City claims ignorance on Carmana Plaza permit violation (rentals as hotel). Public correction needed?

Senior Planner Kevin McNaney

Senior Planner Kevin McNaney

(Preamble: CityHallWatch advocates a “zero tolerance policy” among media and the public regarding false and inaccurate statements by public officials. If such a statement is made, the official(s) should be expected to correct their errors publicly. Watch carefully. Potential cases abound.)

On this issue of the Carmana Plaza (1128 Alberni, in the West End, near the downtown core), we have copies of correspondence with senior officials — including City Manager Penny Ballem — going back about five years that now suggests a senior official yesterday made a false statement regarding a serious case. (For example, further below is a scanned letter from the Director of Licenses and Inspections in 2012, with other senior officials clearly named on the distribution list.)

What is this all about?

In a May 11 article in Metro News (“West End hotel escapes city penalties despite years without proper permit,” by Emily Jackson), a senior official claims the City didn’t know that Carmana Plaza was operating illegally as a hotel:

“But the city didn’t realize the hotel on 12 floors of the 34-storey, mixed-use building was operating under a residential permit until a property inspector visited the property last summer, the city’s assistant director of planning Kevin McNaney said Monday.”

However, in fact, the City is on record knowing about the illegal use.  For example, the January 10, 2011 minutes of the Development Permit Board (DPB) meeting cover a request by the owner (Peterson Investment Group, CEO Ben Yeung) to do exactly the same thing as this year — to have the City officially permit 98 rental apartments for hotel use (http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/dpboard/2011/Minutes/Jan10.html).

Are Mr. McNaney and the City as an institution feigning ignorance about the 2010/11 application? The DPB review minutes state the following:

“Should the Board turn down the application the only legal use would be rental.
“The City has taxed the property based on hotel use since 2004.”

Carmana PlazaIn the end, the DPB voted in January 2011 NOT TO PERMIT hotel use. All three panel members — department heads Brent Toderian, David McLellan and Peter Judd — voted against the request (incidentally, all three now longer work for the City — one fired and two retired). We know that staff were supportive of the application. But it was only the hard work of several West End residents (see for example, WEN “City planning staff recommendation to convert 96 rental units to hotel rooms described as a ‘sensitive issue‘ ”) — who noticed the application, studied the details, and took the time to submit written statements and attend the DPB meeting in person — that pressured the DPB to take this route in 2011.

So how is it that a new application for a permit for hotel use is now again before the DPB (details at 1128 Alberni Street – DE418950). Public feedback is due by May 20, 2015.

The current application before the Development Permit Board is once again a request to change the permitted use in the building. A public hearing is not required. Current zoning for the site does allow hotel use, subject to conditions and obtaining a permit, but hotel use cannot be done unless it is approved through the development permit process.

Further details are available in our previous CityHallWatch post: Hotel in West End has been operating illegally for years. Now seeks official “approval” to convert 98 “rental” units to hotel use (May 10, 2015).

According to recently released figures Mr. McNaney earned $145,497 in 2014 and claimed $645 in expenses. Does the public have the right to expect truthful applications from developers, and truthful statements by City officials to the media and the public?

Carmana PlazaWhy is this particular case so significant? In this case, a major property owner and developer with many past and present projects in Vancouver appears to have been in violation of the permitted use of Carmana Plaza at 1128 Alberni. For over ten years. While the City looked the other way. And even while receiving the largesse of public resources as in the STIR developer incentive program to build rental units with Westbank in The Lauren tower (1401 Comox, now 1061 Broughton) in the West End, the company appears to have been short-changing the housing market by keeping its 98 apartments unavailable for rent, off the rental market, for over ten years.

Here is just one example of correspondence from the City of Vancouver on this topic. Note the names listed — All or most of them have since retired or been fired.

  • Will Johnston, Director, Licenses and Inspections
  • David McLellan, Deputy City Manager, City Manager’s Office
  • Brenda Prosken, General Manager, Community Services Group
  • Carli Edwards, Assistant Manager, Inspection Services Division
  • Debbie Heeps, Program Manager, Property Use InspectionsCarmana Plaza letter scan 3-Aug-2012

What recourse does the public have if public officials are not performing to the satisfaction of taxpayers and citizens. The first step is to communicate with the official. Next the person’s boss. Next, department head. Next, City Manager. Next, City Council. And if that fails to produce satisfactory results, the next step is the Vancouver Police Department. Looking at all the history of this case should the public be seeking an independent audit of the departments involved?

What citizens against this new request are saying:

  • To now permit this change of use due to interpretation of land use under the West End Plan may encourage other owners of rental properties in the area to change from rental to hotel or short stay accommodation use.
  • Approvals for this building were based on it being purpose-built rental accommodation.
  • Illegal operation of this building for over 15 years should not be rewarded.
  • Existing rental accommodation should be preserved in the area and is a focus of the West End Plan and other over-riding City of Vancouver housing policies.
  • This application would remove much needed units from Vancouver’s rental stock.
  • It also shows blatant disregard of the owner for ignoring the law and the city for not enforcing it.

It’s possible to comment about this proposed rental to hotel conversion until May 20th using the links here, or by filling out an online comment form.

3 thoughts on “City claims ignorance on Carmana Plaza permit violation (rentals as hotel). Public correction needed?

    • One way of getting staff to perform their licenced duties (especially planners) is to make a complaint to the Planning Institute of BC for violations of the Professional code of conduct. For Example:
      14.1.2
      They must be competent. This means:
      14.1.1.1 They must know the competencies for their area of practice; and
      14.1.1.2 They must be able to successfully apply the competencies.
      They must have integrity. This means:
      14.1.2.1 They must have a keen sense of responsibility to their profession and employers and the public; and
      14.1.2.2 They must retain a sense of independence that will enable them to exercise their professional judgment independently and without bias.

      Do planning professionals in COV meet these standards?

      • Good points. These points apply to members of staff who belong to a professional association. However, a number of staff members hold degrees in Planning, Architecture (as is McNaney’s case) or in Landscape Architecture, but are not members of professional associations (PIBC, AIBC, BCSLA, etc.). In these cases the points about contacting a professional association are moot.
        There is still possibility for recourse via the Provincial Ombudsman or by filing a Code of Conduct complaint with the city.
        We have a list of some of the professional associations under the following page:
        https://cityhallwatch.com/city-hall/codes-of-conduct/

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