Group wants government to expropriate 15-acre Little Mountain site in Vancouver

Nov 29 2019, 6:51 pm

Neighbourhood activists are calling on the provincial government to expropriate the sprawling Little Mountain property in Vancouver, immediately east of Queen Elizabeth Park, from local developer Holborn Group.

They want to see the 15-acre property, fronting Main Street, return to the provincial government, which sold the property to the developer in 2007.

Little Mountain

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

The property was sold for its redevelopment potential, with a significant market condominium component helping fund new replacement social housing on the site. By 2009, residents were removed from hundreds of aging social housing units, and the structures were subsequently demolished.

Vancouver 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 building on the site.

Little Mountain

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

But activists are taking issue that the developer has only paid a small fraction of the $334-million sale price of the property from more than a decade ago, which 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.

There has also been little activity towards actual redevelopment, particularly the promised social housing. Apart from a 2015-completed building with 53 units of permanent social housing and a 2018-built, 46-unit temporary modular social housing building, the site remains largely vacant.

However, there has been a spike in development applications over the past year for the various buildings on the site. This includes:

  • 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.
Little Mountain

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

But activists do not believe the recent activity towards development is sufficient. In a statement, ‘Take Back The Mountain’ activist David Chudnovsky asserts the project has been a “failure.”

“It’s been 12 years since residents were pushed out of their homes and ten years since those homes were demolished,” he said, adding that the group would like to see more social housing, affordable rental housing, and co-ops.

“In the midst of a housing crisis the site is still a gigantic 15 acre vacant lot. Vancouver residents can no longer tolerate this incredible waste.”

Governments rarely enact their tool of expropriation of private property, using it only in highly exceptional situations.

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.

With the current downturn in the region’s housing market, sales of condominiums, especially concrete units, have slowed down, and developers have resorted to postponing their applications and launches. It remains to be seen whether persisting conditions could further delay the market residential portions of Little Mountain.

150 East 36th Avenue at Little Mountain

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

155 East 37th Avenue Vancouver Little Mountain

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

5299 Main Street Vancouver

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

Little Mountain presentation centre

Artistic rendering of the Little Mountain presentation centre at 8 East 33rd Avenue, Vancouver. (B+H Architects / Holborn Holdings)