Gavel Strike: Impact of Court RulingWhat does the judgment mean for Vancouver?

In Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY) v. City of Vancouver, Justice Mark MacEwan has forcefully ruled that “the public hearing and the development permit processes were flawed in that the City has taken an unduly restrictive view of the discussion that should have been permitted.”

As we read it, the main impact of the judge’s ruling falls into two main categories: functional and procedural.

The functional impact of the ruling is directed solely at the two properties that were the subject of the land swap in New Yaletown.

The judge’s procedural statements apply to the interpretation of law citywide, and are intended to fundamentally impact the way city hall operates, now and in the future.

What happens to the New Yaletown Developments now?

Functionally, in ruling that the approval process was unfair, the court’s remedy quashed the bylaws and development permits associated with the development of the two New Yaletown buildings.

The judgment essentially re-sets everything back to the way things were when the development was first proposed. To proceed with the planned developments, the City must now start from the beginning, including the public in a fair and legal procedure.

What impact will the ruling have Citywide?

Procedurally, the judge’s ruling includes strong direction to the City to follow five primary guidelines to its public hearing and development permit processes:

  • The City must provide “intelligible” and “understandable” information to the public for scrutiny and consideration. The information must be “simple and direct” and not be buried in peripheral, technical jargon, as it was in New Yaletown reports. The City must include justification for “values and estimates of value,” if such justification exists, and not hide this information from the public as it did with the New Yaletown developments.
  • The City must provide proper notice to the public, so that residents are aware of proposed changes that affect their neighbourhood. It can no longer avoid public scrutiny by hiding a bylaw change that affects one neighbourhood in a decision presented as relating to a different neighbourhood, as the City did in the New Yaletown land swap.
  • The City must provide the public a “fair opportunity” to communicate with Council about the costs, benefits and full advantages and disadvantages of a proposal’s impact citywide. “Residents of the City have a right to a voice,” the judge ruled. City Hall can no longer unduly restrict the comments of the public to a limited technical range, as it did in the public hearings related to the New Yaletown land swap.
  • Council must listen to and “scrupulously” consider the input from the public, and cannot arrive at a pre-ordained conclusion. The judge ruled that “a public hearing is not just an occasion for the public to blow off steam,” as had been the case in the New Yaletown public hearings and has been common City practice prior to the ruling.
  • Council can not rezone property to be in conflict with the Official Development Plan (ODP) for the area. In other words, Council can no longer approve “spot re-zoning” that is contrary to the ODP, as had been the case with the New Yaletown land swap and has been common practice throughout the City. The ODP legally defines the character and density of an area of the city and the neighbourhoods within it. If Council votes to change zoning to conflict with the ODP, then a change to the area’s ODP must also be separately approved by Council in order to keep the zoning and ODP in alignment.

The Supreme Court ruling is a win for all of Vancouver

Each of these changes are highly beneficial to Vancouver — they enable the public to become part of an “engaged city” and more fully participate in the creation of our future. The changes will have a positive impact on the way City Hall interacts with residents of the city.

Should the City appeal the decision?

Brian Jackson, General Manager for Planning and Development Services has stated that the City is considering an appeal of the judge’s decision.

As we see it, any appeal of the judge’s decision would, in effect, oppose one or more of the above bullet points.

In a City appeal, would Brian Jackson argue that:

  • The City does not believe it should provide the public with intelligible information, and should be allowed to hide whether the City is receiving good value for its property?
  • The City does not believe it should provide proper notice to the public of proposed changes?
  • The City does not believe that the public has a right to a fair opportunity to communicate with Council?
  • The City does not believe that it must consider public input, and should be allowed to make predetermined decisions ignoring the voice of the public?
  • The City believes that it should be allowed to make laws that conflict with the City’s own development plan bylaws, which are intended to help maintain the character of our neighbourhoods?

Regardless of any potential technical grounds for such an appeal, which of these arguments seems like a good idea?

Which of these arguments sounds like a winning move, politically?

Do you want the City to spend your taxpayer dollars on an appeal?

Raise your voice and tell the City to respect the Supreme Court decision.