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Court overturns Vancouver land swap ruling

Russell HIxson
Court overturns Vancouver land swap ruling

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has reversed a Supreme Court ruling that halted two related developments in downtown Vancouver. The overturned ruling had found that the city did an inadequate job of informing the public about the plans.

In January a B.C. Supreme Court judge, citing a lack of transparency by the city, killed a 36-storey tower development that was well under construction on Helmcken Street in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood. The original ruling also froze construction on a 162-unit social housing project that Brenhill Developments was building for the city on a nearby property at 1099 Richards St.

"I have concluded in this case that the public hearing and the development permit processes were flawed in that the city has taken an unduly restrictive view of the discussion that should have been permitted," wrote Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan, when he sided with the Community Association of New Yaletown’s (CANY) challenge.

But this month the Court of Appeal reversed McEwan’s ruling. The court has not yet provided written reasons for the judgment.

"The city is pleased that this decision confirms that the processes followed by the city in respect of the zoning bylaw for 508 Helmcken and the development permit for 1099 Richards Street were appropriate and lawful," said Jag Sandhu, a city spokesperson. "The City responded quickly to the issues raised in the January 2015 court decision, prior to the appeal being heard."

Sandhu explained that the city did not appeal the part of the Supreme Court decision which quashed amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) on the basis that the public hearing notification was insufficient. He said that instead, to address the Court’s concern, City Council held another public hearing to again consider amendments to the DODP, after a more explicit and robust notification process for such public hearing.

CANY originally took the city to court over a 2013 public hearing that saw the Vision Vancouver-led council approve a land swap.

The deal would see Brenhill Developments trade the city its Richards Street site for Jubilee House, a city-owned social housing property on Helmcken Street.

The Jubilee property contains 87 housing units for residents on veteran’s pensions, welfare or disability.

The deal originally allowed the developer to construct a tower on top of the Jubilee property.

The plan was to build more than five times the density and four times the height the community development plan would allow.

In exchange, the developer would also build a 172-unit social housing complex on its property. By the time the swap was finalized, the project had been scaled back.

The association took issue with the development and the public hearing process. It argued the city did not disclose all the details of the plan that it had already made up its mind to do. Residents also argued that the financial details of the swap showed it would not be favourable for the city or taxpayers.

Brenhill’s property was valued at $8.4 million and the city’s was estimated to be worth $15 million. Brenhill had also agreed to give the city $25 million in community amenity contributions.

The deal would have seen the value difference and $25 million used to build the social housing units.

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