Author Archives: FCRA

Density Bonuses for Developers

The City has proposed changes to the definition of “social housing”    that will enable developers to build rental housing projects that qualify for a bonus in allowable density if 30% of the units are available for low income residents. Unfortunately ‘low income’ doesn’t mean minimum wage earners or welfare recipients. They couldn’t afford the $912 for a bachelor apartment. That is the rent level that qualifies developers for the bonus in density. The new definition means that the entire 100% of units will be called ‘social housing’ even if only 30% are available to lower income residents.

Further, the proposed changes give staff the authority to approve the density bonus without public hearing or any scrutiny by elected officials.

On March 24, 2015 Council held a public hearing on this proposed changes. The FCRA spoke against the amendments. Following is the presentation we made to council. The Public Hearing has been extended to Thursday, March 26, 2015. If you agree, you have an opportunity to be heard, either by speaking to Council on the 26th, or by writing to: Mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca, or by signing the petition launched by our neighbours at the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY): https://www.change.org/p/vancouver-mayor-and-city-council-vote-no-to-the-proposed-amendments-to-the-downtown-official-development-plan-on-march-24-2015

Remarks to City Council, March 24, 2015
I am here speaking on behalf of the FCRA because we believe that the proposed amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan (DODP) before Council today impact all neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

I want to raise 2 issues:

The need for democratic accountability in decision-making; and
The importance of accommodating deep core need residents in social housing across the city

First, the issue of democratic accountability:
I find it impossible to understand from the city’s material whether the decisions on density bonuses are made by elected officials or by public servants. If by both, in what order are these decisions made. Is it proposed that Council look at decisions made by public servants only after significant time, money and energy has been spent planning for the increased density? Or before? Will there be a public hearing? Will the community have a meaningful opportunity for input into decisions before additional density is granted?

I urge you not to compromise the importance of elected officials making decisions about whether or not to grant a density bonus. I have spoken in the past of the appearance of conflict of interest when developers donate huge sums of money to candidates. Having the public service make decisions around lucrative density bonuses raises the same level of suspicion or appearance of conflict of interest. We know that many city staff members later turn up as highly paid consultants for, or employees of, developers. Have their previous favourable decisions put them in line for such lucrative contracts? We wonder.

In my view, the city must ensure its policies and practices protect its staff from suspicions of abuse or corruption and even the appearance of conflict.

Density bonuses are serious business. Density bonuses exempt developers from zoning – zoning that was approved after public hearings; approved by elected officials according to the provisions of the Vancouver Charter. That whole scheme of accountability will be undermined if you allow density bonuses to be granted in private by anonymous bureaucrats, rather than up front, as part of a public and accountable democratic process.

Second, I want to say a few words about the definition of “social housing”:
This revamped definition forever takes developers off the hook for building housing for income assistance recipients. This revamped definition ensures that the DTES will continue to be the only place in the city for people on welfare to live. The city-wide definition excludes the most vulnerable who require housing at the welfare shelter rate. This is bad social policy.
The FCRA believes that there is significant evidence showing that strategies such as Scattered Site Housing, and Inclusive and Mixed Income developments have better results than high density enclaves of high need, high risk, high impact individuals.

The FCRA wants to see social housing across the city – social housing defined in the traditional way, for example, as the term was used when the Harcourt Government launched HOMES BC: housing for people at the shelter allowance rate, housing with rents geared to 30% of income (RGI); and housing for people who can pay rents at low end of market (LEM). With the developers delivering ‘turnkey’ buildings for social housing, the combination of these 3 groups should ensure viable projects.

If Market Rental Housing is required to ensure the viability of social housing projects, those units cannot be considered ‘social housing’. Market rental housing is not social housing.

There is no evidence to support the notion that increasing the supply of market rentals decreases the number of residents requiring assistance with affordability.

In summary, changing the definition of ‘social housing’ that will apply city-wide calls for a city-wide debate as it is the entire city that is impacted. To do otherwise, in my view, shows serious contempt for the recent Supreme Court of BC decision.

Firenze responds to false accusations

In an article published by the Vancouver Courier, a senior Vancouver School Board official accused the Firenze Strata Corporation of delaying construction of the International School.  The February 5th article written by Cheryl Rossi contains serious inaccuracies.  Unfortunately, the Courier appears to have made no attempt to verify the information before publishing this misinformation..

Here is the response written by the Firenze Strata Council:

Memo:     To the Residents of the False Creek Area   via FCRA

From:  Strata Council for the Firenze

Re:  Correcting the Record

We are certain that most residents of our neighbourhood are aware that the International Village School is to be built adjacent to our property.  We realize, as much as anyone, the need for this school, support its construction and anxiously await its completion.

