A Surrey-based development company is taking the City of Chilliwack to court to fight expropriation of the former Safeway site in downtown Chilliwack.
The claim filed by Mann Development (Main Street) Inc. Feb. 22 in Vancouver B.C. Supreme Court seeks a court order “quashing and/or setting aside” the expropriation resolution passed at an in-camera meeting last December by city council.
At issue are seven lots of prime downtown real estate covering an entire city block bounded by Main Street, Kipp Avenue, Mary Street and Princess Avenue.
A City of Chilliwack spokesperson said they could not comment on the matter since it is before the courts, except to note that expropriation is within the city’s jurisdiction as per the Community Charter, and can be discussed during a closed “in camera” session of council.
All eyes have been on this particular redevelopment site in recent years because some believe it could help kickstart the long-awaited revitalization of Chilliwack’s downtown.
The petitioner’s claim argues that the expropriation resolution, approved by city council in an in-camera vote on Dec. 18, was illegal since it was passed in “bad faith” in an “arbitrary manner,” in secret, and through “improper” use of in-camera sessions.
It was done “without notice” to Mann officials, who continued to try to push the application forward. They say they did not find out about the expropriation effort until more than a month later, when city staff notified them the land was required for “public parking and health services.”
“No study or further justification for the taking has been communicated to Mann Development or been made publicly available,” the petition stated. “There are no prior reports or studies supporting a need to expropriate the lands for ‘public parking and health services.’”
Mann Group, of which Mann Development is a division, purchased the old Safeway site in 2016 with the goal of redeveloping the properties, and rezoned of the two halves of the site separately. At that point the sprawling site had been vacant for more than a decade. They hired a consultant, and were working closely with city staff to move forward. They say the process of approving a development permit was eventually stalled at second reading.
A year before the initial purchase by Mann Development was finalized, in 2015 city officials took the unusual proactive steps to rezone the properties, rather than waiting for an applicant-driven proposal, because the site was identified as a “potential catalyst” for the much-anticipated redevelopment in the area. The old Safeway store building had been just demolished, and what was needed from the city point of view was a walkable mix of commercial/residential development at a critical downtown location and so they subsequently rezoned it to make that happen.
Council approved rezoning of the entire block in November 2015, going from commercial, to high-density multi-family residential, and commercial, as well as a CD 15 (comprehensive development) zoning. The understanding was that future owners would have the option of rezoning again, should they decide to, or stick to the downtown vision of increasing residential zoning with higher density R6, and commercial on the ground floor level, with residential above.
Fast forward to 2018, the applicant, OTG Development, acting on behalf of Mann Group, sought to rezone again. The proposal was to redesignate half the site from R6 to CD-20 zoning (comprehensive development), for higher density, and less parking than was first envisioned.
But on August 3, 2018, the day before third reading, Mann Development’s consultant was informed by a city councillor the development application “would be smashed” meaning that the DP application would be defeated at third reading,” the petitioner’s claim stated.
On the basis of this, Mann officials deferred third reading until the municipal elections were over in October 2018.
But city officials did not schedule a third reading after the election, “despite Mann Development’s best efforts,” according to the petition.
The expropriation notice was posted by city officials on Jan. 25, 2019.
The Feb. 22 petition seeks an order “quashing and/or setting aside” the city expropriation resolution, as well as a bad faith declaration, and one stating that the expropriation of the lands was “illegal” on the basis that council failed to “pass a bylaw” to approve the expropriation, as well as an injunction to restrain the city from “taking further steps to expropriate the lands.”