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Residents sue city over use of Expo grounds

Fern Jeffries, co-chair of the False Creek Residents Association, stands beside the parking lot she would like to see turned into a park.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The residents of Vancouver's False Creek neighbourhood envision a waterfront park, complete with a seawall and a beach, where children can dip their feet in the water. Instead, a concrete parking lot and a residential sales centre sit on the site that was part of the Expo grounds when Vancouver played host to the 1986 World's Fair.

The False Creek Residents Association says it has had enough. The group has filed a petition to the B.C. Supreme Court against the City of Vancouver, arguing the city is failing to uphold zoning regulations by allowing the site's owner, Concord Pacific, to use the property commercially when it is meant for park use.

The three hectares are bordered by the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts to the north and False Creek to the south.

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"This is an iconic location for all of Vancouver," Fern Jeffries, co-chair of the residents' association, told reporters gathered at the site of the proposed park Wednesday.

"Having waterfront access here would be just so terrific. If kids in Jericho and Kitsilano can dip their toes in the water, why can't kids from the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona have the same access?"

The City of Vancouver says it can't comment on a legal matter that is before the courts. However, developing Creekside Park has been a long-standing objective of city council and staff, a city spokesman said in an e-mail.

Concord Pacific promised long ago that it would create a park on the site and transfer it to the city as part of its redevelopment of the Expo lands. Irate local residents argue that instead, the company is generating significant annual revenue by using the property as a parking lot and residential sales centre and by renting out space to seasonal events such as Cirque du Soleil. None of the allegations made by the association has been proven in court.

Ms. Jeffries says talks between residents and municipal officials, which have spanned a decade, have gone nowhere. Earlier this year, residents started placing green lights in the windows of their homes in protest.

"Concord Pacific is in business," Ms. Jeffries said. "They make business decisions. We expect them to try to maximize their profits at every turn, and so far they haven't disappointed us. However, we expect our city, our elected government, to protect the public good … and that's how we are focusing our action today. We are asking the court to nudge the city to fulfill its duty to residents."

Concord Pacific has a temporary permit that allows it to operate the sales centre on the lot. But Vancouver lawyer Bob Kasting, who filed the petition on behalf of the resident group, said that permit expired last Friday.

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Residents would like to see the city's practice of renewing the temporary permit put to an end. They would also like the court to declare that the way the lot is currently being used – for commercial activities – is illegal.

"If they want to rezone it, they can take it back to council and rezone it as commercial," he said. "But they can't slip through the back door by trying to accept commercial [use] in an area that's parkland."

Once the petition is served, which Mr. Kasting says should be some time this week, the city has 21 days to respond before a court date is set.

The False Creek Residents Association previously requested a review of the site's $400,000 assessment, arguing that Concord Pacific generates substantial income through the 88 Pacific Blvd. property.

The move backfired. The Property Assessment Appeal Board found the value of the property to be around $12-million, but then deducted $17-million in costs for the seawall construction and park improvements that the company is obliged to complete. The board ended up assigning the property a nominal value of $1.

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About the Author
Business Reporter

Alexandra Posadzki joined the ROB in August 2017, after spending nearly three years covering banking and real estate, among other topics, for the Canadian Press newswire. More


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