We write to you as a result of an article published in the Vancouver Courier on February 5, 2015 under the headline “VSB (Vancouver School Board) settles with reluctant strata”.  The article was not accurate and contained incorrect information and erroneous conclusions.

Among other things, the article quotes Jim Meschino, Director of Facilities for the VSB, as saying that the right to build the schools foundation through our existing parkade was included on the land title.  This position has always been strenuously disputed by the Strata Corporation and, indeed, was to be subject of the court application which was on the verge of proceeding, but for the settlement reached between the VSB and our strata.  Just because this issue was not tested in court does not mean that we abandoned our firmly held position on this issue.  It simply means that both parties resolved to settle instead of waste resources in court.

He is quoted as stating that this was something that we either forgot or did not want to acknowledge.  This too is strenuously disputed.   The Strata Corporation did not forget or not want to acknowledge this, but rather we have maintained throughout that the documents at land title never authorized what the VSB was attempting to do.

He is also quoted as stating that the owners of the Firenze were concerned that the school would negatively affect our property values.  This also is strenuously disputed.  The Strata Corporation is keenly aware of what the issues are for our owners and, other than the units directly in line with the school walls,  a concern that property values would be negatively affected was not then and is not now one of them.

By way of background our residents have always been aware of the plan to build a school adjacent to our building from the time before they purchased their units.  We were surprised and shocked, however, when the Vancouver School Board  approached us and informed us of their requirements (demands) in order to meet their construction schedule.

Either through lack of planning, miscommunication, or oversight on the part of the VSB there were a number of issues that we, as a strata council, needed resolved before we could allow the construction to begin.  There were many issues (and no doubt there will be many more during the construction process) but just to give you an idea of the magnitude of our concerns here are some examples.

THE VSB demanded access to our parkade to construct several foundation pillars which were required to hold the weight of the new school which is being built directly above our parkade.

This was a shock to us as we had  expected  that because the school had been planned before the Firenze was built that the builder would have made the foundation strong enough to support its weight.   We suspect this requirement was as a result of changed construction plans.

We informed the VSB that before the construction could proceed we required an independent engineers report to assure us that the alterations to our foundation would not result in any compromises to our existing foundation.   This was not something the VSB offered, rather they acceded to a request which we made in this regard.

We were also concerned with the amount of insurance coverage in place in the event of a catastrophic failure and required assurance that our property would be adequately protected as a result of the VSB construction.  This had to be negotiated.

We were also told that in order to re-enforce our foundation 150 of our residents needed to be displaced from their parking for a minimum period of 6 months.  We had to negotiate the conditions under which this would happen and what compensation, if any, the residents would be entitled to.

We were also shocked to learn that the developer’s promise to the VSB of over 30 parking stalls for school staff parking was to be satisfied with the spaces that we, up until that moment, believed were ours for guest parking.  There was nothing registered on our Title to state that the VSB parking stalls were to come from the guest parking stalls allotted to the Strata Corporation.  This demand needed to be negotiated and researched.

Further the plans for the new school did not include a garbage room and the VSB advised us that they would be converting two of “their” parking stalls into a garbage room.  This was proposed to be placed in our main vehicle entrance.  This needed to be negotiated.

We could go on, however, highlight these several issues simply to give you an idea as to the magnitude of the issues the VSB brought to us along with their tight construction schedule.  All these issues, and more, needed to be addressed. There are also many unrelated issues that do not even involve the Strata Corporation as to why construction has been delayed and even if any delay can be attributed to the VSB’s need to obtain the consent of the Strata Corporation,  it was not, and never was, an issue of the Firenze trying to block construction but rather was an issue of the strata council doing their duty to protect, as much as possible, the investment and rights of our owners.

All these issues and many more needed to be negotiated and we, as a volunteer council, made ourselves available to the VSB at significant personal cost in order to deal with them.

The filing of the petition in Supreme Court was not a “last resort” as Mr. Meschino is quoted as stating in the article. The parties were still in negotiations when the VSB filed the petition seeking an injunction to, among other things, allow them onto our property to start construction of the foundation for the International Village School.  The petition also demanded return of any money we had made renting out “their” parking stalls.  We were disappointed that they would take this action as it would never be conducive to good neighbour relations. The result was we had to look past this and believe we are justified in feeling that it was as a result of significant flexibility and generosity on the part of this strata council that an agreement was finally reached.

As a result  of the rush to build a newly configured school, with all the attendant structural and parking issues, our residents were put in a position of having to pay a significant  amount in legal fees to protect their interests.  This is not fair to our residents.

