“I need to be able to defend the sale as market value“: CoV employee to developer on sale of laneway on 1477 W Broadway rezoning site. Did the City sell our public land for pennies on the dollar?

Above left: Former RBC building at Granville and W Broadway (March 2020). Right: Former public land – City of Vancouver laneway (July 2019 via Google Street View).

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)

Above: Construction at consolidated site (includes former laneway, former RBC block)

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.”

Google Street View from July 2019 that shows the former City of Vancouver laneway

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.

Above: Here’s the laneway on the other side of the street from 1477 W Broadway (south side), photo taken in 2020
Above: Construction on site (April 2022)
Above: Construction on site (April 2022). Open question: is the design approved at the Development Permit Board on December 9, 2019 for a 5-storey (82 ft. / 25.28m) office building being followed, or have there been a number of alterations made since then?
Above: Construction April 2022
Above: Construction on site April 2022
Here’s the text of the FOI request: “Records of the sale, purchase price, and appraisal of the laneway reviewed during December 9, 2019 Development Permit Board meeting relating to application for 1489 West Broadway (1465 – 1489 West Broadway, DP-2019-00704), specifically regarding it stated that “Arrangements for the purchase of the lane are to be made between the City of Vancouver and the Developer”. Response from the FOI depart on April 14th: “Please note: this is a phased release (part one of two). Additional records (part two of two) will be released to you no later than April 26, 2022.”

The requested records under FOI legislation are a section 13(2) record that cannot be withheld.

Above: Closure and sale of laneway on 1477 W Broadway rezoning site. With the City stalling FOI release on sale price and details, a question remains: Was it sold for pennies on the dollar?

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.

Massing model of proposed tower for 1477 W Broadway

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s