Residents who challenged the assessed value of 3.83 hectares of prime waterfront property on False Creek were flabbergasted when the Property Assessment Appeal Board instead downgraded the value of the mostly-vacant land to just $1.
The previous assessment was $400,000, which the False Creek Residents Association thought was far too low — even though the site on the north side of the creek needed environmental cleanup and could never be developed because it was eventually to be converted into a park and turned over to the city of Vancouver.
Association member Fern Jeffries, who called the situation “a boondoggle,” said her group went for a higher assessment to get more revenue for the city — which was cutting programs to stay on budget.
Now her group has only 21 days from the Aug. 9 decision to respond.
Jeffries thinks the decision sets a bad precedent.
“You can bet your bottom dollar all developers are checking their portfolios to see what they can get reduced,” she said.
The association had initially appealed with the pro-bono help of lawyer Tim Louis, a former Vancouver city councillor. The residents’ group doesn’t have the resources for more legal wrangling.
“The time is now for the city to step up to the plate and protect the public interest,” said Jeffries.
But real estate expert Tsur Somerville from the University of B.C. doesn’t think the Concord Pacific decision sets a precedent.
“I think it’s a very unique circumstance,” said Somerville, who teaches in UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
While he admits “the devil is in the details I don’t know,” Somerville doesn’t disagree with the low assessment on a chunk of what was once known as the Expo lands.
“The key is, what are the sets of obligations that are coming with that land?” said Somerville. “As long as the obligations include this huge chunk of money to turn it into a park, and then ... turn it over to the city, that’s what you have to look at.”
According to the decision of the appeal board, those costs are significant — completing the seawall at a cost of $7.3 million and creating a park for $9.8 million.
“As these costs exceed the market value of the Property, the Property is assigned a nominal value of $1,” said the decision by Allan Beatty.
The decision also dismissed the argument that there should be some value out of Concord making an average of $602,310 annually from parking and event revenue.
Somerville said the tax benefits from the land were transferred along with density to other land on the site, from which the city gets its share of taxes.
The site is generally used for parking and Concord’s sales centre.
Plans for a park on the site have been delayed because of the city’s plans to remove the viaducts.
The entire 82-hectare site on which the future Creekside Park sits used to be an industrial site. It was bought by the provincial government for $60 million in 1980 and used for the world fair Expo 86.
In 1988 the entire parcel was sold by the Social Credit government of the day for a reported $320 million to Concord Pacific, whose majority shareholder was Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing.
He had outbid BCE Development Corp. and its president, the late Jack Poole.
But part of the deal, a further complication to what happens in the area, is that the provincial government promised to pay for the environmental cleanup of the site. As of June 30, the government has spent $64.9 million on the ongoing cleanup of what is now called Pacific Place.
A representative of the City of Vancouver was not available for comment at press time Tuesday.
Matt Meehan, Concord’s senior vice-president of planning, issued a short statement about the contentious future park.
“Like all parks we have provided to the city, we will provide it some time after the area has a plan that is approved by the city in its rezoning process,” he said.
“Concord respects the work of B.C. Assessment,” said Meehan, who referred further questions to that body.
Cheryl Vickers, chair of the Property Assessment Appeal Board, deferred questions about the decision to the written conclusions.
By Frank Luba, The Province