This council was looking forward to putting all this behind us and moving forward with a co-operative partnership with the VSB.  This hope has been challenged but not dashed by the February 5th article in the Vancouver Courier.

We understand this is the first time the VSB has constructed a school adjacent to private residences.  There are many lessons to be learned from this project.  We sincerely hope that future developments will go much smoother as a result of the lessons learned from the construction of the International Village School.

This council is committed to doing whatever is necessary to move forward with this construction in order that our community will benefit from this much needed amenity.

Firenze Strata Council

 

January 30, 2015 – Our Judicial Review Application before Justice Sewell Concludes

The judicial review application is now concluded and we await a decision.  The second, and final day before Mr. Justice Sewell in BC’s Supreme Court opened with Concord Pacific again taking the floor to announce that it would seek costs against the FCRA.  Justice Sewell expressed his surprise, opining that costs were not commonly awarded in cases of judicial review.  This was particularly apt in this instance as the FCRA application was brought against the City of Vancouver.  Concord Pacific then budged its way into the proceedings on its own motion.

The second issue raised by counsel for Concord Pacific pertained to the FCRA’s application to have the Court declare the the City of Vancouver should declare that no further commercial parking should be allowed on Lot 9.  In its response to our petition for judicial review, the City replied that if could grant a permit for commercial parking on application.  Our request to the Court was based on our position that Concord’s  hardship status apples only to the sales centre, not to the need to allow commercial parking.  Concord Pacific of course objected to any such curtailing of their commercial activities.

Next up – the City of Vancouver.  We were anxious to hear whether there was any real evidence to support Concord’s hardship status.  Sadly, we were disappointed to hear nothing new.  For the most part, the City’s lawyer simply stated that the City of Vancouver “adopted” the positions assumed by Concord Pacific.

Further, the City maintained that the park would not be delivered in the next three years therefore our petition was unnecessary.

Bob Kasting, counsel for the FCRA summed up our petition, re-stating that notwithstanding all the evidence submitted by Concord Pacific and the City of Vancouver, this wasn’t a petition for a park.  It was a petition challenging the commercial use of a site zoned for exclusive park use.  While the Director of Planning may have jurisdiction to ‘relax’ zoning provisions, he did not have jurisdiction to change the use of the land.

In closing, we do want to thank Bob for all his work on our behalf.  In our view, it’s clear — prime waterfront property which is zoned for public use as a park should not be used for exclusive private parties, for sale functions, or high end displays of waterfront living.  The “hardship” excuse to allow this was simply that – an excuse.  We hope the Court will agree.

January 30, 10 am in Supreme Court

The City will present its case for granting “hardship” status to one of the country’s wealthiest private companies on January 30, 2015 at 10 am.

Concord Pacific’s Vancouver sales centre is built on land that is zoned for exclusive park and recreation use.  The City has allowed this on a “temporary” basis for the past decade.  The provision used by the City enables a “relaxation” of zoning if otherwise the owner would suffer unnecessary hardship.

The FCRA is asking the Supreme Court to review this decision.  Is it correct?  Is it reasonable?  Concord was successful in being named as a full party to this dispute.  For a full account of day 1 of this case, see our previous posting.

The presentation to Mr. Justice Sewell will conclude on January 30, with the City of Vancouver’s opportunity to justify its decision to allow commercial activities on park-zoned lands.

OOPS. City’s Planning Boss files 2nd affidavit to say he read the FCRA’s submission on Concord’s application to renew the “temporary” permit allowing their sales centre to operate on park-zoned land

In his evidence, Mr. Jackson’s first affidavit filed on December 22, 2014 indicates all the factors he took into account when granting “Hardship” status to Concord Pacific.  Conspicuous by its absence  was the submission made by the FCRA indicating our objection to renewing the  permit which would have resulted in 10 years of selling condos “temporarily” on a site zoned for exclusive park use.

This web site, the  FCRA’s tweets and Facebook page pointed out the fact that Mr. Jackson neglected to take the community’s position into account.

Now Mr. Jackson has filed a second affidavit, claiming that of course he took our position into account.    Not a surprise given the overwhelming negative response from the public to the omission of any reference to the community’s objection.

We are still awaiting word on a Court date to complete the presentation of this case in BC’s Supreme Court.

Would Concord Pacific suffer “unnecessary hardship” if it wasn’t allowed to sell condos on land zoned for exclusive park use?  The City of Vancouver says “Yes”.  The FCRA says “No.

