Developer’s #dontneed1million marketing scheme flouted Vancouver sign bylaw, avoided enforcement for 23 days

Wesgroup sign displayed on corner of Denman and Pendrell, in Vancouver's West End

Wesgroup sign displayed on corner of Denman and Pendrell, in Vancouver’s West End

CHRONOLOGY

  • May 24 (Sun): After several months of awareness-raising and question-asking about the underlying drivers of the high price of housing in Vancouver and region, a citizens’ movement brought together under the hashtag #donthave1million (note the “have”) holds a rally at Vancouver Art Gallery to demand action on affordable housing from all levels of government. This was part of a movement formed around the message a few months earlier.
  • June 24 (Wed): #donthave1million rally at Vancouver Public Library tells governments “Give Us data” on foreign ownership & capital.”
  • Sep 28 (Thur): Wesgroup Properties launches “#dontneed1million” (note the “need”) marketing blitz. Large billboard posted without permit along Denman Street in heart of Vancouver’s West End, sponsored online articles in Huffington Post and VanCityBuzz, and an Instagram and Twitter social media campaign #dontneed1million, all linking to the corporate website and its housing developments. No response by City officials to the billboard without a permit.
  • Oct 1 or earlier: Citizens start reporting billboard to City bylaw enforcement officials. (Several complaints/inquiries from numerous citizens follow in subsequent days.)
  •  Oct 2 (Fri): City Inspections department confirms that the sign is not permitted on the site, that the property owner will be advised, and the property owner will have seven days to remove the sign from the date they receive the notice of infraction.
  • Oct 12 (Mon): Illegal sign still prominent on site, 14 days and counting after first being installed.
  • Oct 20 (Tues): Wesgroup removes the sign.

In a phone conversation with Wesgroup (Mr. Jarvis), CityHallWatch learned that the site belongs to Wesgroup, that the marketing campaign budget was $30,000, and that Wesgroup was paying for it (probably from the marketing account), and that all social media links in the campaign end up leading to websites of Wesgroup properties for sale. Also, that senior executives knew in advance that they would be violating a Vancouver City bylaw. However, the company asserts that this campaign was really done in the community spirit of contributing to the discussion about affordable housing, as evidenced by the infographics produced.

WHO’S INVOLVED

“Don’t need”: Wesgroup Properties is one of the most prominent developers in the Metro Vancouver region, with many properties, including the largest in Vancouver’s history, known as the River District, along the Fraser River. Here is the link to their twitter campaign:  https://twitter.com/hashtag/dontneed1million?src=hash

The mastermind behind the marketing blitz is Beau Jarvis, who is Senior Vice President, Development for Wesgroup Properties, a prominent figure in the industry, serving on the board of directors of the Urban Development Institute, the industry lobby group. He has been quoted (or misquoted) on citizen involvement in development discussions (see further below).

“Don’t have”: The #donthave1million movement, in contrast, is a grassroots movement led by Evelyn Xia, who launched a twitter campaign early in 2015. Quote in The Province in response to the Wesgroup marketing stunt: … Xia says Wesgroup’s campaign misses the point, and “clearly involves a lot of spin.” Even if young professionals can shoehorn themselves into Vancouver’s condo market today, by 2030 projections are that tiny Vancouver condos will cost about $1 million, Xia says. … “(Wesgroup) are saying it is not too late to get in, but the trend is not sustainable…. We’re not saying everyone should have a single-family house. We’re saying people should have space to raise a family. If global capital has its way with Vancouver, the entire middle class will be living in small condos.” 

The #donthave1million folks have been rather successful in stimulating public debate about the core drivers of unaffordability in Vancouver and some other Canadian cities. Some researchers and reporters have been digging deeper and reporting their findings. Some political parties have made these topics part of the election campaigns for the October 19 federal election.

For example, see the Globe and Mail article by Kathy Tomlinson cited in the list further below.

COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS

  • Any developer operating a business in any municipality would be expected to know the relevant bylaws. How could Wesgroup not have known this billboard would violate the Vancouver Sign Bylaw?
  • Why does it take so long for the City of Vancouver to act on such a blatant and visible violation of a bylaw? How long will it take for the sign to be removed?
  • Will the City issue a fine as specified under the Vancouver Sign Bylaw? If so, how much, and with what rationale for the amount. The fine is to be “not less than $250.00 and not more than $10,000.00 for each day such offence continues.”
  • Does the slow and lax enforcement of Wesgroup by City officials give a sign to other developers that anything goes (for them)?
  • Wesgroup Properties provided Vision Vancouver with a $55,000 campaign contribution in the 2014 civic election alone (and there could be more — legislation does not require reporting of political donations between election years). Does this impact the enforcement approach to the illegal signage on this property?
  • When a developer open flouts a bylaw like this, what should be the implications in the future when the same firm returns to City Council with the next major rezoning or development application? Should there be repercussions?
  • Why would Wesgroup think it is reasonable to use their property in the West End to (illegally) advertise development projects nowhere near the West End?

RELATED MEDIA

Busting the myth that you can’t afford a home in Vancouver (corporate article sponsored by Wesgroup in VanCityBuzz), 28-Sept-2015. http://www.vancitybuzz.com/2015/09/dontneed1million-busting-myth-need-1million-buy-home-vancouver/

You Don’t Need $1 Million To Buy A Home In Vancouver, by Wesgroup VP Beau Jarvis, in Huffington Post, 28-Sept-2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/beau-jarvis/dont-need-1million-vancouver-housing_b_8210334.html

Condo-marketing campaign receives backlash over #DontNeed1Million pushback (Sam Cooper, The Province) 30-Sept-2015. http://www.theprovince.com/business/condo+marketing+campaign+receives+backlash+over/11403801/story.html

Foreign investors avoid taxes through Canadian real estate: Wealthy buyers taking advantage of loopholes by putting homes in the name of relatives or corporations. By Kathy Tomlinson, The Globe and Mail, 7-Oct-2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/housing/the-real-estate-beat/foreign-investors-avoid-taxes-by-buying-real-estate-in-canada/article26683767/

RELATED LINKS

Vancouver Sign Bylawhttp://vancouver.ca/your-government/sign-bylaw.aspx

Excerpt:

This bylaw applies to all signs on any property other than streets, lanes, or public parks, and to all signs encroaching over a street or lane.

When you don’t need a sign permit: The Sign Bylaw does not apply to signs located inside a building and not visible or intended to be visible from any street. [By extension, EVERY OTHER SIGN REQUIRES A PERMIT.]

MORE READING AND LISTENING

CKNW – #dontneed1million radio Interview with Beau Jarvis of Wesgroup, Jon McComb (7:47 minutes), October 2, 2015. (The “don’t need” side, explained in the words of Beau Jarvis.)
https://soundcloud.com/user-737650617/cknw-dontneed1million-interview-with-beau-jarvis-of-wesgroup

Essays by S, which capture the essence of the “don’t have” side:

The Decline of Vancouver, by Saeid Fard, 24-Mar-2015
http://saeidfard.com/post/113616107456/the-decline-of-vancouver

How to Stop the Decline of Vancouver, by Saeid Fard, 25-Apr-2015
http://saeidfard.com/post/117352176556/how-to-stop-the-decline-of-vancouver

*****

Young developers frustrated by apathy, vocal minority and civic priorities (by Glen Korstrom, Business in Vancouver, 18-Sept-2015): http://www.biv.com/article/2014/9/young-developers-frustrated-vocal-minority-civic-p/

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