A partial release of a Freedom of Information request was made available on April 14th at the start of the Public Hearing for a 39-storey tower at 1477 West Broadway (at Granville Street).
Included in the release is an e-mail in which a City of Vancouver Real Estate Services employee wrote the developer: “I need to be able to defend the sale as market value.“ The employee also wrote “I’m concerned with securing Council approval for this deal so it doesn’t die at the 11th hour”. It also appears that the “appraisal for the City-lands” was “for a different site”. Regarding the appraisal itself: “The appraisal includes a value range, and I’m prepared to consider a number in the low to mid-point of the range. Anything below this will be challenged.”
From the perspective of the public, this banter in the form of a negotiation done by e-mail, between a public employee representing the public interest and a private developer may seem a little too cozy. Here’s the PDF below:
What we don’t see is the actual appraisal or the final sale price. It’s also not clear if the City of Vancouver was using an appraisal that considered the potential to build a 39-storey tower on the site, with a Floor Space Ratio of 12.3? Or in the valuation was it looking at a significantly lower density, such as a FSR of 3.0 under the the current C-3A Central Broadway zoning?
On the first day of the Public Hearing, a representative for the developer mentioned that his firm had acquired the laneway in 2019 from the City. The sale of this property appears to have been done in-camera (secret meeting) by Council, as there are no records of such an item on the published Council agendas.
How can the public know for certain that the City performed its fiduciary duty and obtained the best value for this publicly owned land? Was their any oversight, independent review of the deal? What processes are in place to protect the public interest? These questions could have been answered by a timely response to a Freedom of Information request filed five months ago, on November 17, 2021. The main part of the FOI request has been stalled until April 26th (which hopefully will include the appraisal and the final sale price). The third night of a public hearing on the rezoning for a 39-storey tower continues tonight.
Avid blogger Stanley Q. Woodvine wrote an article about blueprints for a big tower here that he discovered in a dumpster back in mid-2019. It appears that some notion of a possible tower development has been in the works since then:
Homeless in Vancouver: Dumpster-dived blueprints show Granville subway station in new West Broadway tower (Georgia Straight, by Stanley Q. Woodvine, June 30th, 2019)
The original FOI request was submitted back on November 17, 2021. This was to provide ample time for the records to be provided in 30 business days. Instead, this process has been dragged out for five months, with numerous delays. On December 21, 2021 an extension request by FOI office. On February 10th, the FOI department wrote “The third party is required to respond by March 11, 2022. The City has until March 25, 2022 to decide whether or not to disclose the records”. Then the March 25th deadline passed, and the FOI department wanted comments from a third party for a second time which would stall the full release of records out until April 26, 2022. It should be obvious that the developer and the City are conspiring to circumvent the provision of crucial information to the public until the rezoning has been approved. Any elected officials who approve the rezoning application could be described as being complicit in the scheme.
Many speakers to the public hearing that started on April 12 have challenged the City and applicant to provide a convincing explanation of why this rezoning came forward and must be approved as a special exception, prior to the entire Broadway Plan that likely goes before Council on May 18th.
We hope that legal authorities are paying attention.
In the City of Vancouver Duty to Assist Compliance Audit, the former Commissioner stated, “delay can become a systemic barrier to the right of access – access delayed is often access denied.” .
In a press release that came in response to the findings of the Compliance Audit, the City of Vancouver made commitments that included:
“The City of Vancouver will be acting on all 12 recommendations outlined by the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) in its audit and compliance report “City of Vancouver Duty to Assist.”
The City is committed to transparency and acknowledges the value and necessity of providing timely and meaningful access to information to the public.”
It is worth mentioning that Councillor Christine Boyle has championed the release of information regarding the sale of public lands for the Little Mountain housing project via FOI (the secret deal between BC Housing and Holborn). We urge her as a defender of public information, to show consistency and leadership in the fight for the release of the records of the sale of public land by the City of Vancouver when it comes to the laneway that now forms part of the 1477 W Broadway site.
The requested records under FOI legislation are a section 13(2) record that cannot be withheld.
A number of other former City-owned properties has changed hands over the years under questionable valuations. These properties include 508 Helmcken and the Vancouver House site.