Vancouver city councillor wants answers to stalled Little Mountain redevelopment

Feb 6 2020, 8:00 pm

Vancouver city councillor Christine Boyle is drawing attention to the seemingly stalled Little Mountain redevelopment, which was previously a social housing site up until a decade ago.

In her motion to be considered by council next week, she states BC Housing sold the property to local developer Holborn Group in 2008, with the provincial government allegedly promising residents they would be able to return to their new replacement homes in the on-site redevelopment by 2010.

Residents were encouraged to leave the 1950s-built social housing structures in 2007, and nearly all of the original 224 units were demolished by the end of the decade.

But as of 2020, the 15-acre lot wedged between Main Street and Queen Elizabeth Park remains largely vacant, apart from one new permanent building with 53 social housing units built in 2015 and a 46-unit temporary modular social housing structure completed in 2018.

Little Mountain

Aerial view of the Little Mountain site in Vancouver. (Holborn Group)

According to Boyle, the sale was not finalized until 2013, and there have been two amendments to the contract ever since.

“The contract has not yet been made public. The original residents and other members of the community have been asking to see the agreement for sale and contract for twelve years. The City of Vancouver has previously requested to see the contract but was not able to,” she wrote.

“It is in the interest of Vancouver residents and the City of Vancouver that there be transparency regarding the sale of this significant public asset. Disclosure of the contract would provide new and relevant information to the public that previously was unknown, serve the public’s interest in sound financial management by government, and help determine whether the developer has dealt fairly with the public.”

To that end, Boyle wants city council to approval formal support for an already-submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the disclosure of the contract between the provincial government and the developer. The FOI application will be adjudicated over the coming weeks.

Little Mountain

2016 rezoning concept rendering of the Little Mountain redevelopment in Vancouver. (Holborn Group)

Previous reports indicate the developer to date has only paid a small fraction of the $334-million sale price of the property. This reportedly follows the schedule of payments agreed between the provincial government and developer at the time of purchase. Since then, property values in the area have approximately doubled.

“The loss of the then existing social housing has created, among many Vancouver residents, cynicism and loss of confidence in the public process,” she continued.

But the municipal government also had a lengthy years-long planning process for the redevelopment; after significant public consultation, city council approved the Little Mountain Policy Statement in 2012, and the site-wide rezoning application in 2016, which provides the framework for the development permit applications for each new building on the site.

150 East 36th Avenue at Little Mountain

Artistic rendering of 150 East 36th Avenue at Little Mountain in Vancouver. (Stantec Architecture / Holborn Properties)

In early 2019, there was some movement with the project, with the developer submitting four development permit applications to the city:

  • 150 East 36th Avenue: Six-storey, mixed-use building with 48 social housing units, daycare, and a 12,000-sq-ft mini-community centre.
  • 155 East 37th Avenue: Eight-storey building with 63 social housing units and 4,200-sq-ft of ground-level restaurant space.
  • 5299 Main Street: Eight-storey building with 126 market condominiums and 15,200-sq-ft of ground-level commercial space for a grocery store and fitness gym.
  • 8 East 3rd Avenue: A 10,000-sq-ft presentation centre building for the sale of the condominiums.

When fully developed, Little Mountain will have over a dozen buildings up to 12 storeys in height, with 1.66 million sq. ft. of total floor area, including 1.32 million sq. ft. of condominiums, 332,000 sq. ft. of social housing, and 32,800 sq. ft. of commercial space.

There will be approximately 1,400 units of market condominiums and 282 units of social housing, including the 53 units of social housing already built. An extensive public realm is planned, including a new public park, community plaza, open and green spaces, a new city street, and an extension of 35th Avenue.

5299 Main Street Vancouver

January 2019 artistic rendering of 5299 Main Street at the Little Mountain site in Vancouver. (B+H Architects / Holborn Holdings)

155 East 37th Avenue Vancouver Little Mountain

Artistic rendering of 155 East 37th Avenue (Little Mountain) in Vancouver. (Stantec Architecture / Holborn Group)