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Controversial Vancouver property sale promises affordable housing

A view of Vancouver’s downtown skyline.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

A controversial piece of property owned by the City of Vancouver has been sold to a local developer for $20-million and a promise to develop tens of millions of dollars' worth of affordable-housing units.

The city announced on Monday that Pinnacle International Inc. beat three other bidders for the property at 601 Beach Crescent downtown, near the Granville Bridge, with a commitment to provide 152 affordable-housing units.

In exchange, the developer is expected to seek higher density during a planned rezoning process for the property, allowing Pinnacle to build more than the 138 market units allowed there, although it is not clear how large the final project will be.

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Vision Vancouver Councillor Raymond Louie said no level of density for the property is guaranteed, and if Pinnacle does not like the final result, "there's recourse for them."

Mr. Louie said he believes the public will see it is a good deal.

"We'll be judged when the information is available at the end."

Mr. Louie, who said he could not provide a lot of details because the need to respect the confidential information from the in-camera meeting where the agreement was made, said Pinnacle will likely be asked to provide community benefits besides the housing units if extra density is granted, and will have to pay an additional $365 per square foot to the city for community amenities.

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Aside from a potentially contentious rezoning process, the land is also the subject of a lawsuit against the city by Concord Pacific, which originally owned part of it.

The company started the lawsuit in August, as the city was asking for bids on the property. Concord said it had turned the land turned over to the city for social housing as required in Vancouver policy on mega-projects, not to be sold to another private developer.

Concord Pacific spokesman Matt Meehan said he could not say anything about the announcement of the sale to Pinnacle because "we have an active lawsuit over the site and it would be inappropriate to make a comment."

The agreement with Pinnacle echoes other controversial land deals in Vancouver, in which developers agreed to build social housing for the city as part of the sale conditions.

The public raised questions about how much density was promised to the developers in exchange, before any public hearing was held.

The province sold the Little Mountain social housing site to Holborn Group for $300-million in 2007, with the stipulation that the company replace the existing 254 social-housing units on the site.

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But public hearings about what density would be allowed did not happen until much later and a final rezoning was not approved for years, as the developer and city negotiated over the density.

There were concerns that the lengthy tussle, which left the site empty for almost 10 years, was a result of the developer believing that he would get more density than he was eventually allowed.

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