Court stops City of Vancouver from thwarting Marpole rental housing project

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      The City of Vancouver takes every opportunity to trumpet its commitment to support the construction of rental housing.

      This is why it appears odd that city hall did everything it could to foil a proposed four-storey rental development in Marpole.

      The rental project consists of 26 units, half of which will be for families.

      The development at 308 West 62nd Avenue will be on two consolidated lots that previously had a single family home each.

      It is interesting to note that the city even took to court the Board of Variance, a quasi-judicial body created under the Vancouver Charter.

      The board has the authority to hear appeals about decisions by the planning department, and other related matters.

      In its petition for a judicial review before the B.C. Supreme Court, the city sought to quash the Board of Variance’s decision granting an exemption to the lot frontage requirement of the project.

      For its part, the property owner, identified as 308 West 62nd Avenue Ltd., filed a legal petition seeking a declaration that Gil Kelley, the city’s general manager for planning, urban design, and sustainability, “unlawfully or unreasonably refused” to issue a development permit for the project.

      The court heard the two petitions, and ruled against the city.

      A development permit has since been issued for Marpole rental project.

      There was no rezoning involved in the first place. The property owner is allowed under current zoning a multiple-dwelling building.

      A previous Stuart Howard Architects rendering of the rental development.

      Based on court documents, the dispute was rooted in the frontage requirement.

      The property is a corner lot with two frontages.

      The frontage on West 62nd Avenue is short by 1.1 metres or 3.6 feet in order to qualify for a floor space ratio (FSR) of 2.0, FSR being the result when one divides the floor area of the development by the area of the lot.

      If Columbia Street was deemed the frontage, the “permitted outright FSR would be 2.0”, according to the property owner’s court petition.

      Under the current zoning, Kelley had the discretion to choose whether the frontage is West 62nd Avenue or Columbia Street.

      The property owner proposed an FSR of 1.91. Kelley’s planning department insisted on an FSR of 1.5.

      On May 29, 2017, the planning department rejected the development permit application.

      On June 13 of the same year, the Board of Variance granted the appeal of the property owner, and approved an FSR of 1.91.

      The city’s planning department never questioned the authority of the board.

      The story should have ended there.

      As the court petition of the property owner noted, the zoning requires that the city’s director of planning “shall upon application being made therefor issue a development permit in accordance with any decision of the Board of Variance”.

      In September 2017, the project’s architects submitted revised drawings to the city. The drawings were lost. Another set of drawings was submitted.

      In October, the city’s legal counsel advised the parties in the development that the city is going to seek a judicial review of the Board of Variance’s decision.

      The City of Vancouver’s petition to the court read in part, “The City acknowledges that the Board has granted an exemption from floor space ratio on many occasions. This longstanding practice does not make it lawful.”

      In its petition against the city, the property owner asserted, “The Board of Variance acted within its jurisdiction in granting the Petitioner’s appeal.”