Neighbourhood association slams city for violations of procedural fairness and for secret contract to build massive tower

508 Helmcken proposalWe copy this media release here as a public service. See original and Community Association of New Yaletown website here. See our ongoing list of lawsuits here.

Media Release, Aug 21, 2014: Supreme Court to Hear CANY v. City of Vancouver
Neighbourhood Association Slams City for Violations of Procedural Fairness and for Secret Contract to Build Massive Tower

BC Supreme Court will be hearing the claims of the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY) against the City of Vancouver in a four-day hearing, starting Monday, August 25 2014. CANY’s legal petition presents evidence that the City signed a secret Land Exchange Contract with a developer, Brenhill Development Ltd. six months before the public hearing regarding the developments. The outcome of the public hearing was predetermined, in violation of procedural fairness. Continue reading

Southlands Community Association asks council to cancel Public Hearing to end ongoing denied access to elected representatives

Casa Mia ModelCityHallWatch is following 13 citizen-launched legal cases against the City of Vancouver (see Lawsuits against the City). Each is at a different stage. One of them is by the Southlands Community Association, which in March 2014 filed a court injunction to delay a rezoning public hearing for a proposed care facility for seniors on Southwest Marine Drive. SCA says it is a developer’s very aggressive spot rezoning application to rezone the site (Casa Mia heritage estate) from RS-1 (single family residential) to CD-1 (comprehensive development), and that it would lead to a large-scale, multi-level development and could be precedent-setting for the community. Since then, the City has been silent, not answering questions. Below is an update letter to supporters from  the Southlands Community Association, followed by a copy of a letter they sent on August 13 to Mayor and Council.

From SCA organizer Joe McDermid to supporters, August 14, 2014.

Southlands Community Association Asks Council to Cancel Public Hearing to End Ongoing Denied Access to Elected Representatives

We wanted to provide you with an update on our community’s ongoing concerns regarding the Casa Mia rezoning application and the inherent threat this creates for our single-family community and unique heritage homes, trees and features.

Southlands Community Association were recently advised by the City’s Legal Department that it is ‘unlikely that a Public Hearing on the (Casa Mia) rezoning will take place before 2015’.

While some might think we would see this delay as good news, we believe this ongoing and extended uncertainty is another sign of the City’s disrespect and disregard for our community. This protracted timeline means, in essence, that residents of our community will have no access to Council for 11 months and, more realistically, at least a full year—and for the sole benefit of a developer seeking to build a commercial for-profit facility that the City’s own Seniors Advisory Committee does not support.

We have also been stonewalled on an FOI request, initially filed in December of 2013, for copies of communications between the City and the developer. Continue reading

Cigarette butt recycling in Vancouver (the back story): West End Cleanup founder writes on program, cancellation.

TerraCycle Butt Bin, Vancouver, Dec 2013

TerraCycle Butt Bin, Vancouver, Dec 2013. Removed in 2014.

This is a fascinating and informative case study of community vitality and great ideas, political opportunism, media spin, big corporations, health, and the environment. First, we feature a letter by John Merzetti, founder of Vancouver’s award-winning neighbourhood group West End Cleanup, who was the source of the original inspiration for the concept of a deposit-funded cigarette butt recycling program in Vancouver, and eventually, worldwide. Then we look at how things went “astray” and provide background information. What lessons can be learned West End Cleanup photo creditfrom this story?

CityHallWatch has written Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer, featured in this saga, inviting comments or factual corrections. We will post her reply if received.

 

West End

Vancouver’s West End. Davie and Bute intersection.

Cigarette butt recycling in Vancouver (the back story)
by John Merzetti, Founder, West End Cleanup
August 2014

After our group – the West End Cleanup – ran a very successful cigarette butt buy-back at West End Car-Free Day in 2013, Councillor Reimer appeared on CBC Radio’s Early Edition seemingly taking credit for an initiative with which she had absolutely nothing to do.

Then, at a session of City Council later that summer, she and her Vision colleagues essentially co-opted Councillor Adriane Carr’s motion to call on BC to expand the deposit (a la the deposit on beverage containers) and amended it to suit their own agenda.

In November of that year, Councillor Remier was front and centre announcing the roll-out of the pilot program which saw over 100 ashtrays installed in four areas of downtown Vancouver. It should be noted that our group – the group that inCigarette Butt binspired this program in the first place – had to fight to have the West End included in the pilot and we were not invited to formally participate in the November news conference. (God forbid that people should know that who was actually deserving of the credit.)

