British Columbia

Whose lot is it anyway? City and businesses dispute ownership of Vancouver parking lot

The city is on the title and plans to build new social housing on the East Vancouver site, but businesses in the neighbourhood believe they have a historical claim to ownership of the lot.

City is on title but businesses in East Van neighbourhood say they have historical claim to ownership

The city announced that this parking lot at 2500 Franklin Street will be developed as a women's housing project, which surprised businesses in the neighbourhood that believe they own the lot. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A group of business owners along East Hastings Street say they've been caught off guard by the city's plans to build a social housing project near their stores.

It's not the project that's the problem, it's the location — a large parking lot which the businesses believe they have a historic claim to.

"The City [of Vancouver] is on record as the title holder. However, there is some question among our property owners as to how that lot came about," said Patricia Barnes, executive director of the Hastings North Business Improvement Association.

The site in question is a paved half city block at 2500 Franklin St. that for decades has provided free parking and a community events space for the Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood.

Joe Commisso, former owner of Sorrento Barbers, sold the business four years ago but still cuts hair there. Sorrento's lease agreement says it is entitled to two parking spots in the lot at 2500 Franklin Street. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In today's market, the value of the property would be in the many millions of dollars.

Barnes says commercial property and business owners in the 2400, 2500 and 2600 blocks of East Hastings believe they bought and paid for the parking lot and its construction back in the 1960s.

So far though, no one has been able to provide documents to support the claim. 

Barnes also says the businesses have been paying a special levy, property tax and maintenance on the lot since the 1960s.

"We're trying to do a search as to the history ... and what promises were made," she said. 

Bianca Maria Italian Foods has been at its location in the 2400 block of East Hastings for over 50 years. Owner Nina Crescenzo says the business pays property tax on the parking lot. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a letter sent to BIA members, Barnes has appealed for anyone with historical knowledge or relevant paperwork to come forward.

"I wasn't there in 1964," she said. "I'm trying to assess how much has gone into that parking lot from the small businesses in the last 50-plus years."

Nina Crescenzo, owner of Bianca Maria Italian Foods at 2469 East Hastings, says she plans to go through her records to calculate how much the business has spent on the parking lot over the years.

"I'm going to look into it with the previous owner of the business just to get our facts straight. But what I do know for sure is that we've been paying property taxes for that lot," said Crescenzo. 

The East Village parking lot has provided free parking and community event space to the Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood for decades. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"My question is if you don't own something, why are you paying property taxes on it?" 

Andrew Dicamillo bought Sorrento Barbers at 2417 East Hastings four years ago. He says according to his lease agreement, Sorrento has claim to two parking spaces in the lot.

"It says as a renter in the 2400 block of Hastings ... I'm entitled to a couple of spots there," he said. 

Vancouver's general manager of engineering told CBC the city will look at any documentation the North Hastings BIA comes up with.

"Some older members thought there was a framework that involved ownership, but that's not our understanding," said Jerry Dobrovolny. 

"We've gone back to look at our paperwork and we're asking them to look at their paperwork to resolve it one way or the other."

Friday morning, the city hosted a splashy news conference announcing the project slated for the site.

A news release describes it as "an innovative women-led housing project featuring an integrated services hub and dedicated child-care centre."

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