Questions to Council (for staff to answer) on the 601 Beach Crescent rezoning proposed for 55-storey tower. Has the City been taken hostage?

2019 artistic rendering of 601 Beach Crescent, Vancouver. (Joym Architecture/GBL Architects/Pinnacle International)

Here is another post, for reference and for the record. Below, we provide an excerpt and key questions from a letter sent from a citizen to Council on a matter of significant public interest. This relates to the Public Hearing on September 17 regarding a rezoning for a 55-storey tower, “CD-1 Rezoning: 601 Beach Crescent,” which reconvenes on September 30, 2020 for the final debate and Council decision. 

Further below we provide a link to a Vancouver Sun article by Dan Fumano, which provides some detail about the land deal between the City of Vancouver and Pinnacle, and an unresolved lawsuit against the City from Concord Pacific regarding this very same site. The details of the deals are of significant public interest, but mostly not available to the public. At least our current City Council should be provided with full details of the deal, and not be fettered by decisions of the previous Council. Did City staff negotiate a deal with Pinnacle that has taken our municipal government hostage?

This story about Concord litigation with the City does not make the City look good. Who authorized execution of the agreements? Who is accountable for that?

********

Now, the e-mail to Council. 

Dear Mayor Stewart and Councillors

Near the end of the Public Hearing on September 17, Councillor Boyle asked an interesting question: “What would happen if this proposal is turned down?”

The response didn’t surprise me – “it wouldn’t proceed”, although I must profess I don’t fully understand why it could not proceed on a reduced basis.

While I am not entrusted with a copy of the secret decoder ring used by the City to determine “land lift”, it is worth noting that the City and the developer have agreed to the payment of $12mm in CACs for the privilege of developing the site as proposed. This suggests to me that there is value being created above and beyond the cost of constructing the social housing units, and it would be interesting to understand why the project economics do not work at a lower building height (with obviously lower CACs), given the apparent value being created.

When the city sold the land to the developer, the developer knew two things which, in theory, informed the price it was prepared to pay for the property: (1) the requirement to construct 152 social housing units, and (2) the approved density for the site.

When staff presented the offer to purchase Council for approval, one would assume that one of the rationales given as justification for accepting the very low purchase price was the cost of constructing those 152 social housing units for the City, based on the site having an established density. One would also reasonably assume that the developer was satisfied it could make the project economics work at that purchase price and the approved site density; if not, the developer logically would have adjusted its offer to purchase accordingly.

Most, if not all members of this council (and likely staff) were not around when the sale to the developer was presented and approved, so we don’t know what was said, and whether there was any discussion or understanding about the City’s willingness to consider additional density for the site. To be clear, I would assume there was no such discussion given the purchase was negotiated between a fully informed buyer and seller, on fully disclosed facts.

This begs a different series of questions as follow up to Councillor Boyle’s original enquiry:

  • What are the actual terms of the purchase and sale agreement with the developer?
  • Is the developer contractually required to commence or complete the construction of the social housing units by a date certain?
  • If there is a date certain, what is that date?
  • If there is no date certain for the completion of the social housing units, what remedies does the City have available to it? For example, does the agreement contain conditions which allow the City to compel the developer to convey the land back to the City, so that the City can move forward with a different partner?

Variants of the construct outlined above are used all the time in the business world.

If the City’s only options are approve the development it or lose the social housing units, then staff has, regrettably, negotiated a decidedly sub optimal deal for the City: The developer can hold the City for commercial ransom for the additional density, given the City’s clear desire to build 152 social housing units, and the embarrassment factor if it now fails to do so.

I urge you to seek answers to these questions, and refer the matter back to staff, with a view to lowering the height of the building.

********

Long, winding road leads to ‘twisting’ tower pitched for ex-Expo site
Opinion: Council considers project pitched for 601 Beach Crescent, part of the Expo lands, that has remained undeveloped
By Dan Fumano, Vancouver Sun, 28-Sep-2020

https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/dan-fumano-long-winding-road-leads-to-twisting-tower-pitched-for-ex-expo-site

Excerpts:

The tower proposed for the north end of the Granville Bridge is striking, featuring what its architects call “undulating curves” inspired by a dancer. But the ground below also has a noteworthy story, which has been long, complex and, at times, legally contentious.

… The property, at 601 Beach Crescent near False Creek’s north shore, was part of the Expo 86 lands. But in the decades since, this piece of prime real estate has sat undeveloped. The site was owned by Concord Pacific, the international player that bought the Expo land and has already developed much of it. During a four-year process with the City of Vancouver in the 1990s negotiating the rezoning of some of Concord’s lands, the developer transferred 601 Beach to the city in 1999 and the site was earmarked for social housing.

…In 2016, the city put 601 Beach up for sale. The property was sold to a private developer, Pinnacle International, with the stipulation that future development must include 152 social housing units, with market housing making up the rest of the project, subject to council’s decision on the rezoning.

The sale was approved in 2016 by Vancouver’s then-Vision-majority council. As with all transactions involving the disposition of city-owned real estate, the decision was made in a closed-door meeting, a city representative said last week, so no further details were available, other than confirming it required an affirmative vote by two-thirds of council.

Within months of the city putting 601 Beach up for sale in 2016, Concord sued the city, alleging the plan to sell the lot for commercial development would violate the terms of the deal through which Concord had conveyed the land to the city.

There is more. We recommend the whole article.

 

2 thoughts on “Questions to Council (for staff to answer) on the 601 Beach Crescent rezoning proposed for 55-storey tower. Has the City been taken hostage?

  1. Good for you for taking my advice, but I find it odd you don’t mention that you’ve edited your article when confronted with better/new information.

    You should be more transparent than that.

    • Thanks, Caitlynn. Actually we had not yet noticed your previous comment to a separate post (“Is 55-storey tower at 601 Beach…” and we have not edited that text at all, which we received from a contributor. It is still there. This here post here was actually written by a different contributor.

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