The City of Vancouver is once again facing a legal challenge filed by a group of citizens who seek to stop the construction of a residential tower planned for their neighbourhood.
This time, the petitioners in the case are six West End residents who oppose a 21-story high-rise that’s proposed by Westbank Projects Corp. for the 1700 block of Pendrell Street, near the corner of Denman Street.
They've applied for judicial review of a Vancouver city council rezoning decision made on September 15, 2015. On that date, the mayor and councillors voted five to three to convert three adjacent lots at 1754-1772 Pendrell from a RM-5A to CD-1 designation.
“Council considered irrelevant and extraneous considerations and failed to consider relevant considerations,” reads the petition, which was filed in the B.C. Supreme Court on October 15, 2015.
The petitioners are all residents of 1725 Pendrell, the address located across the street from the site of the proposed tower they have challenged in court.
The group claims the rezoning application that council approved was not a “revised” application, as council considered at the time, but rather was a “new” application. The petitioners are therefore requesting a judge issue an order that prohibits the City of Vancouver from enacting those changes.
In the petitioners’ filing, it is argued the rezoning decisions that were eventually adopted pertain to a development proposal that is significantly different from what was considered when the project was first proposed in 2007.
“In adopting the September 15, 2015 resolution to give in principle approval to the rezoning of the Subject Property, the City considered irrelevant, extraneous and/or improper considerations,” it reads.
Key differences are alleged to include:
- A density of 6.96 floor-space ratio (FSR) whereas the previous application was for a density of 6.15 FSR
- The total number of market-rate residential units increased from 79 to 178
- The nature of housing changed, from condominiums to rental units
- 26 units marked as “social housing” were removed from the proposal; instead, Westbank agreed to rent 26 units at “20 percent below average” rates
The petition also notes that the property in question falls within “Area A” of the West End Community Plan, which council adopted in November 2013. Part of that plan states that rezoning applications will not be permitted in Area A “where the permitted density for market residential is increased from what is permitted in the zoning”.A 21-story tower proposed for the 1700 block of Pendrell Street could be put on hold by a West End group's court challenge.GOOGLE MAPS
Westbank Development did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The City of Vancouver declined to make a representative available for an interview. A statement supplied by communications director Rena Kendall-Craden states the city will fight the petition.
“It is disappointing to see a legal challenge being brought against a new development that will provide 178 units of rental housing, including 26 units with below market rents, in a neighbourhood that has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the city,” the statement reads. “The City will vigorously defend the case being brought forward in court."
NPA councillor George Affleck, who voted against the proposal, also declined a request for an interview, writing in an email that he could not comment on a matter before the courts.
On the issue of the West End Community Plan, Vision Vancouver councillors have noted in the past that the zoning changes for this project were first proposed before that plan was adopted.
“The first application for this project went in in December 2007, which means that the project itself probably started considerably before that, let’s say a minimum of 12 months,” councillor Andrea Reimer said in November 2013 quoted in the petition. “So we are coming up on a decade now that this project has been rattling through our system here at City Hall in an area of town that has .3 percent vacancy rate for renters.”
The October 15 court challenge adds to a long list of similar legal battles the city has fought in recent years.
In January 2015, for example, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Yaletown neighbourhood association that had challenged rezoning bylaws and development permits the city had passed in relation to projects at 508 Helmcken Street and 1077–1099 Richards Street.
The petitioners fighting against the Pendrell development are Theresa Coltman, Veronika Gruber, Jane-Anne Manson, June Quiroga, Zdena Safarik, and Katrine Valut. They are represented by Nathalie Baker, the same associate counselor who represented the group of Yaletown residents. In a brief telephone call, she declined to comment until after the city has filed its response to her client’s petition.
The city’s deadline to submit that response is November 5.
One of the petitioners, Jane-Anne Manson, told the Straight the court challenge is about the city failing to abide by its own rules for development in the West End.
"They have not considered the West End Community Plan, which does not allow for buildings of that size," she said in a telephone interview. "When we went to city hall, I said the West End was very happy with density. What’s being promoted now is hyper-density and a homogenization of our neighbourhoods. These buildings are glass boxes. It is going to look like Yaletown or Coal Harbour, and that is not in keeping with the character of the West End.”