Brenhill court ruling shakes up City’s planning process

A court ruling on January 27, 2015 temporarily halted the development of a 36-storey tower at 508 Helmcken Street by Brenhill Developments and a 13-storey social housing project at 1099 Richards Street. In his ruling, Mark McEwan, of the B.C. Supreme Court, was critical of the city’s public engagement and notification process, and ordered a new public hearing for the Helmcken project and a new Development Permit Board review for the Richards proposal.

The court also quashed amendments to the Downtown Official Development Plan bylaw because advance public notification of a hearing on the amendments did not mention other city areas that were affected and did not notify all residents who may be affected by them. The court found that the package of materials available to the public was highly technical, that a large volume of peripheral information was interlaced with vital information, and that nothing addressed the public in simple, direct terms.

Following the court decision, the City complied with the requirements set out in the court ruling. Subsequently, the Development Permit Board on April 7 awarded a new permit for the building at 1099 Richards Street, and City Council on April 16 voted a second time to rezone 508 Helmcken Street.

On April 23, 2015 the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the lower court ruling.

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Potential Significance
Municipal staff across Metro Vancouver took note of the lower court’s view of the public hearing and engagement process, and the issue of transparency in negotiations between municipal authorities and developers.

The court decision also drew attention to City staff support and Council approval of rezoning 508 Helmcken Street in spite of initial Urban Design Panel non-support and considerable neighbourhood objection to the setting aside of urban design guidelines and zoning parameters.

A group of Vancouver urban planners and academics, including former City of Vancouver planners, submitted an open letter to City Council on procedural fairness. They were concerned about the need for an overall planning framework for the city and approval of projects that ignore planning values related to new developments fitting in with their surroundings.

A group of residents and business owners, called the Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY), launched the lawsuit against Brenhill Developments and the City, asking the court to set aside the rezoning and development permit for a number of reasons, including the City’s failure to disclose relevant documents and to provide proper notice of public hearing.

The CANY petition drew considerable attention, coming on the heels of the West End Neighbours (WEN) request for a judicial review of STIR and Rental 100 programs in early April, 2014. Earlier, a rally on the steps of Vancouver City Hall on September 24, 2013 attracted hundreds of residents from several neighbourhood and community groups to protest the City’s top-down planning approach and significant “spot rezonings” and rezonings of parts of communities.

City of Vancouver (2013, April 26). Rezoning Application – 508 Helmcken Street. Retrieved from:

City of Vancouver. Downtown Official Development Plan. Retrieved from:

Click to access dd.pdf

City of Vancouver (2013, March 27). 508 Helmcken Street at Urban Design Panel. Retrieved from:

City of Vancouver (2013, June 11). “CD-1 Rezoning – 508 Helmcken Street” (staff report for City Council meeting of June 11, 2013). Retrieved from:

City of Vancouver (2013, June 5). 1099 Richards at Urban Design Panel. Retrieved from:

City of Vancouver (2013, August 12). 1099 Richards at Development Permit Board (staff report). Retrieved from:

Community Association of New Yaletown (CANY (2014, July 13). “Legal petition filed at BC Supreme Court to void the rezoning of 508 Helmcken Street”. Posted at

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sean McEwan (2015, January 27). “Reasons for Judgement (CANY vs. City of Vancouver, Development Permit Board and Brenhill Developments Ltd.”. Retrieved from

Pablo, Carlito (2015, January 28). “B.C. Supreme Court nixes City of Vancouver land swap deal”. Georgia Straight.

Cameron, Ken et al. (2015, April 13). “Procedural Fairness for the Proposed Re-zoning Application at 508 Helmcken Street (RTS No.10912)”.

Link to more 2015 emerging milestones