Fight over $18M East Vancouver parking lot escalates with lawsuit
Dispute around who owns the Hastings Sunrise lot pits local property and business owners against city
A parking lot at the centre of an ownership tug-o-war is back in the spotlight after a notice of civil claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court against the City of Vancouver.
The Hastings Sunrise parking lot in the 2500-block of Franklin Street is a throwback to bygone days: a paved half-city block containing 180 free parking spots to lure car-driving customers to the neighbourhood's small shops and hipster restaurants.
The city is on the title as the owner of the property. However in the claim, Aura Ventures Corp., which owns eight properties in the 2600-block of Hastings Street, says it and other local commercial property owners are the true and "beneficial owners" of the lot.
The claim, filed Oct. 28, says merchants in the area, in 1966, were granted a debenture or unsecured, 25-year loan from the city for $255,360.68. That allowed them to acquire the land and develop the lot. The loan — principal and interest — was paid off in full in 1990.
The claim also says the property owners have continued to pay the annual property taxes, maintenance and insurance costs for the lot, which had an assessed value of nearly $18 million in 2018.
"We're asking the city to basically honour the deal that has been in place already for decades," said Aura lawyer Simon Lin. "We're claiming that the property was collectively held in a trust since the early days when the land was acquired and the parking lot was built."
The City of Vancouver declined comment because the matter is now in front of the court.
Surprise and confusion
Controversy over the provenance of the property erupted in June when Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart hosted a splashy media conference revealing plans to build a women's housing project and childcare centre on the site. The announcement caught the neighbourhood businesses by surprise and created a good amount of confusion.
The Hastings North Business Improvement Association sent out a plea to its members for old paperwork to support the claim that the city had no right to develop a property it didn't own.
The BIA also hired a research company — Klahanie Research Ltd. — to comb through old records. Part of that effort has brought to light a fascinating slice of local history dating back 55 years.
The freeway that never was
In 1964, a plan to push a freeway through Hastings Sunrise, Strathcona and Chinatown to the Georgia St. Viaducts and into downtown was well underway.
Fearing Hastings Street was about to become a highway with no parking whatsoever, local merchants approached the city to purchase 14 houses and a church along the south side of Franklin Street so they could build a parking lot.
As it turns out, the freeway became the subject of bitter opposition and protests. In 1967, city council voted to cancel it altogether, but the Hastings Sunrise Parking Lot had already been approved and built.
In addition to the claim against the city, Aura is seeking to have the lawsuit certified as a class action on behalf of all the "benefitted properties," or parties that were included in the original deal struck with the city.
The claim outlines a number of relief measures and alternatives, including:
- A declaration that the benefitted properties are collectively the beneficial owners of the property.
- A declaration that the city held the parking lot in an express or implied trust.
- A permanent injunction to stop the city from transferring ownership.
- Compensation to class members in the amount equivalent to the market value of the lot.
"If [the value] is one dollar or 10 dollars it doesn't make a difference," said Lin. "If the property is held in trust by someone they can't just take it for their own use."