Now that things have started to come apart, Councillor Reimer is nowhere to be found. I guess the blame will now be put on our collective head as well Councillor Carr’s (after all … it was our efforts that got us to this point).

As for the deputy city manager not knowing that the program was funded by Imperial Tobacco, I will have to take him at his word. However, I sat in a meeting with representatives of Terracycle along with the deputy city manager (and others) and I was certainly well aware that it was funded by Imperial Tobacco.

In 2012, after completing a survey of smokers at that year’s West End Car-Free Day, we appeared before council – again, with the support of Councillor Carr – asking that ashtrays be installed in order to do something about cigarette butts on the streets of Vancouver. (The motion was changed so much that it was unrecognisable.) Continue reading

Pigeon Park closed due to falling debris. Was heritage building allowed to deteriorate?

Rubble

Pidgeon Park closedPigeon Park has been fenced off. Large chunks of concrete fell off the façade of the building at 1 West Hastings on August 13, 2014. Miraculously no one was injured. Several photos of the park are included below.

A CTV report on the falling debris stated: “Millions of dollars in city incentives were offered to a major city developer and a feisty non-profit to restore the Merchants Bank building on Hastings Street — but the work was never done. Instead, the building was left to disintegrate while owned by Concord Pacific and the Portland Hotel Society, until a huge stone panel came crashing down Wednesday, nearly crushing a man sleeping in Pigeon Park.” (story by Jon Woodward on August 14, 2014)

The Merchants Bank Building, Category A listed heritage building was constructed in 1913 at the corner of Carrall Street and West Hastings. Pigeon Park is a popular square in the Downtown Eastside. The City of Vancouver has posted a “Do Not Occupy” notice on the building on August 14, 2014 stating “Danger, this building is considered a hazard and is unsafe”. The Vancouver Sun and CBC have also documented the closure of Pigeon Park that resulted from falling debris.
Pidgeon Park rubber

The falling rubble did not hit any bystanders this time around. But that weight falling from that height could have killed a person. An open question is what will be done proactively to prevent similar events from happening in the future? Also, imagine debris falling from a building in Kerrisdale. Would a response there get different level of attention and care? 

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Supreme Court CANY vs CoV. On trial: The integrity of Vancouver City Hall (secret land swap at 508 Helmcken & 1099 Richards)

Emery Barnes Park

508 Helmcken proposal(Updated, Appendix 13, 14, 15) What’s really at stake at this four-day B.C. Supreme Court hearing starting August 25? Actually, it’s the very integrity of Vancouver’s City Hall. The integrity of our municipal government.

This lawsuit, launched by the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY) is one of the most troubling of several legal battles (see list) launched by citizens against the City of Vancouver.

Ultimately, CANY aims to reverse a secret deal to swap public land (508 Helmcken) for a lot that was owned by Brenhill Developments (1099 Richards), cancel the Council’s rezoning approval for a 36-storey tower (508 Helmcken), and force the City to honour its promise to expand Emery Barnes Park (508 Helmcken).

Let’s try to get to the heart of the matter. For starters, what should the public expect from its local government? The City’s Code of Conduct summarizes it nicely (excerpt):

“Council officials, staff and advisory body members are keepers of the public trust and must uphold the highest standards of ethical behaviour. [They] are expected to … make decisions that benefit the communityact lawfully and within the authorities of the Vancouver Charter.”

Those words articulate the “social contract” between City Hall and society. Reviewing this case, it appears that all of these points may have been systematically and intentionally violated. If so, is this an isolated case? Or is it the tip of the iceberg? Is this kind of behaviour systemic at Vancouver City Hall?

CANY’s legal claims are scheduled for a four-day hearing in the B.C. Supreme Court, starting on August 25, 2014. The community group is asking the Court to set aside Council’s decision to rezone 508 Helmcken and to declare the related Land Exchange Contract unenforceable. It also eventually hopes to see the neighbourhood’s urban park and precious green space expanded, as the City originally promised. (Allegations have not been proven in court.)

This 3.5 minute video is our take on the story. And further below, we look at various aspects, including asking “Who is the enigmatic Brenhill Developments?” (The version below is slower than our original, and with quieter music. We received comments that our original video text went too fast, but if you prefer that 2.5 minute version, here it is: http://youtu.be/NSDcH5nbDgo.)