We are continuing our efforts to have safe parks and playgrounds

The FCRA has sent the following email to the Mayor and Council in the hope of changing the City’s policy of not accepting calls about used syringes in parks and playgrounds.  In response to this email, Dr. Penny Ballem, the City Manager, has responded that she is following up with staff.  We await action on this important issue.

Dear Mayor and Council,

I am writing to bring your attention to a city policy that significantly increases the health and safety risk to children using municipal playgrounds.

You will appreciate that used syringes which are discarded in playgrounds pose a risk to children who may pick up such articles and cause serious harm to themselves or their playmates.  Parents or caregivers  who take their children to our playgrounds are aware of this danger and are anxious to report such articles to civic authorities.  Similarly, interested residents, runners, dog walkers etc. who spot these articles in parks and playgrounds want to keep the area safe from obvious hazards.

The 311 system was developed at considerable public expense to facilitate such reporting.  Many residents have a cell phone and will call 311, only to be told that the city doesn’t accept those calls.  As you likely know, the City has contracted out the needle pick-up service.  We are advised that 311 will not forward calls to an outside agency.

We have made numerous attempts to have the 311 administrators change this policy in order to ensure that playgrounds are safe for children.  However, 311 stands firm in their position that all residents should attend parks with paper and pen, and at least one free hand, so they can record the needle pick number and make a second call.  All this, presumably while maintaining control over their children. 

The False Creek Residents Association has been working closely with the Police Department and the Parks Board to improve safety in local parks.  Senior representatives on our working group, Inspector Howard Chow and Park Director Bill Harding, have been very helpful and supportive.  We appreciate their active involvement and commitment. Both would like to see this problem solved.  Neither have been able to influence the 311 policy.  Parents and caregivers are anxious to work with civic officials, to be an extra set of ‘eyes’, and assist in keeping public areas safe.  The current policy is a barrier to this important aspect of engagement.

We are advised by 311 administrators that the policy is based on the preference of the outside contractor to have the personal information of the caller.  This apparently trumps children’s safety.

We hope you will agree that children’s safety is paramount, and the City should do whatever is necessary to ensure that used syringes, used condoms, and other hazardous materials are removed as soon as possible from the playground area.  We have a collection of photos of syringes in playgrounds, hidden in play structures, strewn on the ground, on benches, in the grass etc.  I can provide these if necessary.

If the City can have a ‘one stop service’ for tax collection, surely we can extend the same concept to the collection of used syringes from children’s play areas.

 
Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and prosperous new year.
 
Fern Jeffries
Co-Chair, False Creek Residents Association

No Pretense – Chief Planner Brian Jackson admits to the Court that he did not consider the FCRA submission

On December 12, 2014 the FCRA presented its case for Judicial Review of the City’s decision to grant Concord Pacific an extension of its temporary permit for the Sales Centre located on land zoned for exclusive park use. The city allowed Concord to build the sales centre on this land (Lot 9 of the BC Place/Expo District) on the basis of “hardship” as outlined in the Vancouver Charter.

In closing the proceedings for the day, Justice Sewell asked that the City clarify its consideration of hardship.  The City has responded with this affidavit filed by Brian Jackson, General Manager of Planning and development.

Before we filed for Judicial Review – in fact, before we even considered legal action, the FCRA wrote to Mr. Jackson outlining the reasons we objected to the renewal of the permit.  Obviously, we addressed the issue of “hardship”.

In his affidavit to the Court, Mr.Jackson refers to all the information he considered before issuing a 3 year extension for Concord.  What is not listed is our May 3 submission.

A clear admission that the City has made its decision without hearing from the community.

Keeping Parks and Playgrounds safe for Children

Whether you’re out walking your dog or taking the kids out to play, we are all aware that our parks and playgrounds are often littered with used syringes, human and animal feces, and other garbage that threatens health and safety.

The FCRA has been working with the Vancouver Police Department and the Park Board to develop strategies for improving park safety.  Please check out our Action Plan and provide your  comments and input.

Active engagement with the Community Policing Office, Family Movie Night, a Community Baseball League —  some of the many ideas for activating the park and ensuring that it is safe for children and families.

This picture was taken December 2014 under one of  the play structure in the park.  Let’s make 2015 safe!

The Playground at Andy Livingston Park

Day 1 – FCRA vs the City of Vancouver and Concord Pacific

Back in May 2014, the FCRA filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia asking the Court to determine whether the City was right in according Concord Pacific “Hardship” status, exempting them from the Park zoning, and allowing them to conduct business on the 9 acres park-zoned site located on the northeast shore of False Creek.  The existing permit expired on May 16th, and our petition to the court asked that it not be renewed.

