Wall Financial said Vancouver erred in approving the overdose prevention site because its own bylaws didn’t permit it
One of Vancouver’s largest building developers is asking the courts to force the city of Vancouver to move a Yaletown supervised injection site.
A petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court by Bruno Wall, the owner of Wall Financial Corp. and president of a rental tower called 1111 Seymour Residences that shares the block with the overdose prevention site, includes hundreds of pages describing through photos and written accounts the effects the site has had on the neighbourhood since it opened more than two years ago.
The photos show people entering the building through the underground parkade and camped out or passed out amid belongings and litter in front of the building. The graphic colour photographs show people injecting themselves in the open, of someone urinating on the sidewalk and of human waste near the doors of a building.
After the supervised injection site opened in March 2021, “there was an immediate surge in issues at Seymour Residences, including incidents of people loitering or passing out along the block and in the entryway, of people attempting to gain access to the courtyard and the parkade (by following tenants trying to exit or enter their home) and of attempted and successful break-ins and theft,” said Wall in his affidavit filed with the petition.
Wall said there were some incidents when a mobile overdose prevention site opened in the area in 2020.
“However, nothing prepared me for the precipitous increase in incidents once the OPS opened at 1101 Seymour.”
“The city generally does not comment on matters before the court,” said a city spokeswoman in an email.
The petition asks the court to find that when city council approved the overdose prevention site, or OPS, in 2020, it contravened its own zoning bylaw that limited the type of use for that city property.
“Use of the city site as an OPS is not a use authorized by Bylaw No. 10996,” argues Wall.
The petition said the site is not zoned for an overdose prevention site and council failed to consider restrictions under the bylaw when it approved the lease, which it calls “unreasonable.”
It is further “unreasonable” because council did not consider the “impact of the decision on affected parties,” the lawsuit argues.
By approving the use, council “has fundamentally changed the character of what was otherwise a relatively quiet, predominantly residential street.”
Now, it “has become the centrepoint for crime and public disorder.”
Council’s failure to interpret the bylaw “undermines the important role that zoning bylaws play in setting and preserving the reasonable expectations of those who work and live in Vancouver,” the lawsuit alleges.
The petition asks the court to quash the decision by city council to allow Vancouver Coastal Health to lease the site for an overdose prevention site.
Wall said he bought the 1101 Seymour St. location in 2011, when it housed the Positive Living Society of B.C. and AIDS Vancouver, two groups providing services to people living with HIV, and he proposed developing 11 storeys of affordable rental housing with four floors of office space for the two groups, to fulfil his company’s community amenity contribution for condos he built at 1310 Richards St.
Rezoning for the site was approved by council and the only uses permitted were for dwellings, institutional uses limited to the social service centre and accessory uses, the petition said.
In 2017, the 1101 Seymour site was leased to Positive Living Society of B.C. and AIDS Vancouver, Aunt Leah’s Independent Lifeskills Society for youth in foster care and Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network Society for female sex workers.
In May 2020, a mobile overdose prevention site was parked nearby at the corner of Seymour and Helmcken, and there were some incidents of people loitering or passing out on the block and more litter.
In September 2020, city staff recommended council approve the lease for a fixed overdose prevention site. It told council there are no restrictions on locations for overdose prevention sites, that they are a health service and are therefore permitted under current zoning, and no community consultation was required because the services are a “temporary emergency health service.”
The city approved the lease and the Thomus Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site opened March 2, 2021. The lease expires in the spring of 2024.
Seymour Residences has had to add extra security measures since the overdose prevention site opened and resident property managers devote most of their time to picking up discarded needles and other harm reduction supplies, calling 311 to request removal of garbage and human waste, going to the building’s entry to ask non-residents to leave, dealing with tenant reports of people attempting to follow them into the building and parkade, and responding to reports of break-ins, theft and property damage, the petition said.
The overdose prevention site has changed the character of the area and “the corner of Seymour Street and Helmcken Street is now a dirty, unpleasant place constantly occupied by people who appear to be intoxicated or who are actively using drugs,” said Wall, who lives in the neighbourhood at the Peter Wall Yaletown on Richards Street.
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Vancouver Coun. Peter Meiszner said there are ongoing conversations about the future of the Yaletown OPS.
“It has become clear that the current site is an insufficient size for the levels of demand and reasonable questions have been raised surrounding the suitability of that site moving forward,” he said in an emailed statement.
The city has responded to area residents’ concerns with “enhanced measures” to address issues such as debris on sidewalks, bylaw infractions and public safety concerns, he said, adding: “Safe consumption sites play an important role in preventing deaths from overdoses and toxic drugs, there is a very real need for them.”
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