Brenhill Developments and Constance Barnes rejoice over B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in Yaletown rezoning

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      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.

      This site across the street was given to the city in return for 508 Helmcken Street.
      Charlie Smith

      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."

      Federal NDP candidate Constance Barnes says her father Emery would have approved of the city's land swap to build new social-housing units for Jubilee House residents.
      Charlie Smith

      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.




      Apr 23, 2015 at 12:26pm



      Apr 23, 2015 at 12:41pm

      Charlie, since you are publishing Brenhill's statement, please explain how the development is an "expansion" of social housing. If it is not an expansion please make a correction to above. Thanks.

      Grumpy Old Men?

      Apr 23, 2015 at 2:00pm

      Glad to hear about the win. But prominent urban planners and academics or just grumpy old men? Isn't one of the contibutors to the letter a landscape architect and another one hasn't planned with the city for over 25 years? Things have changed. I'm tired of hearing from the same 'planners' complaining about everything the city is doing. Instead of complaining to the media all the time, why don't these 'planners' do something? Run for city council, get a job with city planning. Affect change if things are so bad. And if the media needs more opinions, let's hear from some of the young, up and coming planners and architects. This city y is changing quickly so let's hear from the people who will be planning its future.

      Having read and watched what has been happening in the city and city hall for years, I seem to recall the previous 2 head planners also used to attend Urban Design Panel meetings and in fact, if I'm not mistaken, one of them used to be on the panel. So 'extraordinary intervention'? Not quite.

      a land giveaway?

      Apr 23, 2015 at 3:02pm

      Did the majority on Vancouver City Council and members of staff agree to sell prime downtown real estate at well below cost, for $15 million? Didn't BC Assessment valued this property at $59 million? Apparently the courts don't care. It's just fine to have the City give money to the developers. This deal just stinks. Corporate welfare is alive and well in BC.

      Devil's Advocate

      Apr 23, 2015 at 3:02pm

      I am all for social housing as long as it is structured to support people who are doing the best they can to improve rather than create an enabling environment for those who refuse to take the responsibility to improve their lives.


      Apr 23, 2015 at 3:07pm

      The reason that a 36 storey tower is "out of scale" with the neighbourhood is because the other building were built 20 years ago and are "now" undersized.

      There's also a few ridiculous "view cones" that limit height in a prime downtown neighbourhood to about 20 storeys.

      Meanwhile, all the more recent towers being built on the surrounding vacant sites are much taller - Vancouver House at 52 storeys, the Mark (40+), 2 towers on the 1300 block of Richards (the Charleson (40+) and another 40+ tower) and a new application on Howe for 40 storeys.

      If Downtown South hadn't been built-out in the 2000s, it would be much taller overall (subject to view cones?) than it is today.

      Johnny B. Goode

      Apr 23, 2015 at 3:16pm

      Absolutely disgraceful decision. Everything so hard-earned and won by the CANY now lost.

      What faith can we have in our government now that all sides of it have come down on the side of the lying, rich 1%?

      Tara Sundberg

      Apr 23, 2015 at 4:33pm

      The city of Vancouver needs to legislate that ALL new developments of 10 units or more are at least 10% ACTUAL social housing (i.e., welfare rates rentals). Calling a $1,100/month studio apartment "affordable" is ridiculous. There are thousands of people, both working people and "difficult to house" people and families that need homes. If zoning is the key, then create the legislation, that way the developers pay for the much needed genuinely affordable rental stock.

      "Social Housing" and "Affordable Housing" in Vancouver

      Apr 23, 2015 at 4:46pm

      Tara Sundberg, the City of Vancouver has gone to court to confirm that market rental housing, regardless of the rent charged meets the definition of "affordable housing." This is predicated on the bizarre argument that renting is "more affordable" the ownership, so a $2500 a month rental is "affordable housing." And the City has recently changed the definition of "social housing" to mean a building where at least 30% of the units are offered for rent to low-income households at the Housing Income Limits set by BC Housing. The other 70% of the units can be $1,100 a month studios (but are still eligible to be called "social housing.") So based on this obfuscatory approach to terminology you had better be very careful what you ask for, because getting a bunch of "affordable housing" and "social housing" in the City of Vancouver might be the outcome. But this outcome is unlikely to assist housing challenges in a meaningful way.


      Apr 23, 2015 at 5:04pm

      Shameful that sticking to rigid Vision ideology means more to city council than doing the proper thing for the neighborhood. Can't understand how when you had one chance to complete the park for generations to come, and amongst all the density and towers all over Yaletown, they opt to stick a 36 story tower where the last part of the park was to be finished. Disturbing.