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Developing Story: Casa Mia opponents unleash the lawyers

Southlands residents seek injunction to delay public hearing

The Southlands Community Association filed in BC Supreme Court March 7 an application for an injunction to force the City of Vancouver to delay its public hearing for the rezoning of the Casa Mia property. The application for the injunction will be heard March 11.

The public hearing for Casa Mia is scheduled to start March 13.

The Care Group wants the Casa Mia site at 1920 Southwest Marine Dr. rezoned from single-family residential to comprehensive development so it can build a care facility on the property. The Spanish Revival-style heritage home, designed by architect Ross Anthony Lort, was built in 1932 for George Reifel, a liquor magnate and rumrunner during the Prohibition era.

The 20,700-square-foot mansion includes a ballroom where Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Count Basie performed.

The proposal, submitted on behalf of the Care Group by Stuart Howard Architects, would save the house and designate the exterior, while an addition would be built. The facility would house 62 beds — less than an earlier proposal for 92 beds. The building height for the addition is lower than initially proposed.

But the Southlands Community Association argues the city’s staff report on the rezoning proposal is faulty and it wants several issues addressed before a public hearing starts.

Sheryl Spencer, an association director, said members it the application for an injunction because residents are frustrated.

“It’s an accumulation — with us being frustrated with the city and not getting answers and then the [staff] report came out, which was, in our opinion, misleading and not complete,” she said, while adding they were also upset when council voted recently to schedule the public hearing instead of delay it.

“At that point we realized that the only way we were going to have any affect on this was to seek legal council.”

The association is asking the hearing be postponed until the city report is “complete and accurate,” according to Spencer, and until the association receives a response to an FOI request it filed in December. The information was due on Feb. 14, Spencer said, but it’s been delayed until after the scheduled public hearing date.

The association also argues the public hearing shouldn’t occur during the workday when it’s difficult for residents to participate.

Spencer said their concerns include that the care home proposal contravenes existing bylaws and neighbourhood plans and that the facility will ruin the single-family neighbourhood and a street that’s listed with the provincial government as a scenic route.

“All of a sudden, everyone who’s built there adhering to these guidelines is going to be looking at what amounts to a poorly constructed apartment building in the front yard of a historical building,” she said.

The association also argues the site is not close to public transportation and is not on a safe walking route.

Spencer noted the city’s senior advisory committee has concerns about the proposal.

The seniors advisory committee does indicate on its website that it has major reservations and can’t support the proposal based on current plans.

“As has been raised in our submissions concerning the Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment, we believe that the Green House Project model of housing is superior to institutional housing for seniors and people with disabilities. We are opposed to the development of any new institutions, which by their very size and nature tend to ‘warehouse’ people,” it states.

Spencer said a group of Southlands residents are chipping in to cover costs of the association’s legal action because they felt they had no alternative “given the rushed and dismissive process.”

Since news of the court action broke this weekend, more families have offered financial support.

“[Court actions] are very expensive. The unfortunate thing is that most neighbourhood associations just don’t have the funds to pay for it… and that’s the problem — stuff is getting rammed through city hall… and really, legal action is the only way, I think we can all agree, that gets anyone’s attention at city hall right now, whether it’s Hadden Park or the OneCard program. Nothing changes unless the courts are involved.”

The Southlands Community Association maintains it’s not against having a seniors’ care facility in the neighbourhood, but the one proposed is too large. It wants the city to conduct a comprehensive study and plan for Southwest Marine Drive with a focus on 16 other pre-1940s heritage homes before considering any rezoning applications.

The Casa Mia public hearing is still going forward as scheduled, according to the city’s communication department. Brian Jackson, the city’s manager of planning and development, would not comment on the legal action by the Southlands Community Association because it's before the courts.