A critic of the Jameson Development Corp. bid to replace the vacant St. Mark’s Anglican Church with a five-storey apartment building is urging Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Coun. Melissa De Genova to recuse themselves from a Dec. 12 public hearing.
Stuart Rush, who lives near the fenced-off 2nd and Larch site, said Stewart and De Genova risk violating conflict of interest provisions in the Vancouver Charter and Code of Conduct if they participate in any meetings or votes on the spot rezoning. Principals of the development company donated to their 2018 election campaigns and lobbied them after they were sworn-in.
“There is a reasonable conclusion to draw that the mayor and Coun. De Genova have a closed mind on it and that doesn’t sit well with me and that doesn’t sit well with my neighbours,” Rush, a retired lawyer, said in an interview. “We’re saying ‘stand aside mayor, and stand aside Coun. De Genova’ and let the process work where there is not this colouration of influence in respect of your participation and, potentially, your vote.”
People connected to the project donated $4,800 each to Stewart and De Genova’s winning campaigns.
The Elections BC database shows two donations of $1,200 each from Tony Pappajohn and one from Tom Pappajohn to Stewart on Oct. 15, 2018. De Genova received $1,200 each from Thomas Pappajohn, John Pappajohn and Anthony Pappajohn on Oct. 18, 2018.
Graham Thom of Gatland Capital also gave Stewart and De Genova $1,200 each. Gatland’s website said it arranged the $14.25 million land and acquisition financing.
Rush’s letter to Stewart mentions the Nov. 23, 2018 meeting between the mayor and Tony and Tom Pappajohn. On April 9, Stewart’s chief of staff, Neil Monckton, met with Tony and Tom Pappajohn and lobbyist Raymond Louie, the former city councillor.
In a May 30 speech to the Urban Land Institute, Stewart highlighted the proposed 63-unit rental building, which would include 13 rent-controlled apartments, at 1805 Larch. The Vancouver Sun’s Evan Duggan reported that Stewart sat for lunch at the same table as Louie.
“You received financial support from the developers for a development that you singled out for public support,” Rush wrote. “You are out there promoting the project. It is clear you will not change your point of view and you have an interest in approving the rezoning and the development proceeding.”
De Genova met Jan. 10 for lunch with Tony Pappajohn at the Hotel Georgia. To her, Rush wrote: “You received financial support from the developers. You met privately with one of the developers two weeks prior to the rezoning application for the site being filed. These facts suggest that you could be influenced or appear to be influenced directly or indirectly by the developers.”
De Genova did not respond for comment. Likewise for Tony and Tom Pappajohn. Alvin Singh, a spokesman for Stewart, said by email that the mayor was not available for an interview.
“The issue of donations and hearings has been brought up many times through various administrations and the answer has always been the same: a general donation does not amount to a conflict, real or perceived, around specific development applications,” Singh wrote in a prepared statement. “In terms of his remarks during speeches, the Mayor has used Larch and other projects as examples of the MIRHPP [Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program] policy but hasn’t commented on the merits of the actual development. The speeches also happened prior to referral to public hearing.”
Two decades ago, a Nanaimo city councillor was disqualified from office for voting in favour of a developer who was the biggest backer of his $4,500 re-election campaign.
“The payment to [William Frederick King] was ‘more or less remotely connected with’ the result of the votes he cast in favour of Hazelwood and Northridge,” read the judge’s verdict. “It was a pecuniary interest tied indirectly to the $1,000 contribution.”
However, a B.C. Court of Appeal tribunal overturned the decision in 2001, ruling that the campaign contribution could not “in and of itself” establish direct or indirect pecuniary interest.
All things considered, Rush said, the circumstances around the Larch proposal are “more egregious” than the King case, because it includes elements of lobbying and promotion.
In 2017, the NDP government banned corporate and union donations and set $1,200 as the annual cap for individuals.
In his 2018 campaign, Stewart promised a lobbyist registry. After he was sworn-in, Vancouver city council wrote to the NDP government to ask for the provincial registry to be expanded to cover municipalities. It could have followed the lead of Surrey, which set-up its own registry.
Rush does not oppose development on the site. He said a four-storey structure with only moderate or below market rentals, plus daycare and seniors facilities, would be a better fit for the neighbourhood.
“We’ve had, pulled out of us, a significant centerpoint for community activities, we want to see some of those retained in the functioning structure that evolves,” Rush said. “Where we differentiate from the proposal from the developers is we can see more affordable rentals in there. The developer obviously sees a different financial structure.”
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