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City of Vancouver spending millions buying, demolishing homes for park land

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WATCH ABOVE: The City of Vancouver buys homes to increase the size of a local park. But as Jill Bennett reports, the decision is being questioned in light of the affordable housing crisis – Oct 28, 2016

A house with a $1.1 million asking price is one of the more affordable homes found in Vancouver, but prospective buyers of the property at 1011 East 45th Ave. have already been outbid.

By whom? The City of Vancouver.

The 106-year-old house backing onto South Memorial Park is one of at least six lots along that stretch of East 45th that were earmarked to become permanent green space. The rest have already been purchased by the city in recent years and torn down.

The house next door, a similar character home dating back to the same period, was sold to the city in February 2015 for $845,000. It has since been demolished and the land is now closed behind a construction fence.

The city confirmed it is in discussions with the owner of the remaining house, which also includes a rental suite, but isn’t saying anything more about the situation.

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But in a region where housing affordability is scarce and in which the mayor consistently touts his government’s willingness to solve a years-old housing crisis, why is the city removing perfectly good homes with rental suites for park land?

City council documents from 2011 and 2012 show the Real Estate and Facilities Management Services recommended council move to approve the acquisition of two lots bordering the park – 1019 and 827 East 45th Ave.

One document in relation to 1019 East 45th Ave. authorized the city to purchase the property for $775,000 and tear it down as part of “an ongoing land assembly to complete Memorial South Park.”

According to that document, four properties of the 13 on that stretch of 45th Ave. between Ross and Prince Edwards Streets were already owned by the city by 2012. The remaining nine were privately owned.

Homes along East 45th Ave. in Vancouver that have been bought and demolished by the City of Vancouver. Yellow properties have already been torn down. The property in red has a sale pending.

The impetus for transitioning residential property into green space dates back decades.

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The acquisition of land for park use was approved in a 1992 Park Board Management Plan that included a policy stating:

“Land will continue to be acquired and consolidated for park use in neighbourhoods with less than 1.1 hectares (2.75 acres) of park land per 1,000 residents and may be acquired in other areas if it has unique or special merit or increases public access to the waterfront.”

As it stands currently, Memorial South Park is 13.59 hectares. According to 2011 census data, the Sunset neighbourhood where the park is located has a population of 36,285.

That means the neighbourhood would need less than 39.9 hectares of park land to qualify for this type of acquisition.

Sunset currently has only 24.6 hectares. With the addition of these 13 properties, it would grow by 0.45 hectares.

Just outside the neighbourhood’s borders, though, are the 48.57-hectare Langara Golf Course park which includes tennis courts, jogging paths and a playground, and the 52.98-hectare Queen Elizabeth Park.

But given the fact the policy was written in 1992, long before Vancouver found itself in an unprecedented shortage of affordable housing and rental units, should the city be revising it’s over two-decade-old policy?

According to a 2012 document, the land acquisition aligns with the 2009 Greenest City Action goal to “ensure Vancouver residents enjoy incomparable access to green spaces, including the world’s most spectacular urban forest.”

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City Councillor Melissa De Genova told Global News affordable housing should come before green space.

“I see it being difficult to try and weigh out the benefits of adding green space when we don’t have affordable housing in a community. I will be asking staff if removing houses from this neighbourhood or others will drive up the price of real estate and cause this neighbourhood or others to be less affordable.”

The city currently has 1,300 hectares of park space, totaling 11 per cent of city land, but a 2006 Park Land Acquisition Strategy report said that wasn’t enough.

“There will be a time in the future when new park land will become prohibitively expensive to buy and increasingly challenging to assemble, probably when Vancouver’s second generation of urban development nears completion,” the report stated. “But this is several decades away, perhaps fifty years from now. The next couple of decades remain a good time to expand the park system.”

The strategy cited a growing population, increasing density, new demands on park infrastructure, and increasing Vancouver’s livability factor as justifications for growing its park space.

On Memorial South Park specifically, the report said the residential land on East 45th bordering the park should be acquired to make the park boundary more “logical.”

When the sale of 1011 East 45th Ave. goes through, the city will have two less units of housing and half an acre more park land, with a benchmark price for detached homes at $1.57 million.

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Some may think that is anything but logical.

With files from Jill Bennett

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