In a closed- door meeting of Vancouver City Council on Thurs, June 29, Mayor Sam Sullivan and NPA Councillors dismissed all five members of the City’s Board of Variance.
Only two days before, the Board ruled in favour of a False Creek citizen’s group and rendered a decision that could block developer Concord Pacific’s plans for a luxury marina on the north side of False Creek just east of the Granville Bridge.
The Board of Variance is a quasi-judicial body appointed by Council for three year terms. The Board hears citizens’ concerns about developments and is the final opportunity for impartial reviews of developments before approval. Decisions of the Board can be overturned by City Council.
COPE Cllr David Cadman said he walked out of Thursday’s closed meeting because “of the way the meeting was being run by the Mayor on firing the entire Board of Variance.”
“I did not want to be party to a kangaroo court,” said Cadman. “There was no due process, apparently none of the members of the Board of Variance were consulted, nor did the mayor follow the advice of his own Roles, Responsibility and Review Committee on advisory bodies which is scheduled to come back before Council on July 18.”
Some of the fired members of the Board of Variance were advised of their dismissal by courier late Friday, June 30. At least one, however, says she has yet to receive any notification either verbal or written indicating she is no longer wanted.
In a public statement issued today, Quincey Kirschner said “I only heard about this decision because a citizen called the Board on Friday saying they were contacted by the media. I was shocked to read ion today’s Vancouver Sun that I have been fired from the Board. Surely someone from Council or city staff could have contacted me.” Kirschner was appointed to the Board of Variance in 2005.
Kirschner says she surprised by NPA Cllr Peter Ladner’s claim that the Board was unwilling to work with the city in controlling rising legal costs associated with developers challenging Board decisions.
The Board is currently facing legal action over a decision to overturn a permit allowing a developer to pave over a community garden and replace two heritage cottages with high end housing on Salsbury Drive in East Vancouver. The Board of Variance made their decision after hearing overwhelming community and neighbourhood requests to preserve the gardens and the cottages.
“As a Board member I have never been contacted by Cllr Ladner nor anyone else from the City regarding the Board’s budget,” said Kirschner. “There has been a development boom since 2001 and many contentions issues have come before the Board”
“As a Board we try to listen to citizens and make impartial and fair decisions. Some developers have not liked those decisions and have taken legal action, forcing the Board of Variance to respond. And legal actions costs money.”
“Citizens should also know that in some cases the City’s legal department is even using tax dollars to support the legal challenges of developers against the Board of Variance,” said Kirschner. “That includes the case of the Salsbury Drive gardens.”
Cllr Cadman says the dismissal of the Board of Variance is another example of NPA highhandedness in dealing with the City’s advisory bodies.
“Last January Mayor Sullivan tried to dismiss all the advisory bodies,” said Cadman. “When that didn’t work he set up the three-Rs ‘Roles, Responsibility and Review Committee’ to come up with a process for advisory boards. But instead of waiting for a decision on the three-Rs, which is coming to Council on July 18, Sullivan has arbitrarily sacked one of those bodies – the Board of Variance.”
“We have seen that whenever the NPA don’t like a decision made by a citizen advisory board they either muzzle them or, in this instance, they fire them,” said Cadman.
In March 2006, Council ordered the city’s Peace and Justice Committee to cease any involvement with the World Peace Forum after that Committee criticized a decision by Cllr Ladner to withdraw funding for a meeting of the Peace Messenger Cities that was organized as part of the Peace Forum.
“This move by the NPA puts in shreds any credibility of Mayor Sullivan and the NPA in being impartial with the advisory committees and the three-R review,” said Cadman.