Long strike could jeopardize construction

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      A Vancouver economist predicts tens of millions of dollars in lost or delayed construction permits if the civic workers' strike draws out.

      "And the longer it goes on, the more the numbers would keep piling up," Helmut Pastrick, chief economist of Credit Union Central of B.C., told the Georgia Straight by phone.

      About 2,500 inside workers from CUPE Local 15 set up picket lines at 8 a.m. July 23. They joined the approximately 1,800 outside workers from CUPE Local 1004 who went out July 20. In the District of North Vancouver, about 800 recreation, inside, and outside workers from CUPE Local 389 set up picket lines at 6 a.m. on July 23.

      In 2006, the City of Vancouver issued $1.96 billion in residential and nonresidential building permits, of which the residential-sector share was more than $1 billion. Pastrick said the numbers for this year could be considerably lower, as no new permits will be issued during the strike.

      "If it were to be extraordinarily long, say three months to six months, then I would say yes, the annual numbers would be [affected]," he said. "But over time, the number of projects that would not materialize at all as a result of this would, I suspect, be very small. But the longer it goes on, the more it could jeopardize more projects from ever being started. Certainly, construction-permit activity is in that [tens of millions] order, yes."

      Speaking by phone from his downtown office on July 20, Reliance Holdings Ltd. general manager Jon Stovell called the situation "pervasive and alarming".

      "Anyone who is waiting for a building permit or a development permit of any kind could be affected," Stovell told the Straight. "It is a very unsavoury situation, not just for the development industry but for anyone like a private citizen building a house, or someone who is building a deck on the back of their house or who is building a garage, or someone who wants to get a permit for a movie shoot."

      The development-permit board meets biweekly at City Hall to consider larger applications that have a wider community impact. The board is scheduled to meet July 30 regarding a zoning application for a three-storey commercial building at 2750 East Hastings Street. City spokesperson Jerry Dobrovolny left a voice-mail message with the Straight stating: "We don't expect the strike to affect the development-permit board meetings if, in fact, there is a large-scale strike. With respect to development permit issues generally, it is hard to speculate at this point.”¦If there is a wide-scale strike, then obviously there would be a wide-scale reduction in services and we would need to prioritize, probably daily, based on what the needs are."

      As the Straight went to press, Dobrovolny relayed a message, via his staff, that the July 30 development-permit board meeting will be going ahead.

      Colleen Nystedt is a citizen representative on the advisory panel of the development-permit board. Nystedt told the Straight she believed a prolonged strike would mean "the board won't meet and they [permits] won't be issued.

      "I think in this case the 'mission critical' events have taken place," Nystedt added. "There could be potential delays. The good thing in terms of timing is that with Southeast False Creek and Olympic Village, we've finished all of the parcels that we were reviewing there. If that had not happened, it would have delayed the Olympic Village, and it's under such a tight schedule as it is. It could have been potentially disastrous, but I think that has been averted."

      Jeff Fisher, deputy executive director of the Urban Development Institute, told the Straight he did not want to "speculate" on a dollar value if the strike is longer than expected.

      "In terms of numbers, a long-term strike would slow down how quickly they can review applications and how quickly they can release the permits, and it's going to slow down," he said. "We'd have to see what happens in terms of the process. There is a lot in the hopper now, with the Olympics and the Canada Line and so on."