The final speaker at a marathon public hearing has warned Vancouver city council that a residents' group's battle against a development proposal could continue in the courts.
Randy Chatterjee was the last of 139 delegations to council on the Rize Alliance rezoning application slated for the southwest corner of East Broadway and Kingsway.
Speaking on behalf of the Residents Association of Mount Pleasant, Chatterjee alleged that the city withheld certain graphics clearly demonstrating the inaccuracy of an artist's rendering of the mixed-use project.
"It is the law that information presented to the public and to public hearings be accurate," Chaterjee said, citing a 1995 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that overturned a Port Moody rezoning application on this basis.
"There is a court case in Port Moody that very specifically ruled against the council when a rezoning happened because misinformation material to the case was provided," Chatterjee said in the midst of a slide presentation to council.
After he finished speaking, NPA councillor George Affleck asked city staff if they could take a close look at Chatterjee's images and report back to the politicians.
Rezoning planner Yardley McNeill responded that Chatterjee's graphics were not part of the rezoning application, nor were they evaluated by staff in determining whether or not to recommend approval.
"I really can’t comment on where these came from or where they originated," McNeill added. However, she acknowledged that some might have been prepared by the city in its assessment of the artist's rendering of the project.
City staff support the rezoning
A staff report recommends approving Rize's application to rezone its site for two five-storey buildings, one nine-storey building, and a 19-storey tower. If approved, the floor-space ratio would be 5.55 with underground parking for 320 vehicles. Last night, Mayor Gregor Robertson revealed that council will vote on the proposal on April 17.
Rezoning planner Yardley McNeill explains why staff support the application.
After the meeting, Chatterjee told the Georgia Straight that then-B.C. Supreme Court justice Stuart Leggatt voided the Port Moody rezoning in 1995 because council's decision was made on the basis of incorrect information.
Chatterjee alleged that in a similar fashion, the City of Vancouver disseminated false information regarding the height of the buildings—based on the renderings—in the Mount Pleasant application.
"It was never corrected by council," Chatterjee claimed. He maintained that the residents' group has "several lawyers", whom he wouldn't identify, who could pursue this matter in court if council approves the application.
On the first night of the public hearing on February 27, architect Russell Acton told council that architectural renderings are "a bit more of an art than a science".
At the time, Acton was highly critical of a citizen's model, which contradicted the one presented by his company.
Rize wants its contribution to land in Mount Pleasant
Meanwhile, the developer has offered a $6.25-million community amenity contribution to the city in return for the increased density. Of this, $4.5 million would go toward a cultural use within Mount Pleasant, and the remaining $1.75 million would be allocated to the city's affordable-housing fund.
Rize vice president Christopher Vollan told council that his company "strongly" hopes that this contribution "lands in the community".
He also emphasized the recent strong demand for housing near transit, citing the rapid sellout of the Marine Gateway project along the Canada Line.He characterized proximity to transit as "the new green" for people looking for homes.
“Whether or not Broadway becomes a fixed line transit service—which I certainly hope it does in my lifetime—Broadway, Kingsway, and Main is one of the major transit corridors in our region and it is one of the best places to put this type of density," Vollan said.
Christopher Vollan says proximity to transit is "the new green".
He also stated that Rize and the architectural firm of Acton Ostry take great pride in their projects.
"We focus on how they integrate and add to the communities in which we build," Vollan noted. "But more importantly, we like to focus on the people who live in them and buy these homes as their homes—and how they integrate and add to the community.”
Artists' space could return to project
Initially, Rize proposed including 10,000 square feet of artists' space in the project, but that was nixed by city staff, who preferred a cash contribution.
However, at last night's meeting, Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs raised the possibility of including artists' space within the development.
He asked staff if it would be legal for council to approve a motion to use parking space for artists' space, provided it met building-code requirements, without changing the floor-space ratio on the entire project.
"There's more parking than the staff requires," Meggs noted, suggesting that this leaves the door open to reinstate artists' space.
McNeil responded with three options. One would be to "encourage the reuse of unused parking spaces for things other than parking". A second would be for the developer to agree to a text amendment to alter the floor-space ratio.
She added that a third option would be for council to direct staff to amend the pending bylaw to allow any use other than parking to be excluded from FSR if these uses support community objectives.
Meggs left no doubt what was on his mind when he replied: “I would appreciate [receiving] the language for one and three when we get to the stage for consideration by council.”
Robertson wanted to know what else could change during the development-permit process.
McNeill replied that there could be adjustments to upper-floor setbacks off Broadway to reduce shadowing. It could also lead to changes in the outer skin of the buildings, materials, scale of storefronts, and the height of the arcade on Broadway. But she said that the rezoning would lock in place building heights, which would be the basis of the overall design.
Activist worries about gentrification
One of the speakers, Ivan Drury of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, alerted council to the potential for real-estate speculation south of East Broadway between Main and Fraser streets. He noted that there are many affordable apartments in this area.
"I’m concerned about the impact of the tower on the low-income housing projects that are unrecognized by most people in the city as low-income housing projects,” he said.
Ivan Drury wants staff to do a social-impact study on the impact of speculation.
Drury added that as far as he knows, this area has the highest concentration of low-income and aboriginal people living outside of the Downtown Eastside.
"And I wonder if city staff has done a social-impact assessment to see what the impact of this tower may be on speculation and development in those apartment areas, because those places are the current high-density affordability spaces of the East Side," he said. "And I’m afraid a development like this will signal changes that could redevelop into new kinds of density that are not oriented toward low-income renters."
The Mount Pleasant community plan identified two sites for additional density and height: Kingsgate Mall and the IGA property at Main Street and East 14th Avenue. The plan mentioned that there should be an "iconic building" on the Rize site.
Chatterjee claimed that this wording meant that there was no justification for a rezoning on the Rize site—a view that was rejected by Matt Shillito, the city’s assistant director of planning.
"Certainly a mix of mid- and high-rise buildings on these sites would be considered an appropriate response to the plan," Shillito said in response to a question from Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie.
Shillito said that the plan opens the way for other rezonings in the neighbourhood for mid-rise buildings, typically around six storeys, but possibly higher. When pressed by Louie to explain what is meant by the word "mid-rise", the planner replied that there is "no dictionary definition".
"Typically up to 10, possibly 12 stories is mid-rise," Shillito said. "And above that is high-rise."
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.