False Creek Residents Association battles Concord Pacific over commercial use of park-zoned land

Lawyer Bob Kasting is helping the local residents’ association in its efforts to halt the commercial use of park-zoned land

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      Vancouver lawyer Bob Kasting has been doing a lot of thinking.

      His admirers want him to run for mayor, and he says he’ll likely decide before an important court date on September 11. On that day, a judge will hear a petition regarding a False Creek property that Kasting’s clients argue should have been a park for a long time already.

      “It’s zoned park, and you can’t use it for anything but a park,” Kasting said in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.

      Kasting is representing the False Creek Residents Association. Last May 21, the group questioned the city’s authority to allow commercial use of the property by its owner, Concord Pacific, a major developer.

      The move came less than a week after the expiration of Concord Pacific’s permit to use the lot for a sales centre, parking, and rental space for special events.

      On July 24, the city informed the company that its request for an extension of its permit had been granted, up to July 31, 2017.

      However, the city placed some restrictions. The sales centre shall market only properties located in Vancouver. Commercial parking will no longer be allowed. Parking related to special events at the site will require separate approvals. These were formalized in a permit issued by the city on August 11, 2014.

      That’s only a half-victory for False Creek residents, Kasting said.

      “It’s great that they decided to remove the commercial parking from the park-zoned land, because it has no business being there, as we see it,” Kasting said. “So they’ve agreed with us that far. So I guess that’s the victory part. They’ve taken the position, though, with the sales centre that they can renew the permit for another three years. And we say they can’t do that.”

      Following that development, Kasting’s clients filed an amended petition that sought to quash the city’s decision to extend Concord Pacific’s commercial use of the site. The new petition also asked for a court declaration that any use of the property, which was zoned for park and recreational uses in 1984, should conform to its classification.

      The document further noted that in 1990, the city passed an official development plan for False Creek North stipulating that the lot should be a “large park”.

      The site was intended as an extension of Creekside Park. Its delivery as a park was part of an old deal in which the city agreed to allow Concord Pacific to build 7,650 residential units on the former Expo 86 lands.

      The amended petition pointed out that Concord Pacific doesn’t have to pay property taxes. The land was determined by the Property Assessment Appeal Board (PAAB) on August 9, 2013, to have a nominal value of $1. Citing PAAB figures, the residents’ association also stated that the lot generates at least $600,000 in annual revenues for the developer.

      The neighbourhood group argued that although the Vancouver Charter permits relaxation of zoning bylaws, a change of land use requires a bylaw amendment. “If they want to rezone it as commercial or multifamily or something, then they have to go through the formal process of taking it to city council and having public hearings,” Kasting explained.

      As for his plans for the November 15 civic election, Kasting said he’ll make up his mind “pretty soon”.

      In a previous phone interview, on June 27, Kasting told the Straight that he’s “interested in doing something” for the city, although that hadn’t “quite crystallized” at that time. His supporters include The Electors Action Movement of the Lower Mainland Association (TEAM), which announced recently that it is not fielding candidates of its own.

      In the latest interview, the Vancouver lawyer said that many people are looking for someone who is not beholden to developers.

      Referring to the ruling Vision Vancouver civic party and its main opponent, the Non-Partisan Association, Kasting said: “There’s a huge groundswell for a mayor that’s independent of the two big developer-funded parties.”