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Georgia Straight
Friday, January 10, 2014
By Charlie Smith

Aaron Jasper and Melissa De Genova spar over Killarney seniors centre

Vision park commissioner Aaron Jasper wants the provincial government to contribute more money for a seniors centre. photo: Stephen Hui
Vision park commissioner Aaron Jasper wants the provincial government to contribute more money for a seniors centre. photo: Stephen Hui

WHEN VANCOUVER SOUTH Conservative MP Wai Young announced $2.5 million in federal funding for a new Killarney seniors centre on January 7, the move was applauded by municipal politicians of all stripes.

However on the Vancouver park board, there remain deep divisions between Vision Vancouver and NPA commissioners over tactics for raising the money to cover the full cost of a planned 10,000-square foot building.

The NPA's Melissa De Genova told the Straight by phone that the city could offset any financial shortfall with community-amenity contributions. These are collected from developers in return for additional density.

She said the city has generated $268 million in these levies.

"The seniors have been waiting over a decade for the centre," De Genova said.

NPA park commissioner Melissa De Genova wants community-amenity contributions to pay for the seniors centre. photo: Charlie Smith
NPA park commissioner Melissa De Genova wants community-amenity contributions to pay for the seniors centre. photo: Charlie Smith

Vision's Aaron Jasper told the Straight that community-amenity contributions must be spent in the neighbourhoods where they're collected. And he insisted that there are no community-amenity contributions available for the Killarney catchment area.

"The city rules are such that CACs can only be spent in an area where the development is taking place," Jasper said. "That's the whole idea."

Community-amenity contributions for the nearby River District have already been allocated for the area south of Marine Drive.

The city's general manager of planning and development, Brian Jackson, told the Straight that there are "guidelines". These determine for staff and council how community-amenity contributions should be used "when we have a development application in a geographic area that has a need for new amenities and services".

"We really like to make sure that growth is paying for the increased amount of services that are required to accommodate that growth," Jackson said. "In the case of Killarney, there has not been a development that has occurred in that general area or in the wide area around Killarney that has generated CACs in the past. So there is no unallocated CAC money that is available for any improvements or changes to the Killarney seniors centre."

As a result of a motion by former Vision commissioner Raj Hundal in 2009, the park board set aside land for a seniors facility beside the Killarney Community Centre.

In 2011, the project was estimated to cost $7.5 million.

The city has contributed $2.5 million in addition to the land.

The provincial government has announced $1.3 million in funding for the centre.

It's planned to go in the Vancouver-Fraserview constituency, which is represented by Attorney General Suzanne Anton.

"It was always the hope that this would be a partnership between different levels, and we're almost there," Jasper said. "So I think we, again, should give Suzanne Anton the opportunity to see if she can get the provincial government to contribute $2.5 million."

De Genova said that Vision Vancouver never formally requested money from senior levels of government until councillor Raymond Louie introduced a motion last October.

She claimed that this failure to ask has delayed the project, driving up the expense because construction costs keep going up.

"There was some discussion that the centre might be scaled down to 7,500 square feet, whereas the seniors are asking for 10,000 square feet," she said. "I would hate to see a situation like Sunset Community Centre — a beautiful community centre — but one that was certainly underbuilt for what the community needs."

Jasper responded that there has been dialogue for years on this issue between municipal staff and their provincial and federal counterparts.

He added that the park board applied for money under one program on the advice of a provincial official, even though the board knew at the time that it was a "longshot".

De Genova introduced a motion before the board in October claiming that the facility would now cost $10 million; Jasper declared that this figure has never been formally evaluated by anyone.

"We do know if the provincial government says 'Sorry guys, we wish we could help you, but there's no additional money,' then at the municipal level, we'll have some tough decisions to make," Jasper said.

If the provincial government doesn't offer more funding, he suggested that different stakeholder groups could advocate to have something included in the capital plan that goes to voters in the 2014 municipal election.

"That might be our last window, failing a top-up from the provincial government," he said.

De Genova said that without more funding, she worries that the seniors centre won't have an elevator or a commercial-sized kitchen.

In her motion in October, she called for the park board chair and commissioners to write a letter to the mayor and council asking that community-amenity contributions "from current and/or future developments in the Killarney neighbourhood" be used for funding, "pending extensive public consultation and community support".

Jasper relied on the Vision majority to amend the motion striking this and simply asking for $2.5 million from both the federal and provincial governments.

De Genova wanted to have the board take a recess so the amended motion could be printed and distributed to the seniors at the meeting, but she said the Vision majority wouldn't allow this.

"I'm not trying to play politics here," she said. "At the end of the day, they were promised a seniors centre, and I want it built for those seniors."

© Copyright Georgia Straight

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