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British Columbia Vancouver residents have mixed feelings over development deal ruling

Construction will be halted this week on the new Jubilee House, a social housing project meant to replace a crumbling one in Vancouver.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Some people are dismayed. Others are jubilant. Some see it as proof of what's wrong with the current Vision Vancouver council. Some are just confused about what happens next.

Those are some of the aftershocks continuing to ripple after a bombshell B.C. Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that put two Vancouver developments – one of them a social-housing project, the other a 36-storey condo tower – in limbo.

On one side are the future residents of the social housing, those living in crumbling Jubilee House, who had been hoping to move into their new apartments next February.

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That hope was blasted away by the ruling Tuesday that ordered the City of Vancouver to hold new public hearings for the Jubilee House replacement, along with a second tower that was part of a complex land swap and social-housing deal between the city and a developer. That has meant construction will be halted this week on the new Jubilee House, which was going up on Richards Street in Yaletown.

"It's been pretty demoralizing for all of us," said Joan Seidl, the president of the 127 Society for Housing, which houses 87 people in mould-plagued Jubilee House at welfare rental rates. "Some have been saying, 'I knew it would never happen because nothing good ever happens to me.' We are trying to stay hopeful, but there is a feeling that a lot of positive, hopeful energy has been dissipated."

Elsewhere in Vancouver, a resident group fighting city hall over a completely different kind of development is thrilled about the decision, hoping it will persuade the city to be more responsive to community groups like theirs. "It almost looks like the judge answered all the questions we have posed," said Joe McDermid, with the Southlands Community Association.

That group has been tussling with the city for more than a year over a developer's plan to convert a large house in Southlands to a care home with as many as 92 beds, a rezoning from residential to commercial that residents fear will open the door to significant change in the area. They, like the Yaletown community group that fought the city's agreement involving Jubilee House and the second tower, feel that the city is doing whatever it can to circumvent residents.

"They're using the letter of the law to the absolute maximum to benefit the developer," Mr. McDermid said.

The deal between the city and Brenhill Developments was to swap chunks of property that were across the street from each other. Brenhill would build a new social-housing project to replace Jubilee House on its property across the street, as well as adding another 75 units that would be rented at low rates.

In return, Brenhill would get the city property, rezoned to allow a 320-foot tower. City reports said Brenhill was providing about $30-million in benefits and cash. But there was never information available about how much the extra density it got through the rezoning was worth.

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A city councillor who voted against the Brenhill project, which was supported by Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver council, saw the decision as not a problem of poor process or bad planning but of bad politics. "We have had a rubber-stamp council. My feeling is the answer to the process is Vision – their arrogance and how they treat people," said Councillor George Affleck.

In his ruling Tuesday, Justice Mark McEwan said the city's hearings related to the two towers didn't provide the public with enough information and didn't allow them to assess the two developments together. Instead, the city ran two separate public hearings, only allowing residents to comment on what they thought of the height, density and uses of each building on its own.

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