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Squamish enters deal for low-income housing

Complicated proposal requires fees waved and funds pledged

The District of Squamish (DOS) entered into a complex business relationship this week that could see 84 units of low income housing built in the North Yards neighbourhood.

If successful, the deal, spearheaded by Bethel Land Corporation, would also involve DOS, B.C. Housing and Sea to Sky Community Services. The units will be geared at people making 60 per cent of the town's median income. The project, called Riverstones, will comprise a number of three-storey buildings with units of one bedroom and a den or two bedrooms. At this point, utilities are not included in rent.

Council spent much of its afternoon committee of the whole meeting debating the project before a package of motions was brought forward at the evening's regular business meeting.

Bethel is hoping to secure $3 million from B.C. Housing to bring the project to fruition. To do so, it needs the district to get behind the project by providing and rezoning land, waving development cost charges (DCCs) of approximately $250,000 and taking care of off-site servicing requirements, also estimated at about $250,000.

Bethel is reserving the right to turn the project into a private enterprise. In the event of that move, it would refund district contributions with interest. During the afternoon session, council sought to set that interest rate at prime plus three per cent, which a Bethel representative viewed as a deal-breaking rate. Just the same, council stuck to its guns, saying the high rate would not affect the developer's cash flow unless the project went private, which is something the district doesn't want to see.

However, by the time of the evening's meeting, council had backed off that stance, with staff saying B.C. Housing warned the interest rate was too steep and possibly unfair.

"I believe that is more of a political decision than one based on numbers," said Chief Administrative Officer Kim Anema.

"It isn't political," retorted Councillor Paul Lalli. "It's just making a good, sound judgment call. The proponent said it won't work if in 20 years they want to reinvest."

Anema said that interest rate was based on standards set by the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia, an organization from which the district sometimes borrows to avoid risky market manoeuvres. Typically, money raised from charging DCCs goes into such things as off-site servicing requirements. Anema said council may have to consider borrowing to make up the money it would forego under the parameters of the deal.

At the end of the evening, all five Riverstone motions were passed, with DCCs waved, off-site service costs absorbed by the district, funds pledged at Scotiabank Prime and a public hearing on the rezoning set for April.

Meanwhile, the extent of B.C. Housing's contribution is not yet known.

"When you're dealing with this many moving parts, it's hard to nail down," said Mayor Greg Gardner.