City told to pay more for Irwin Block

Court rules City of Chilliwack paid too little for expropriation

Spectators watch as the Irwin Block comes down last March. The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered the City of Chilliwack to pay the property owner an additional $220

Chilliwack taxpayers will pay an additional $220,000 for property at Five Corners that the City expropriated two years ago.

At the time, the City paid $600,000 for the Irwin Block – located at the corner of Young and Yale Roads – as part of its plan to rejuvenate the downtown.

However, owner Xing Chen challenged that amount, saying the property was really worth $1.1 million. He also sought additional damages totaling more than $700,000.

He took the City to court in October, and last week a decision was announced.

Although Justice Margot Fleming ruled against Chen’s call for additional damages, and rejected his estimate of the property’s value, she said the City of Chilliwack’s estimate was also too low.

Based on her analysis, Fleming said the property was worth $820,000.

She ordered the city to pay the difference.

Said Justice Fleming: “The plaintiff is entitled to an award of $220,000, being the difference between the expropriation payment previously made by the City and the market value of the property at the time of expropriation.”

Chen had purchased the property for $720,00 in 2009 as an investment. It sat vacant and in disrepair until the city announced plans to expropriate the building in 2012. There was some discussion by Chen about redevelopment. However his key investor was reluctant to commit to the downtown Chilliwack market, court documents show.

Renovating the Irwin Block would have cost $786,000.

Chilliwack’s decision to purchase the property was part of a larger scheme to encourage redevelopment of the downtown.

“This is an important step forward in assembling the land required to create an attractive development opportunity in our downtown,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz at the time.

The City has set out an aggressive vision for the property, and the other 10 properties it owns on the block. Three years ago it unveiled a plan that would eventually see a mix of commercial and residential uses developed on a single 1.5 hectare property, with three “mid-rise buildings” built around an urban park.

Last year the City spent more than $140,000 to tear down the building. In its place it has built a temporary park.

According to the City’s 2015 capital plan that was passed unanimously by council on Tuesday, nearly $4 million has been set aside this year for property acquisition in the downtown.

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