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Yaletowners beat Vancouver city hall

Developer, city disappointed at ruling that cancels social housing deal

A B.C. Supreme Court judge slammed Vancouver city hall in his Jan. 27 ruling because it told the court more about a complex land swap than it did the public.

The Vision Vancouver majority on city council voted in July 2013 to rezone 508 Helmcken St. for Brenhill Developments to build a 36-storey tower beside Emery Barnes Park. The rezoning was conditional on Brenhill developing a 162-unit social housing project on 1099 Richards St. to replace the city’s 1985-built Jubilee House at 508 Helmcken.

Justice Mark McEwan labelled the public hearing and development permit processes “flawed,” quashed the land swap and ordered a new public hearing.

In his 49-page verdict, McEwan wrote that new public hearings on the Helmcken rezoning and Richards development would allow citizens to “address the whole project, including the essence and value of the land exchange to the city and its residents.” McEwan wrote that the city took an “unduly restrictive view of the discussion” about the costs and benefits of the project to the city and its residents.

“A public hearing is not just an occasion for the public to blow off steam: it is a chance for perspectives to be heard that have not been heard as the city’s focus has narrowed during the project negotiations,” McEwan wrote. “Those perspectives, in turn, must be fairly and scrupulously considered and evaluated by council before making its final decision.”

During the four-day court hearing last August, Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY) lawyer Nathalie Baker argued the city breached the Vancouver Charter for failing to give the public fair opportunity to be heard and that the city’s trade of its Helmcken property for Brenhill’s on Richards should have gone to public tender.

Brenhill proposed spending $24 million to build the $30.6 million New Jubilee House at 1099 Helmcken St., with the city contributing $6.6 million from its sale of 508 Helmcken St. Staff valued the community amenity package at $25 million: $1 million cash from Brenhill to the city affordable housing fund and $24 million in-kind for the social housing.

Ultimately, McEwan wrote, the public was given “a package of technical material that was opaque, compared to the material presented in court, in limiting comment on the integrated nature of the project, and in failing to provide an intelligible (i.e. where do the numbers come from?) financial justification for it.”

Brenhill said it is “terribly disappointed” with a verdict that has halted construction of the social housing project.

“It’s much easier to attack complex city development approval processes than it is to build affordable housing for those who really need it,” said a prepared statement from the company. “We’re reviewing the court’s decision before we have anything further to say.”

A statement credited to planning and development services general manager Brian Jackson said: “The city is disappointed in the court’s decision and we are reviewing the decision to explore all options, including whether there are any grounds for appeal. The judge’s reasons raise complex issues concerning development projects in the City that involve rezoning applications and public hearings.”

McEwan ruled that CANY was entitled to the costs of the case.

Note: This story has been updated sicne first posted

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