excited to see we’ll have an accessible playground right in the heart of the city,” Lebowsky said.

The city’s multifamily tax exemption program was adopted in November 2016 to stimulate growth in urban areas and take the pressure off of single-family residential neighborhoods.

The exemption program offers applicants a few options. The tax break can last eight, 10 or 12 years depending on the public benefit — either the applicant can partner with the city on a public improvement project, like Jackson Square Properties with Esther Short Park, or they can agree to reserve a portion of the project’s units for low-income residents.

So far the city has approved 25 applicants for the tax exemption program. Together those projects total more than 2,300 new housing units, with more than 500 of those reserved for income-restricted residents.

Affordable duplexes

The Block 20 project was the largest tax exemption applicant discussed by the city council on Monday afternoon, but it wasn’t the only one.

Ginn Development is also looking to take advantage of the program with its proposed Nicholson Duplexes, a 13-lot subdivision on the corner of East 36th Court and Nicholson Road.

The lots would include 25 three-bedroom units with a projected monthly rent of $1,550 to $1,795.

Five of those units would be reserved for people making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

That knocks the rent price down to $1,140 a month for a single person making no more than $45,600 per year, and $1,624 a month for a family of four making no more than $65,100 per year.

If city leaders approve Ginn Development’s application, they’re forgoing an estimated $242,000 over the 10-year tax exemption period.

Council will hold a formal public hearing on both the Block 20 complex and the Nicholson Duplexes on April 15.

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