The B.C. Court of Appeal has sided with the City of Vancouver and Brenhill Developments in a high-profile case against the Community Association of New Yaletown.
This morning, Chief Justice Robert Bauman delivered the news, telling those in the courtroom that written reasons will be provided later.
The decision overturns B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan's ruling last year that voided a rezoning and a development permit to allow for a 36-storey residential tower and a 13-storey housing complex just north of Emery Barnes Park.
“We are relieved by this decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal as it now allows us to continue with what we set out to do when we first conceived of this project and that is to respond in a comprehensive way to Vancouver's most pressing housing needs," Brenhill said in a prepared statement. "This project was conceived to respond to the opportunity to replace and expand social housing in a neighbourhood where it has long existed, while at the same time providing much needed secure market rental housing and additional home ownership in a downtown neighbourhood where people want to live. Rarely has there been such an opportunity for a social housing provider, the City and a downtown land owner to forge a partnership to meet so many pressing housing needs."
The plans call for a city-owned social-housing complex, Jubilee House at 508 Helmcken Street, to be demolished to make way for the tower. This came about as a result of a land swap between the city. In return for the 508 Helmcken site, Brenhill is developing a 13-storey building on its property at 1099 Richards Street and giving it to the city freehold.
On April 16, Vancouver city council voted a second time to rezone 508 Helmcken Street to allow for the tower. On April 7, the city awarded a new development permit for the 13-storey building at 1099 Richards Street. It will house low-income residents of Jubilee House.
These moves meant that the city had already ensured that the project would go ahead. Depending on how the written decision is worded, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling could have a significant impact on how the city deals with rezoning applications in the future.
The Community Association of New Yaletown successfully challenged the issuing of the original development permit and the first rezoning in B.C. Supreme Court on the basis that the city hadn't disclosed sufficient information to residents about this land deal.
Meanwhile, the city has maintained that all 162 units in the building at 1099 Richards Street are "social housing units", but residents have claimed that 75 are actually low-end market rental dwellings.
Former Vancouver park commissioner Constance Barnes was among those who supported the rezoning. She told the Straight by phone that she's "thrilled" with the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling because it means that 89 low-income residents of Jubilee House will be able to move into new social-housing units.
Barnes, who's the NDP candidate in Vancouver Centre, said that the federal government has no strategic plan to develop social housing.
"The province is not in a position to give money to municipalities to build social housing," she added. "We're now having to look at other ways to make this happen. There are hard decisions that have to be made, but we know that Jubilee House is in disrepair."
Barnes explained that she has been inside the city-owned building and seen that it's "falling apart", noting that there are no sprinklers and it provides poor accessibility to those with disabilities.
"We are now in a position to work with Brenhill to create a new, beautiful, clean, healthy space for them, and they deserve that," Barnes said.
She noted that a new park will be built two blocks away from Emery Barnes Park, which was named after her father, a former NDP MLA.
"If my father was alive today—and people that know what Emery Barnes stood for—he absolutely would have supported this project and said 'Thank you to the city for figuring out a way to build social housing, thank you to Brenhill for coming up with a $45-million project and handing over the key,' " Barnes declared. "This is a good day for social housing. And this is a good day for the people in Jubilee, and I think for Brenhill as well."
There's no word yet on how the B.C. Court of Appeal will deal with the issue of costs.
Earlier this month, several prominent urban planners and academics, including former Vancouver director of planning Ray Spaxman, issued a statement of concern about the city's overall planning framework.
They claimed that Brenhill's plan for a 36-storey tower at 508 Helmcken Street is "out of scale with its surroundings".
The statement also alleged that the city's general manager of planning and development, Brian Jackson, conducted an "extraordinary intervention" with the Urban Design Panel after it had voted 7-0 against the original application.