Residents Association of Mount Pleasant raises legal issues in its fight against rezoning application

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      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."

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      Apr 6, 2012 at 8:41pm

      Many speakers were unable to speak... simply because they couldn't be there! Council deliberately scheduled the Public Hearing with a day’s notice at the start of the long Easter weekend. To add insult to injury, they passed a motion to extend the meeting to hear from all speakers, rather than stopping the meeting at 10pm and reconvening at a later date. This would have given people who missed their turn to come and speak, yet Council denied these speakers this opportunity. Does the Mayor and his party want to hear from citizens? Or will go to great lengths to put up barriers to the involvement of the public? Remember, they changed the rules on March 27 so citizens can't speak a second time for 5 minutes.

      Jon Petrie

      Apr 6, 2012 at 9:01pm

      Re Nicholas #1 above?/below? > One of the inherent costs of developers is the contribution [they] are forced to make [CAC's] ... in exchange for increased height and [rezoning allowing for increased] density.< An interesting point: the Rize site is currently assessed by BC assessment at ~ 16 million, current zoning maximum is 3.0 FSR, which works out to a bit over $100 a buildable square foot (i.e. for an 850 sq foot condo plus an appropriate share of the necessary non private corridors etc, assessed land value in a 3.0 FSR building on that site and similar sites in the area will be about $100,000). Curiously, the extra floor space, the 2.55 FSR -- or another 85% above the current permitted max FSR of 3.0 -- requested by Rize is valued by the City of Vancouver at a bit under eight million or slightly under $60 ft2 and the City will 'force' the developer to pay six and a quarter million in CAC's for that extra buildable space or about $46.75 ft2 -- less than half what BC Assessments believes that buildable space is worth. Seems like a great deal for the developer but not for the rest of us and doesn't make sense to me. I guess I am stupid. Maybe someone can enlighten me in the comment section. And maybe too someone can enlighten me in simple language as to why Councillors who receive money directly or indirectly from developers can be trusted to make unbiased decisions about those developers' projects. And also why per the City, height on Broadway for the proposed Rize project is 118' (p5 ) but per a Rize website the height on Broadway (at Watson) is 98.19' -

      Terry G. Martin

      Apr 7, 2012 at 2:50am

      The vancouver city charter states "council must remain free from undue influence".When a developer gives money to elected officials it seems to me that this is undue influence.We don't allow other regulating bodies to receive money from those that they regulate.Rize has given vision vancouver almost $11,000, perhaps it is time to get a decision from the courts on this issue,since our elected officials refuse to acknowledge this obvious conflict of interest

      Rand Chatterjee

      Apr 7, 2012 at 7:28am

      “Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." - George Orwell

      Welcome to 1984, Orwell's horrid dystopia where language is used by the government to control dissent and wipe out the past. A case in point is "mid-rise," a term used often in the Mount Pleasant Community Plan that defines legally the boundaries of the rezoning possibilities within the neighbourhood.

      Merriam Webster Dictionary (part of Encyclopedia Britannica):
      : <it>being approximately 5 to 10 stories high <mid–rise condominiums></it>
      : <it>(of a building) having a moderately large number of stories, usually five to ten, and equipped with elevators.</it>
      The Complete Real Estate Encyclopedia by Denise L. Evans, JD & O. William Evans, JD.:
      : <it>anything between three and six, perhaps eight stories high, depending on the community.</it>
      Ottawa's Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw:
      : <it>mid-rise being 5-9 storeys; high-rise being 10 + storeys</it>

      Senior Planner Matt Shilito's use of "12 storeys" for mid-rise is pure Orwellian <it>Newspeak</it>, a clear politicization of language with intent to deceive and manufacture consent. He does so because at 118 feet, the Rize tower on Broadway is technically over 12 storeys, as at 215-feet is the main Rize tower on 10th Ave over 23.

      As many so writers and historians of the 20th century have warned, when language becomes a tool of corporatism or fascism, such efforts must face immediate scorn and be resisted with vigilance.

      Four new community planning processes are currently under way, and this nightmare situation should forewarn the members of these communities to seek clear definitions and plain language in every new plan, or risk similar predations.

