The City of Vancouver has been sued for its actions following a land swap with a developer.
The suit filed May 6 by the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY) accuses the city of withholding relevant documents and information. The case arose from measures taken by city hall after it exchanged a downtown property with Brenhill Developments Limited.
None of the claims in the petition have been proven in court.
The trade involved a city-owned lot at 508 Helmcken Street, where Brenhill wants to construct a 36-storey mixed-use building. In return, the developer will transfer ownership of its smaller property across the street at 1099 Richards Street.
As part of the deal, Brenhill will replace the 87 units of social housing in the three-storey Jubilee House located on the city’s Helmcken property with 162 public-housing units in a new 13-storey building on the Richards property.
On January 28, 2013, the city entered into a land-exchange contract with Brenhill. However, the city “did not disclose the details” of the agreement when council held a later public hearing on the rezoning of the Helmcken property that would allow Brenhill to build a tower, according to the petition filed by CANY before the B.C. Supreme Court.
Neither did the city make available to the public documents related to the development of 1099 Richards Street at the public hearing on July 16, 2013, even though the developer had “already submitted a completed” development-permit application.
“In addition, when members of the public who were opposed to the application tried to speak to or ask questions about the proposed development of 1099 [Richards], staff and/or Council advised that 1099 Richards was not before Council at the public hearing,” the petition states.
The petition notes that even though the rezoning of 508 Helmcken was “dependent upon the redevelopment of 1099 Richards Street, the City of Vancouver treated the two developments as separate and unrelated applications”.
“Notwithstanding that the Developer was required to build the social housing development at 1099 Richards as a precondition to enacting the zoning bylaw”, council did so on March 11, 2014.
The enactment of the new zoning bylaw for 508 Helmcken was the final step that formalized the decision made by council when it approved the rezoning application for the site.
The motion to approve the application was made at a July 23, 2013, meeting by Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie.
With the exception of Vision councillors Geoff Meggs and Tim Stevenson, who were not eligible to vote because they were absent from the July 16, 2013, public hearing, members of the ruling party’s caucus gave the thumbs-up. Opposition councillors George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, and Adriane Carr voted against.
The Georgia Straight asked Louie for comment but he declined because the matter is before a court.
The community association’s petition points out that as of May 2, 2014, Brenhill “has not yet begun construction of the ‘social housing’ building at 1099 Richards”.
The organization’s lawyer, Nathalie Baker, noted in an interview that the “whole matter is exceedingly complex”.
“There’s obviously a number of different layers to this, and a number of different issues,” Baker told the Straight by phone. “But one of the main points is that the public hearing was sort of flawed, and in several ways.”
In its petition, CANY claims that the city “violated procedural fairness” in contravention of its governing law, the Vancouver Charter. The petitioner is seeking judicial review of three council decisions in February and March this year and one 2013 development-permit-board decision.
The city was expected to receive the document by the end of the day on May 6. It has 21 days to respond.