Bob Mackin (updated June 20 and 24)
A Vancouver city councillor is refusing to answer questions about the support she received for her re-election from a developer who is bidding to rezone a Shaughnessy lot next to a hospice.
Google Street View images from last October show a two-sided sign advertising NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova’s re-election campaign outside 4575 Granville St., near a civic rezoning application sign. Granville Street is one of the most-travelled streets in the city.
The owners of 4575 Granville are Jagmohan Singh Pabla and Kamlesh Rani Pabla, former Kerrisdale restaurateurs who became developers. They want city council to rezone the $4.73 million single-family dwelling so that they can build two, 3.5-storey buildings with a total 21 luxury townhouses renting for $3,700-a-month and-up. The city council public hearing continues June 20.
De Genova did not respond to an email query. When reached by phone on June 18, she said: “I do not comment on public hearing issues.”
The project is opposed by the Vancouver Hospice Society, which operates the neighbouring eight-bed hospice. The society is concerned about the impact on staff and patients should it have to close during construction. Once complete, there would be an ongoing loss of solitude for people in the last days of their lives.
“We’re not opposed to construction, but the magnitude is the issue,” society chair Stephen Roberts said at the June 13 hearing.
When contacted by theBreaker.news, Jagmohan Singh Pabla handed the phone to his son, Gurveer Pabla, the president of Pabla Development Group and a licensed real estate agent with Team 3000 Realty. Gurveer Pabla refused to answer questions and instead asked a reporter to send him an email. He did not respond to the email by deadline.
The Pablas hired former city planning chief Brent Toderian and Virginia Bird of Pottinger Bird Community Relations to lobby city hall for the rezoning. Toderian was hired at the start of June, before the public hearings, but Bird has worked on the project since 2017.
Bird was also a $500 donor to both De Genova’s re-election and Kennedy Stewart’s mayoral win.
One of De Genova’s campaign nominators was Abundant Housing Vancouver pro-development activist Adrian Crook, who spoke in favour of the Pabla application at the June 13 public hearing. De Genova shared some campaign resources last fall with Crook and four other independents who had been previously linked to the NPA. Crook raised money for his unsuccessful campaign from developers Ryan Beedie and Ian Gillespie, who donated $1,200 each.
Abundant Housing Vancouver’s NationBuilder campaign website forwarded form letter emails to city hall in favour of the 4575 Granville proposal. Some of the proponents are identified only by first names, such as Ayo, Sunny, Nixon, Mariyam, Jessica, Vicky, Gurvir, Sanj and Kumal.
That is not the first oddity. In March of 2018, dozens of Twitter accounts purporting to belong to American-based users, all with middle initials and last names, Tweeted the same messages, such as “4575 Granville in Shaughnessy” and “4575 Granville – Plans, Availability, Prices.” All of those messages contained a since-expired link to Century 21 real estate agent Mike Stewart’s Vancouver New Condos website, which is published in English and Chinese. Stewart was recently flogging pre-sales at 4575 Granville on another website before the June 13 public hearing. More than a week later, Stewart, said that his company mistakenly posted 4575 Granville on his website as market housing and he denies having a business relationship with the Pablas.
Late in the afternoon of June 20, Roberts made a last-ditch plea before the resumption of the public hearing.
In a letter sent to councillors and media outlets, Roberts wrote that the rezoning process has left him “sad and disheartened about decision-making in Vancouver.”
His letter to councillors and media said that the planning department, which recommended approval, lost a hardcopy petition of 1,500 signatures opposed to the plan and it also ignored an online petition of 5,500 signatures. A city-sponsored public meeting drew 355 people that he said were opposed. It gained media attention, but not the attention of bureaucrats.
Roberts said that hospice supporters and volunteers have been verbally accosted at city hall by supporters of the rezoning, who are involved in the pro-density Abundant Housing Vancouver group.
“But we are up against big money,” Roberts wrote. “A developer with two PR teams. An activist organization seeking to make it look like they are stakeholders and representatives of widespread support, when really it seems they do not intend to live in the affected neighbourhood, or have any concern for other community amenities. Are these activists connected to the developer? I don’t know, but they were the first to register to speak at this public hearing.”
The hospice’s eight beds represent a quarter of the city’s hospice beds. The clinical operations are funded by Vancouver Coastal Health, but volunteers run two thrift stores to keep the lights on.
“With the only access to the hospice and the proposed development and its 32-car underground garage being from a narrow lane at the rear of both, the increased traffic, service vehicles, moving trucks, etc. on an ongoing basis and the excavation, concrete pouring, and large scale construction needed for the 3.5 storey blocks, the very existence of the hospice is threatened,” Roberts wrote. “Ambulances and hearses access the hospice from this lane. The lush, serene gardens of the hospice would be overlooked by patios and BBQs in the development.”
Meanwhile, Abundant Housing Vancouver wrote a letter to mayor and council on June 20, disputing the suggestion on June 13 by NPA Coun. Colleen Hardwick that it is an “astroturf” campaign. The pro-density group claimed it is an “all-volunteer organization with minimal resources” and that letters sent to council via its letter generator are “genuine comments” that deserve consideration by elected officials.
However, Abundant Housing Vancouver is far from naive.
The directors include Terra Housing senior development manager, Urban Land Institute member and Vancouver City Planning Commissioner Albert Huang, BC Liberal constituency director Thomas Falcone, Crook campaign financial agent Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw and veteran political consultant Brendan Dawe. Dawe’s clients have included the Liberal Party of Canada in B.C. and several BC Liberal MLAs, including current leader Andrew Wilkinson. He has also worked as a “message deployment specialist” for SCL Elections.
SCL Elections is the parent company of controversial Brexit and Trump campaign dataminer and social media manipulator Cambridge Analytica.
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