British Columbia

Multimillion dollar Vancouver land swap scrutinized

The RCMP is reviewing information related to a 2013 City of Vancouver-Brenhill Developments land swap deal, after a citizen filed a criminal complaint.

Citizen's complaint about deal between City of Vancouver and Brenhill Developments looked over by RCMP

This Google Street View image shows the new Jubilee House at 1099 Richards St. before the completion of construction in 2016. The 162-unit social housing facility was built as part of a multi-million dollar land swap deal. (Google Street View)

The RCMP is reviewing information related to a controversial 2013 land swap deal involving the City of Vancouver, a prominent developer and a social housing facility, after a citizen filed a criminal complaint with the force.

Glen Chernen with the South Vancouver Parks Society claims his complaint has led to an RCMP investigation into the complicated deal, in which the City of Vancouver exchanged its property at 508 Helmcken St., for a property across the street at 1099 Richards St., which belonged to Brenhill Developments Ltd.

"It's multi-faceted and it basically covers anything — well what it's grown to is anything that touched upon this deal and this property," Chernen said of his complaint, without going into many specifics.

Asked to confirm an investigation is underway, RCMP E Division's Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau provided a brief emailed statement.

"We received some information and are currently reviewing the materials to determine our next steps," said Linteau. "The scope of the review has not been determined and we will take the time necessary to complete a thorough examination."

Controversial deal

The land swap has already been the subject of a lawsuit. A B.C. Supreme Court judge threw out the development permit, only to have that decision overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

But the lawsuit revolved around the issue of public consultation, and according to Chernen, his complaint has to do with the value of the land given up by the city.

In the deal, which began in 2011 when Brenhill approached the city, the city agreed to give up the 508 Helmcken St. property next to Emery Barnes Park worth $15 million in exchange for the 1099 Richards St. property, valued at $8.4 million.

Brenhill also agreed to build 162 units of new social housing on the Richards property. B.C. Housing provided Brenhill with a $39 million loan to cover the construction.

The building with new social housing opened last summer. It includes 107 "shelter-rate" units, replacing 87 units in the old building across the street and an additional 55 "low-end-of-market units."

Rising property value

According to a 2016 B.C. Assessment valuation, after being rezoned and three years after the city gave it away for $15 million, the Helmcken property was worth $90.2 million.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says he hasn't been contacted by RCMP regarding the Richards Street land swap deal. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson defended the swap, saying on Wednesday that he hadn't been contacted by the RCMP about the issue.

"We had an independent opinion on the transaction that took place through Ernst & Young that the city got value from the transaction. Obviously it happened years ago and the property's much more valuable now," said Robertson.

"I mean all of this is — looking back? If you look back five years, anyone in real estate in Vancouver would have regrets about selling five years ago, obviously. The value of real estate has gone up astronomically in recent years," he said.

Luxury condos

Brenhill Developments, having completed the social housing building has begun construction on its new luxury condo tower.

The property's address has been changed to 1111 Richards St., and the tower branded "8X on the Park," is being marketed by one of Bob Rennie's companies.

This artist's rendering shows the plan for the luxury condominium project being built on the property formerly owned by the City of Vancouver at 508 Helmcken St. (Rennie Group)

Rennie sat on B.C. Housing's Board for two years beginning in April 2012. According to documents provided by B.C. Housing, he appears to have recused himself from board discussions about the deal and $39 million loan. 

Rennie did not reply to interview requests by deadline.

Brenhill provided CBC News with a brief emailed statement.

"We have no knowledge whatsoever of any RCMP investigation and have never been contacted by them in any way on this subject matter," Brenhill's email read.

In a follow-up note, the company said its lawyer had contacted the RCMP and has been told Brenhill was not the subject of a police investigation.

B.C Housing said it had not been contacted by police regarding the deal, and deferred to the City of Vancouver for further comment.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker