Court petition details $15-million “secret” land swap in Vancouver

The City of Vancouver agreed to swap a $15-million downtown property for a developer’s lot across the street worth $8.4 million.

The trade was provided for in a contract entered into by city hall and Brenhill Developments Limited, according to a court submission filed Thursday (July 3) by the Community Association of New Yaletown.

The document is an amended version of the association’s May 6 petition for a judicial review of actions taken the city in connection with the deal.

The claims made in the petition have not been proven in court.

The swap involved the city-owned lot at 508 Helmcken Street. Brenhill wants to build a 36-storey mixed-used building with 454 residential units on the property.

In return, Brenhill will transfer ownership of its smaller lot across the street at 1099 Richards Street.

As part of the deal, the developer will replace the 87 units of social housing in the three-storey Jubilee House located on the city’s Helmcken property. It will construct 162 public-housing units in a new 13-storey building on the Richards property.

The land exchange contract provides that to complete the transaction, the city must rezone the Helmcken property so Brenhill can realize its development plan.

Council eventually approved the rezoning of 508 Helmcken Street, increasing its allowed density by almost six times.

The amended petition recalls that based on a city staff report, Brenhill approached the city with the land exchange proposal in 2011.

The same report also stated that the city will “contribute” $6.6 million “from the proceeds of sale of 508 Helmcken towards the construction of the new social housing project at 1099 Richards”.

According to the revised petition, the land exchange contract dated January 28, 2013, is “of no force and effect” because it goes beyond the powers of the city under the Vancouver Charter.

The document points out that the statute mandates that council “may only dispose of property valued at more than $400,000 by affirmative vote of two-thirds of all members of Council”.

The association’s lawyer, Nathalie Baker, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview that there are no records indicating that council cast such a vote authorizing the land deal.

The amended petition also argues that the contract “constitutes an unlawful fettering” of council’s discretion because of its provision for the rezoning of 508 Helmcken Street.

It notes that the city is “in effect selling density”, which municipalities can’t do “in the absence of provincial legislation implementing a different public policy”.

“They cannot agree to change zoning in return for particular consideration, and they cannot agree to keep zoning unchanged in return for particular consideration,” the revised petition states.

The contract is one of six documents released by the city after the association filed its May 6 petition for a judicial review by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The documents were not made public by the city before it held a public hearing on July 16, 2013, regarding the developer’s rezoning proposal for 508 Helmcken Street.

“They were critical to understanding the rezoning application,” the petition states. “However, none of these were disclosed until after the filing of the within Petition.”

Over the phone, Baker said that the land contract “goes to the very heart of the rezoning”.

“We’re alleging that the city basically sold density to the developer through a very complex, sort of secret land swap deal, and that the public had a right to know about this contract and other agreements prior to the public hearing,” Baker said.

“And we say that the failure to disclose those documents, which were sort of central to the rezoning application,” Baker continued, “effectively denied the public the right to make meaningful submissions to council.”

According to Baker, the case is scheduled for a three-day trial starting on August 18.

Comments (21) Add New Comment
James Blatchford
Yawn....Geraldo opens Al Capone's secret vault.

Jonathan Baker never saw a city hall conspiracy he didn't like. Grassy knoll on standby.
Rating: -44
Oliver Dudzoff
There is nothing too startling about the developers owning/controlling Vancouver City Council. The voters don't seem to mind.
Rating: +15
It's more than a tad disingenuous to put “The city of Vancouver agreed to swap a $15-million downtown property for a developer’s lot across the street worth $8.4 million” in the lede while burying the mention of $6.6 million in cash for social housing in the middle of the article.
Rating: -5
@Oliver Dudzoff
There is nothing too startling about the developers owning/controlling Vancouver City Council. The voters don't seem to mind.

It does seem it's gone on forever, but I'm not sure the voters have much choice.

Either they vote for the "in the pocket of developers" party, or the "developers themselves" party.

COPE hasn't had an effective vote for a while now it seems.

What might help fix this problem is having wards in the city. I guess we can thank Sam Sullivan for not getting those.

Try to imagine the country, or even the province, with elections that are not based upon candidates' geographic locations; a ward-less (or riding-less) election...

Ridiculous thought, isn't it?
Rating: +2
Dusty old loafs pushing papers around to make themselves feel big. If that's how one want to spend a life, mazal tov.
Rating: -30
Alexander Hayne
What is not mentioned in the news article (or the lawsuit) is the fact that the property traded by the City to the developer is last piece of land that could have turned Emery Barnes Park into a full city block.

Instead of enlarging the park for the benefit of 10,000 residents of Yaletown, the City voted to create a 35-storey tower with a 10-level underground parkade that will accommodate over 400 cars. I realize that the community benefit was the creation of new social housing - but that building could have been located somewhere else. With the City's decision, the larger park is now gone forever.

How can the City promote Vancouver as the "Greenest City in the World" when they choose concrete and cars over new park space.

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, this was a bed decision by our elected officials.
Rating: +23
Something has been stinking in city hall for a long time, hopefully they have been caught and the resulting penalties stop this No Vision dominated council from ever having the opportunity to screw the people of vancouver again.
Rating: +20
Damage is Done
The damage has been done. Vancouver has been permanently changed by these ridiculous density-oriented policies. Vancouver was far "greener" when it had row-houses and a much lower population with fewer automobiles. Density is also a way to disenfranchise householders by diminishing the value of their votes. Disgusting.
Rating: +13
It costs about 250k to build a unit of social housing. There's a net gain of 75 units on the Jubilee House site. 75 x 250k = 18 million. Sounds like a good deal to me. Give or take a million or two. And folks are housed. Secret or no secret.
Rating: -20
6.6 million heavily suggests taxpayers footing a low density- high density transfer
buddy-system: this can only infer provincial gov friendlie's 'grab' - we're in the face of losing granville island to the port - all the port do is trumpet their 'stadium' with blinding electronic billboards for the pattison group, while taxpayers pay for their new roof; and the port be on such a law to themselves, gulping down the cons taxpayer footed - 'put canada to work' joke- such a low balls tight group of millionaires here in the westcoastals: why not 'fight it'
we do have the rights, laid out in laws.. why not
Rating: -5
Damage is Done: I don't know what Vancouver you're talking about, but the city is far better off, and far greener, now than it was when I came here as a student twenty years ago – and (finally) pursuing density instead of letting the suburbs drive development is the reason.
Rating: -26
Odds Bokin: you don't know the facts. The fact is that this entire development doesn't add one single new unit of social housing. It simply replaces the units at Jubilee House with the exact same number of units. The rest are for profit condos and rentals. Oh yeah, and a private preschool which proposes to use Emery Barnes Park as it's daily playground. Which will now be cast in shadows until 11am each day. Get the facts at and donate to help save Emery Barnes Park before it's too late. And don't forget to vote on November 15!
Rating: +20
Its amusing to see the sweaty fingers of the opposition working the keyboards throughout Vancouver in a vain attempt to take a swipe at Vision. If loading up the 'comments' section of the various electronic media is your best bet, then I shall stand on the sidelines, bemused, as you continue pissing into the wind.....
Rating: -22
James Blatchford
Oh, I wondered where that mist was coming from....mystery solved.

Thanks Ayinedollah!
Rating: -9
I was here a bit before you. The city is not better off than it was in 1994, and it certainly is not better off than it was in 1984. And it _certainly_ is not better off than it was in 1884. Well, OK, in 1884 it was Granville Town, not City of Vancouver, but the point stands. It has been a long, slow slide down into Vancouver being just another Dirty Shithole. Last century it was done in the name of "progress", this century it's the same story, with a veneer of green paint. Ultimately it is about a very bad economic system that thinks homeostasis is a bad idea---cities should grow continually, you know! After all, there's nothing alive that cannot get fatter and fatter without health consequences, amirite?

It's just a vicious cycle of stupidity---you can either increase taxes every year on a steady-state of ratepayers, or you can manufacture new ratepayers, which necessitates the production of more services, and then you can either tax that new set of ratepayers, or you can sucker another group into buying in, so that you can pay off those bonds you sold/loans you took out to pay for the previous iteration. It's a scam. It's not quite a ponzi scheme, but that's a close enough approximation of how it works.

A big tragedy is that Vancouver's former mayor, Gerry McGeere, understood all of this and went to Ottawa as an MP to raise a little hell re: our insane monetary policy. Perhaps while those memories were alive, the people of Vancouver were not too pigfuckingly stupid to play along with an insane economic system. I sure am glad the bad old days are over!
Rating: -9
D. Zaster
Textbook Vision Vancouver manoeuvre:

- Secret sweetheart deal with the developer, revealed only as the result of a request by a plaintiff in the course of litigation against the city. How many times has this happened?

- Terms of deal blatantly favour the developer. And - on top of the cost to taxpayers of the land transfer, the city commits millions to fund the developer's side of the deal, the requirement to build social housing. What part of this makes sense?

- An opportunity to expand a park in a crowded neighbourhood that badly needs more green space is lost. Where was the Parks Board when this deal went down? Constance Barnes, did you care at all that the park named for your Dad will now sit in the shadow of a 35-storey tower? Apparently not.

- Not only was the public ignored, but the law may have been violated, too.

- All we hear from Vision and its supporters are the same old partisan sneers and excuses about the NPA and the NIMBYs. Forget about what citizens actually want.
Rating: +3
Ayinedollah is correct. Blogs help people vent and bringing questionable civic actions to court is valuable. But really matters is a good turn out in the next election to send Vision (and their NPA developer soul mates) into oblivion.
Rating: +1
D. Zaster. How are you??!!?? Greetings from Bolgatanga, Ghana!!!
I'm a little bit confused here...that is re; all the posts to various electronic media regarding Vision being in bed with ''developers''.
Please tell me - specifically - how Vision benefits from allegedly being in bed with the developers.

I'll be a bit more specific:

''Secret sweetheart deal with the developer...." What is Vision to gain from the deal?

"Terms of deal blatantly favour the developer. And - on top of the cost to taxpayers of the land transfer, the city commits millions to fund the developer's side of the deal, the requirement to build social housing. What part of this makes sense?"

Ah, the requirement to build social housing, perhaps?

Why would Vision want to squander lotsa' taxpayers money for apparently no, or little, return? Just because they can?

On the face of it, your question seems to imply an assumption that all at city hall have a cake for a brain.

Regarding losing part of a park in a highly populated area does seem counter intuitive to what Vision is about. I would probably be a bit bummed out, too. But, I don't claim to know the whole story.

Be well, Master of D. Zaster!!!
Rating: -3

Wow. That sounds like an even better deal for the City! Thanks for the info.
More of a mixed community.
Rating: 0
"And it _certainly_ is not better off than it was in 1884."

If you want to live in a small town with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails, there are plenty available.
Rating: +5


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