Help fund an appeal to restore Vancouverites’ democratic rights

Here’s something from my in-box that’s well worth sharing. There’s an appeal to your pocketbook at the end, but by that point I think you’ll be more than ready to shell out a bit of cash to help these folks succeed in their appeal. Bottom line summary: as it stands now, the rights of property developers trump our right to speak out against their plans. Read on…

Citizens of Vancouver have lost one of their important democratic means of challenging decisions of the city’s Planning Department. I’m part of a community-based group that has been struggling for over two years for the rights of ordinary citizens — aggrieved neighbours and concerned citizens, known legally as “third parties” — to have meaningful say in the City’s planning decisions.

* In August of 2005 we took an appeal to the City’s Board of Variance (BOV) to save a small informal neighbourhood park, Salsbury Garden, which included two small heritage houses in East Vancouver. The BOV ruled in our favour, and the proposed development permits (for two oversized duplexes) were quashed. Our group celebrated.

* The developer appealed, and in September of 2006, after a three-day hearing at the Supreme Court, we lost, and the developer got his permits. The issue of whether or not citizens had a right to third-party appeals wasn’t raised by any of the lawyers at the hearing until the presiding judge, Justice Goepel, requested that they do so. J. Goepel’s sweeping decision changed decades of practice in Vancouver, where neighbours and concerned citizens could bring appeals and address their concerns about decisions of the City Planning Department. In effect, he ruled that we should never have been allowed to make our appeal to the Board of Variance in the first place. Now, only property owners (that is, developers) who apply for a development permit have the right to appeal decisions by the Planning Department.

Massive projects (such as the Concord Pacific Marina project or the new Whitecaps Stadium proposal) are subject to this change as well as smaller neighbourhood ones (such as your neighbour gets approval to build a larger-than-usual garage that will prevent the sun from getting to your vegetable garden). The Planning Department may notify you of developments that will affect you, but there’s now nothing you can do about them.

For example, on November 9, 2007, a letter was sent by the Planning Department to residents near Hastings Park to say it had approved a proposal to expand Hastings Park Raceway to include a massive new gambling establishment with 600 new slot machines. The letter from Doug Robinson, Project Facilitator, actually stated “As a result of a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision, the Board of Variance does not have jurisdiction to hear third party appeals of decisions made by the Director of Planning.” [emphasis HIS] (The whole letter is on our Web site.)

* Meanwhile, in June 2006, Mayor Sam Sullivan and Vancouver City Council fired the very Board of Variance that ruled in our favour … and appointed a new pro-developers Board. The old BOV is currently before the courts asking to set aside Council’s dismissal.

* The developer sold the Salsbury Garden property to another developer, the 100-year-old trees and houses were demolished, and the two duplexes were built and sold.

* The community lost its beloved Salsbury Garden, some hundred-year-old trees, and a couple of little 1907 heritage houses. But all citizens of Vancouver lost the right, held in practice for over forty years, to appeal as third parties (aggrieved neighbours) the decisions made by the City’s Planning Department.

* We were the only people in the City who could appeal the Supreme Court decision to the BC Court of Appeal, so we worked with a lawyer and prepared our appeal.

* On October 31, 2007, our “reinstate third-party appeals” case was dismissed by the BC Court of Appeals. The “reasons for judgment” in the ruling stated that we do not have standing to make the substantive arguments in our appeal. As well, we have been ordered to pay the court costs of the developer who was the defendant in the case.

We have decided to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Our lawyer thinks we have strong arguments and a reasonable chance of winning. At the Supreme Court he will have an opportunity to argue both the standing issue and the substantive issues in the case, which are linked. A win would reinstate third-party appeals to the citizens of Vancouver.

To this end, we are asking each of our friends, relations, neighbours, and supporters to make a donation of $25 (Or more, of course! If you feel you can donate more, please do!). This means you. Will you help us?

We need approximately $25,000 to cover legal costs, or one thousand $25 donations. We are confident there are a thousand people in Vancouver who value their input into the city’s development decisions enough to contribute $25 and help us win this case.

Once we have a thousand donations, our $25,000 will be covered. If we decide to withdraw our appeal at some point, we will contribute any money we do not need to the Board of Variance legal defense fund to support their case that is now before the courts.

Your donation will be an investment in the rights of ordinary citizens to have a say in how our city is developed in the next few development-crazed years leading up to the Olympics and in decades to come.

TO MAKE A DONATION:

You can make a direct deposit to our “Reinstate Third-Party Appeals” account at VanCity Credit Union, Account #401646 at Branch 12.

Or you can send a cheque payable to “Reinstate Third-Party Appeals” to:

Penny Street
1760 Napier St.
Vancouver, BC V5L 2N2

Or, you can use PayPal by clicking on the PayPal link on our Web site at:

http://www.reinstatethirdpartyappeals.org

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