Our issue was very simple, and lawyers for the City agreed it could be dealt with in one day.  Enter Concord Pacific.  Concord filed an application to be named a full party to our dispute with the city.  Their application was granted, and our case became FCRA vs the City of Vancouver AND One West Holdings (Concord’s legal name).

Let me take a quick detour to provide some definitions.  Our legal action is a Judicial Review procedure.  Many decisions are made by civil servants acting in a quasi-judicial manner, and by various administrative boards and tribunals.  Appointees are normally considered “experts” in their fields.  For example, a member of the BC Labour Relations Board will normally have extensive knowledge of labour law and/or staff relations and/or human resource management.  In cases such as this, Courts allow a high level of “deference” to the decisions made.  Because the decision-maker has specialized expertise, the Judge will only consider whether the decision was “reasonable”, not whether it was correct.

However, the decision-maker must stay within the ambit of his/her expertise.  Otherwise, the decision-maker looses jurisdiction, and a Judge may review the decision on the basis of “correctness”, not simply “reasonableness”.  If a decision-maker makes a decision outside the authority of the legislation that created the mandate, this too would render the decision reviewable on the higher standard of “correctness”.

After our petition was filed in May, on July 24, 2014, the City of Vancouver renewed the “temporary” development permit, allowing Concord another 3 years of doing business on the park site.  We then amended our petition, asking the Court to quash that decision and not to allow for any of the other commercial operations to take place on the 9 acre site.

Back to our day in court.

The day started with Concord’s lawyer, Mr. Hein Poulus, Q.C. asking for an adjournment because he would require more than just one day of the court’s time.  We all knew that to get a 2-day court appointment would take us well into 2015.  Our lawyer, Bob Kasting, argued that we should proceed.  The Mr. Justice Sewell agreed.

Bob presented our case:

  1. That allowing commercial use of park-zoned land wasn’t’ just a mere “relaxation” of the zoning, it was a change of use from Park to Business.
  2. That the Director of Planning did not have jurisdiction in the Vancouver Charter to change use, rather Council would have to go through its normal procedure of re-zoning to change from park zoning to commercial use.
  3. Therefore the Director of Planning did not have the jurisdiction.
  4. Alternately, if the Director of Planning had the jurisdiction, he made an unreasonable decision in considering the application of “hardship” to Concord’s situation as all Concord’s evidence was about their marketing a “waterfront” lifestyle, not about hardship.

Concord presented next, although obviously there were ongoing private discussions between the City’s lawyer and Mr. Poulus. Mr. Poulus took the Court through a lengthy (and in our view totally irrelevant) history lesson from Expo ’86 through to the present.  His presentation also attempted to interpret the FCRA’s motivations.  Hours later, he finally got around to focussing on the questions before the Court.

Concord and the City argue that the Director of Planning has jurisdiction to relax the zoning and allow commercial use of park land.  Further, they argue that because of the shortage of land in northeast False Creek, not allowing this use of the 9 acre park site would cause “unnecessary hardship” to Concord.

By the end of the day, Concord finished its presentation, but indicated that they were “surprised” by our application to deny other commercial uses for Lot 9, and would need time to prepare for additional submissions.

Court adjourned.  Our challenge now is to schedule another day in the Court.  At that point, the City of Vancouver is likely to present rather than simply allowing Concord to speak on its behalf.  Then the FCRA will have an opportunity for a closing statement.

Submissions and supporting affidavits are all posted on our web site: falsecreekresidents.org.

In addition, Jeff Lee has written a piece in the Vancouver Sun.  He was present for the first half of the day’s proceedings.

Although obviously the FCRA wants to get on with building the park, however, that is not the issue before the court.  In our view, Concord’s extensive presentations on soil remediation, viaduct removal, allowing various charitable organizations to use lot 9 for events like the Sun Run, etc. is background noise, attempting to delay proceedings and confound the court.  But at the end of Day 1, Mr. Justice Sewell made it clear that he is still focussed on the “evidence of hardship” before Mr. Jackson when the decision was made to allow commercial use of park-zoned land.

Concord’s Response to the FCRA Petition

Concord has filed its response to the FCRA petition for judicial review.

Their response attempts to steer attention to FCRA motivation rather than the quite narrow focus on the question before the Court:  Would Concord suffer “unnecessary hardship” such that the City could grant them an exemption from zoning?

The response contains all kinds of information on soil remediation,  various charitable causes they support, constraints around the  timing of Creekside Park delivery, etc.  Everything except “Hardship” – the basis of the exemption!

Have a read.  You’ll enjoy it.