City of Vancouver says it mistakenly gave $1.5M break to real estate developer

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The city of Vancouver is under the microscope for what appears to be an inappropriate discount to a prominent developer. Tanya Beja has more on how this money went unnoticed.

The Charleson, a mixed condo and rental project in downtown Vancouver, has been subsidized by taxpayers without their knowledge or city council’s consent.

The city’s Rental 100 policy offers builders waivers on their construction levies, known as DCLs, if their residential project is entirely rental. Onni’s project included strata condos, so it didn’t qualify.

But Global News obtained two city reports that show Onni got a big break. Their Richards Street development was granted a $1.5-million waiver, the second-largest in the program’s history.

“To hear that there was a waiver given in a building that isn’t actually a Rental 100 is disappointing to say the least,” Vancouver city councillor George Affleck said.

When asked by Global News, city manager Sadhu Johnston admitted the city mishandled the money.

“It was a simple mistake,” Johnston said. “The project was not eligible for a waiver and we weren’t intending to give it a waiver and it was a miscommunication amongst our staff.”

“We’ve been in touch with the developer this morning, and they’ve agreed to pay back the amount that was missed.”

In a statement Onni said:

“This matter regarding the DCL payment has recently been brought to our attention and we are currently considering it. Should there be an error we will rectify immediately.”

Multiple staffers had to sign off on the deal before the waiver was granted.

Johnston said they are going to “look back at all the emails, the forms, the communications to understand where that slip-up may have happened.”

Johnston also said they will be reviewing all 30 projects that have gone through the waiver program.

There are now calls for an investigation.

“If the city gave a waiver of $1.5 million when it shouldn’t have, I think there needs to be a full inquiry into how something like that could happen because that’s a lot of money,” Nathalie Baker of Stevens Virgin Litigation Counsel said.

– With files from Tanya Beja

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