Here are some troubling aspects of this story:

  • A deal between City Hall and a developer appears to have been made in secret, making a mockery of our municipal government’s consultation and public hearing processes. This would be a violation of trust, a violation of the social contract.
  • It appears that action by City staff and Council in advance of public hearings are fettering future Council decisions. This is not permitted by legislation.
  • It appears the City is effectively selling land without public tender. This is not permitted.
  • It appears the City is, in essence, selling zoning. This is not permitted.
  • The rezoning approval gives the developer hundreds of millions in development potential, but the neighbourhood gets little in return. Not a single unit of additional social housing is being created by this “innovative” development.
  • In fact, negative impacts on the neighbourhood are considerable: It is being cheated of a promised park. Neighbours are losing light, sky, and views of the park, and will be subjected to the negative construction impacts of a huge tower development.
  • Public servants are dragging their feet in providing information to concerned citizens.
  • Our municipal government is using taxpayers’ money to fight against its own citizens.
  • As part of the deal, a private, for-profit, elementary school is set to use the public park for its daily outdoor activities.

This is a complex case. For detail, please visit the Community Association of New Yaletown website for media releases, the summary of legal claims, chronology, media coverage, images, and more).

Here is our attempt to summarize things based on CANY documents. The main site in question, 508 Helmcken Street, is at the northeast corner of Emery Barnes Park, in the centre of the mixed-income New Yaletown neighbourhood of downtown Vancouver. The City-owned land was at 508 Helmcken [correction], the site of the Jubilee House social housing building. The building was aging, and the City’s plan, after the housing was replaced and building demolished, was to expand the park to occupy the entire city block. The City had even budgeted money for this, and local residents who chose to invest and live in the neighbourhood were counting on this promise to be fulfilled. But the plans secretly and dramatically changed, as detailed in CANY’s chronology of the case of the land swap and rezoning approval.

The now-approved development at 508 Helmcken, if built, will permanently destroy any hopes of the park occupying the entire city block. Instead, on what was publicly-owned land, Brenhill Developments now intends to build and profit from a 36-storey, with the highest floor-space ratio (density) of any residential building in the Vancouver. The proposed tower dramatically exceeds neighbourhood plans for the site:

  • Over 4.5 times as tall as allowed in the Downtown Official Development Plan
  • Over 5.5 times as dense (floor-space ratio)
  • Just half the normal setback from sidewalks and lanes as required by law

City Council also approved plans for a private school to move into the new building and use the park’s public playground. The tower was approved via a series of breaches of procedural fairness, and in disregard of overwhelming (90%) neighbourhood opposition.

Suspecting that City Hall was following improper and unfair procedures, CANY tried but failed numerous times to get more information. When direct requests failed, they inquired using Freedom of Information legislation to make their queries. Eventually, the City released a fraction of the requested documents, but it was enough for CANY to finally have evidence that the City had secretly signed a Land Exchange Contract with a developer and agreed to rezone the land to a specific square footage. The evidence showed that City Council had approved this deal in secret even before its first public open house for the development (see July 16 media release). The documents show that if Council changed anything (such as reducing the square footage by even a tiny amount), the whole deal would fall apart. None of these facts were disclosed at the public hearing on 508 Helmcken. Over 90% of public input to the “public hearing” was opposed to the rezoning. But Council had no room to move. The development was already, in effect, a done deal.

So what does this all mean? This case shows that “community engagement,” “consultations” and even Public Hearings under the current regime at City Hall could be a sham in many cases. It undermines trust in our municipal government. Personal and organizational sacrifices of time and energy to get involved in civic decision-making could be a waste of time, if decisions have already been made and even secret contracts signed. Illegal or even criminal activities may be going on behind closed doors. This case also shows how complex some land use deals are — which is a huge obstacle for the public and media to understand and comment on specific developments. It shows how certain individuals and companies may be manipulating the civic system, or at least benefiting excessively from it. CANY’s intensive effort and costly legal struggle also shows how much effort (time, money, expertise) is required of ordinary citizens if they seek to understand a City Council decision and if they seek just treatment, even in the case of just one specific development. If the civic system is not functioning fairly and in good faith, the burden on society is huge. Benefits are focused on a few. Costs are spread out among many.

