The ownership of a Hastings-Sunrise parking lot valued at $17.7 million is being called into question by the Hastings North Business Improvement Association, which maintains neighbourhood businesses and property owners may have rights to it.
The City of Vancouver, which is on the title for the land, announced June 7 it was providing the property for a women-led housing project as a legacy initiative for last week’s Women Deliver Canada conference.
For its part, the city says it’s owned the 528-by-120-foot site, which is on Franklin Street between Kamloops and Penticton, since 1964. Members of the BIA pay an annual levy for use of the lot, while the city provides maintenance services and reduces the parking lot requirements for individual businesses, according to the city.
In 2018, records indicate property owners on Hastings between Nanaimo and Slocan paid $210,629.44 for its use.
BIA executive director Patricia Barnes says the association is looking into the site's ownership.
“We support the need for affordable housing in the City of Vancouver, and we also understand the need for women-only housing, but at the current time we’re getting an independent legal opinion on ownership of the lot because our property owners and our business owners in three blocks — 2400, 2500 and 2600 blocks — are under the understanding that they actually have standing in the lot on ownership,” she told the Courier late Friday.
Barnes' understanding is that while the city is on the land title, an agreement was made decades ago to hold the land in trust for the property and business owners. After the land was purchased in the 1960s, she said they repaid the purchase price back to the city, they paid for construction of the lot, they paid for any upgrades needed, and they’ve been paying a special assessment on their property taxes for the lot for many decades.
“In 2005, [business and property owners] paid $150,000, so you can imagine how much they’ve paid since 1964,” she said.
Neighbourhood property owners and businesses launched a petition in the early 1960s for land to be acquired on Franklin Street for the purposes of collective parking, according to Barnes.
“It was agreed to by the city. They expropriated and paid the homeowners of the time for the land,” she said. "That money was as a loan to the businesses and the businesses have paid back that money."
Now the BIA is searching for information about the deal with some longtime businesses in the area, as well as through children of original business owners.
“All I can tell you is what their understanding was at the time, what their understanding has been all the years that they have been paying a special levy to the city,” Barnes said. “We’re just trying to clarify exactly what their standing is.”
Customers of local businesses use the lot, while it also serves as an event space for neighbourhood festivals and fundraising.
“It provides a gathering space. It’s our event space, it’s our community asset,” she said, adding its existence has helped independent small businesses survive.
“As you know Hastings Street is incredibly busy, incredibly congested. There are parking restrictions on Hastings Street — that lot really supplies access to the businesses… it’s hard to survive as a small business given how expensive it is to operate in the city.”
The City of Vancouver, in recent years, has taken steps to discourage car use, including lowering parking requirements for some developments, while encouraging transit use and cycling.
Barnes said the BIA believes in multi-modal transportation, and supports moves to improve public transportation and to create a safe cycling system, but small businesses still depend on cars being able to access their businesses.
“That is today’s reality and, as I said, they’re struggling, they’re not making a whole heck of a lot of money doing this and they pour their heart into doing what they do. They still have to cater to the person shopping there today,” she said.
Barnes maintains it’s important to determine who owns the lot so that discussions can take place to ensure business and property owners’ needs are addressed if a development proceeds.
“All we’re trying to do is ascertain who owns the lot. Once we ascertain who owns the lot, then we begin talking. But until we ascertain who owns the lot, it’s really hard to talk,” she said.
No one from the City of Vancouver was available for an interview with the Courier but the communication department stated in an email that the annual levy covers costs such as fixing potholes, curbs and signs, as well as paying for cleaning, snow removal, electricity, maintenance and repairs. It also covers general and other taxing authorities.
The city’s legal and transportation departments have not found a record of a land purchase outlining the information the BIA has provided. Should records be found, the city and BIA will discuss how to move forward, the email stated.
“Access to parking is very important to local businesses and their customers. Before the Women’s Legacy development can proceed in this location, a comprehensive analysis of parking needs in the neighbourhood will be completed to ensure that the development accommodates the area’s parking needs,” it added.