Vancouver real estate: city staff note to developer seen to suggest land lift for controversial Broadway rental tower

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      On July 21 this year, Vancouver city council cast a close 6-5 vote to approve a rezoning application for a 28-storey rental tower.

      The development site is at the southeast corner of West Broadway and Birch street, the former location of a Denny’s Restaurant.

      About two years earlier, council enacted a comprehensive development zoning bylaw for the property at 1296 West Broadway.

      This was to enable the construction of a 16-storey market rental tower with 153 housing units, and commercial uses on the lower levels.

      The developer later returned with a new application, this time with the property addressed as 2538 Birch Street.

      The company 1061511 B.C. Ltd (Jameson Development Corporation) wanted a taller building with more rental units.

      It was now going to be a 28-storey rental tower, meaning an additional 12 storeys.

      There will be a new total of 258 rental units, of which 22 percent or 58 units will be under the city’s  Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program or MIRHP.

      Among the materials considered by council in the second rezoning application was a July 9, 2020 memo by Gil Kelley, the city’s general manager of planning, urban design and sustainability.

      In his memo, Kelley wrote that there is “no additional land lift generated by the additional height proposed under the MIRHPP application”.

      “The costs to secure 22% of the residential floor space at below-market rates equates to the value of the additional storeys,” Kelley stated.

      The Kelley memo was in response to a query by councillor Jean Swanson.

      Because there is no land lift, or an increase in the value of the property, the developer does not have to make a community amenity contribution or CAC.

      “By way of comparison, “ Kelley explained, “if the project was permitted to achieve 28-storeys at 100% market rental rates, the additional storeys would have generated a CAC of approximately $9 M[illion].”

      “Therefore the costs to secure 58 MIRH units over 60 years at this location is $9 M,” Kelley continued.

      The Fairview/South Granville Action Committee represents citizens who opposed the new rezoning.

      The grassroots-based organization did not want a taller building, and preferred Jameson Development Corporation to proceed with its original 16-storey rental project.

      One of the documents the Fairview/South Granville Action Committee secured through Freedom of Information was an email by Brian Lightfoot, a property development officer with the City of Vancouver.

      The Lightfoot email dated January 14, 2019 was addressed to Tom Pappajohn of Jameson Development Corporation.

      “Further to your recent conversation with Brian Sears, please find attached the City's revised version of your proforma indicting the potentially far greater land lift that could be achievable from this proposed rezoning which would suggest a potential capacity to increase the provision of MIRHPP units,” Lightfoot told Pappajohn.

      (Sears is another member of city staff.)

      Ian Crook of the Fairview/South Granville Action Committee provided the Georgia Straight a copy of the Lightfoot email.

      According to Crook, there seems to be “discrepancy” between what the Lightfoot email stated and the assertion to council of the Kelley memo.

      “This begs the question whether council was given correct information by staff,” Crook said in a phone interview.

      Crook said that he finds it “quite troubling” that councillors are being “told one thing, and when you actually get a chance to reflect on what you discovered through Freedom of Information reqest, they’re saying something entirely different to the developer”.

      “So on the one hand, theyre saying to council there’s no landlift here, and on the other hand, ‘we reworked your proforma…and we think you can get far greater landlift’,” Crook said.

      Most of the one-page Lightfoot email was redacted.

      The Straight asked city hall for a phone interview with a staff member who can talk about the matter.

      No interview was granted, but the city provided a written statement.

      According to the city, the Lightfoot email was “in response to a pre-application enquiry proposing a higher density”.

      “The actual form of development proposed had changed by the time the application was formally submitted, with lower density and fewer units,” according to the statement.

      When asked to comment on the city’s response, Crook described it as “wrong”.

      According to Crook, the Lightfoot email dated January 14, 2019, and which talked about a land lift, came after the developer’s open house in late 2018.

      Crook recalled that the proposal at the time had “already been accepted into the MIRHPP Program with the 28 floor proposal in June 2018, and had a response to their rezoning enquiry in October 2018”.

      The Fairview/South Granville Action Committee has yet to decide what to do next.