That is the story in a nutshell. Below we have short sections looking at various aspects of this story.  Continue reading

7350 Fraser Street rezoning proposal under “Rental 100″ sets height precedent (6 storeys), lets top market rates replace affordable rent. Public hearing in Sept?

7530 Fraser elevation

A large full block development proposal with 95 dwelling units at 7350 Fraser Street was referred to Public Hearing at a Council meeting on July 22, 2014. The next Public Hearing on Council’s schedule will take place on Tuesday, September 16th at 6pm; it’s likely that this rezoning will be reviewed by City Council at that time.

The rezoning proposal is made possible only by the Rental 100 developer incentive program, and it is instructive to see how that program affects the neighbourhood and cost of housing. Who benefits and who loses?

Today, a building with 22 units of rental is located on the site (see photos further below). Rents for 1-bedroom apartments range from $685 to $750 per month, with an average rent of $714 per month (with unit sizes ranging from 600 to 650 sq feet). 

If the rezoning is approved, the proposed 95 apartment units are anticipated to rent for $1,154 per month (1-bedroom, 574 sq ft, 69 units) and for $1,543 per month (2-bedroom, 767.5 sq ft, 26 units total). Current tenants will be offered a 20% reduction on the initial rents ($923.50 per month for a slightly smaller one-bedroom); they will have a first right of refusal to move back to the location. This rent is still a $210 increase per month. New tenants will pay $440 more for rents per month over the current average for a 1-bedroom unit.

The proposed six-storey development is situated on the block between 57th and 58th Avenue on the east side of Fraser Street. A significant increase in height and density is being requested over the current RT-2 zoning (duplex), which allows for a maximum height of 9.2 metres (30.2 ft) and a Floor Space Ratio of 0.75. The applicant is requesting CD-1 spot zoning to allow for a maximum height of 14.0 metres (46 ft) and FSR of 2.61. The design is by Cornerstone Architecture (principal architects Richard Hammond and Alison Hannay) while the developer is engimatic Archstone Development (which appears to have no office, no phone number, and no website, though there appears to be an Archstone Development Group in Florida). The anticipated construction cost is $212 per sq. ft ($2,284 / m2). A total of 78 underground parking spaces are proposed with laneway access at the rear of the site.

A full DCL and CAC waiver is requested by the applicant. This is permitted under the Rental 100 program. No public benefits are listed in the City’s staff report apart from the market rental units.

If this application is approved, will it set precedents on Fraser Street?

This site is located 6 blocks away from the South Hill retail area on Fraser Street (South Hill is zoned as C-2). There is one block of C-1 zoned land north of East 57th Avenue, with buildings of one and three storeys. The buildings to the south of the site are predominately one and two storeys in height. Would a six-storey building be significantly out of scale for this section of Fraser? Is a building height of 3 or 4 storeys the highest that should be considered for 7350 Fraser? Would the proposed 6-storey building set a precedent for the future? We’ve included a few photos of the area below.  Further details on the rezoning proposal at 7350 Fraser can be found on the City’s rezoning centre webpage.

7350 Fraser Street
Continue reading

Crony capitalism alive and well at Mount Polley (by Dermod Travis, IntegrityBC): Imperial Metals a major donor to B.C. Liberals

IntegrityBC_logoDermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC wrote an article on August 11, 2014, entitled “Crony capitalism alive and well at Mount Polley” on corporate donations to the ruling B.C. Liberal party from the embattled Imperial Metals Corporation (a British Columbia explorer, developer and mining operator, slogan “Discover, Develop, Operate”). This kind of information should be front page news and be included in every piece of media coverage of this disaster. The public needs to know it.

By way of background, the August 4 breach of Imperial Metals’ tailings pond dam at the Mount Dollar signs, CHWPolley copper and gold mine released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating several lakes, creeks and rivers in the Cariboo region (see CBC article). The victims are the people and the environment. We find this story to be symptomatic of the problems here in Vancouver. Certain industries are the top political donors at each level of government, and it certainly looks like, at the provincial and civic level for sure, we have systemic corruption — with political donors getting parties and politicians elected. (In Vancouver, substitute “developers” for “mining industry” and “neighbourhoods” for “environment”) Then, though politicians are supposed to regulate industry in the public interest, they demonstrate consistent bias for the donors and industries that donate. This must change. 

Below are a few excerpts and points of “Crony capitalism.” Please go to IntegrityBC for the full text. 

Crony capitalism alive and well at Mount Polley, by Dermod Travis Continue reading