      It is precisely this loose governance of zoning, the hawking of Vancouver's airspace, that is driving up land prices and making this City unaffordable. As long as any square foot of Vancouver could see approval of 12-storey towers and FSRs over 5, then it is no wonder that single family lots on Cambie Street are currently selling for $5 million, and assessments have risen 25-40% in one year for that recently "re-planned" area. The same will happen to Mount Pleasant if this goes through, a temporary boon to current property owners--whose taxes will rise accordingly--and an eviction notice to all others.

      Orwell's solid wind is ripping through every heritage neighbourhood of Vancouver, and must be stopped before these glass monuments to willful ignorance of climate change litter our entire landscape, obliterate our views to the mountains, and cast our lives into permanent shadow.

      John S

      Apr 7, 2012 at 8:39am

      Wow, those boomers really don't want millennials invading their neighbourhood.

      Michelle S of Mt Pleasant

      Apr 7, 2012 at 1:48pm

      John S you have clearly missed the point....this issue is not about the 'types' of people moving into the neighbourhood but rather the 'types' of Developement.

      Are you saying that you are against affordable housing dare I ask? are you for the Mayor and Vison Councillors ignoring the fact that Vancouver is grossly overpriced?

      Look around you, where are the large Corporations that would bring alot of well paying jobs to the city....err, they are in Toronto, Montreal and even Calgary where it is more 'affordable' for them to set up shop.

      I fear our Government will realise the error of their ways when the s&*t hits the fan when the bubble bursts.

      Rand Chatterjee

      Apr 7, 2012 at 4:49pm

      Can millennials afford the Rize? Can even all of the top quartile of wage earners in Vancouver? The answer is no. The Rize will price most current residents out of the neighbourhood, and if they work in Vancouver, they will soon become commuters from Surrey where low and mid-rise housing is selling for less than half of the cost of this over-development.
      Greenest City? Affordability our first priority? Empty promises.

      Taxpayers R Us

      Apr 7, 2012 at 5:08pm

      I really, really hope this goes to court. I'd move into the area simply to be able to throw my money and support behind the residents to fight the Vision-developer dream team.

      It's really disheartening to see our city get manipulated like this. Both Vision and the NPA need a one-way, permanent kick in the ass out the door along with their developers and american backing.

      Lewis N. Villegas

      Apr 8, 2012 at 1:10am

      <i>[The fact that the Rize rezoning goes against the stated intention of the Mount Pleasant Plan 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..." </i>

      The issue is not "with these sites", but rather with the Rize site in particular. Here, the Mount Pleasant Plan calls for an "iconic" building.

      In a cash-strapped municipality, everyone from the Mayor on down should be held in a conflict of interest when reviewing the possibility of a cash win of $6.5 Million. That is pay in the pocket for EVERY city employee.

      Yet, it spells damnation for Mount Pleasant's historic character.

      In my view, any court in the land that reads the Mount Pleasant Community Plan language would agree that a rezoning to tower and podium is NOT contemplated on this site.

      No doubt a long list of experts can be brought to bear that "iconic" buildings are not necessarily towers. From the contemporary Europe Hotel in Gastown (built at the same time Mount Pleasant was growing—just 6 storeys high, yet unmistakably an icon in our city), to the one-storey-plus-dome two-thousand-year-old Pantheon in Rome, iconic buildings that are not towers litter the landscape of western urbanism.

      This application should not stand. If it is taken to court, it will not stand.

      Arthur Vandelay

      Apr 8, 2012 at 7:16am

      1. The term "mid-rise" is a common one in the development industry. It is most definitely not something created to deceive the good folks of Mount Pleasant.
      2. If a site is at the confluence of three major arterial roads and on or near two sky-train lines, wouldn't this site deserve avreally significant amount of density?
      3. Every single Community Plan (including the one in my neighborhood) says the same thing -- 'don't change anything or if you do, put back exactly what's there now'. They are of little value to planners in a rapidly growing metropolitan area.
      4. As Jon Petrie points out above, the $6 million CAC fee for this site is inadequate. It should be approx. double that amount.