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After successfully securing the removal of occupancy permit holds that Holborn Properties said was restricting them from securing financing, the developer now appears ready to move forward with three market strata buildings within the Little Mountain project in Vancouver.

In October, City of Vancouver staff said that Holborn Properties “indicated that they are unable to obtain financing for the development with the current OP holds in the housing agreement registered over the Phases One and One market lots” and was requesting that those occupancy permit holds be removed.

Holborn Properties acquired the Little Mountain site — a 15-acre site near East 33rd Avenue and Main Street, next to Queen Elizabeth Park — in 2008 from the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation (administered by BC Housing) in what some have since labeled a “sweetheart deal.”

As a condition of the acquisition, Holborn Properties was obligated to replace the 234 social housing units that were on the site. After the City approved the master plan policy statement in June 2012, BC Housing relocated the existing tenants and the all the existing buildings were demolished, but little progress has been on delivering the replacement units — another source of frustration for many.

After rezoning of the site was approved in principle in July 2016, the social housing requirement was increased to 282 units, which were secured by the aforementioned housing agreement and was set to be completed in the first two phases of the four-phase project.

The agreement also included conditions that no occupancy permits for any market residential building in the Little Mountain project would be issued until occupancy permits were issued for all of the social housing units in the first phase of the project, specifically Building AC on Lot 2 and Building AB on Lot 4.

Additionally, no occupancy permits for any market residential buildings in the last three phases and no development permits would be issued for the last two phases until occupancy permits were issued for the social housing units to be delivered in Phase Two, specifically Building BA on Lot 5 and Building EA on Lot 8.

The Little Mountain site plan and the subject of the current DP.The Little Mountain site plan and the subject of the current DP.(City of Vancouver / Holborn Properties)

The statuses of the first two phases, as of late-October 2023.The statuses of the first two phases, as of late-October 2023.(City of Vancouver)

Holborn Properties delivered one social housing building, Building BB (Lot 3), prior to rezoning approval, in what has been the only building delivered since Holborn acquired the site.

In October, the City said that Holborn was set to complete the second social housing building — Building AC (Lot 2) — and break ground on the third social housing building — Building AB (Lot 4) — before the end of 2023. The City also said that Holborn was expecting to break ground on Building BA (Lot 5) and Building EA (Lot 8) in Spring 2024. Those four buildings are the ones subject to the permit holds.

STOREYS has reached out to Holborn Properties to inquire about the status of all four buildings.

According to City staff, in seeking out the removal of the permit holds, Holborn said that they wanted to launch pre-sales for Building EB before the end of 2023 and intended to submit development permit applications for Building BC, AA, and EC as well, all at the same time. Holborn said that those dates were delayed “due to difficulties obtaining financing for the project as a result of the OP holds placed on the Phase One and Two market lots.”

Those development permit applications were published by the City of Vancouver this week. The first is for 5198 James Street and consists of the 10-storey Building AA, eight-storey Building EC, which will house 119 and 72 market strata units, respectively. The second is for 5299 Main Street, which will be the eight-storey Building BC and include 134 market strata units.

A rendering of the proposed building for 5299 Main Street.The proposed building for 5299 Main Street.(B+H Architects / Holborn Properties)

Holborn’s claim of not being able to secure financing to progress on the project was backed up by BC Housing, and the City of Vancouver thus agreed to the removal of some of the holds, out of concern that not agreeing would likely result in further delays to an already-much-delayed project.

“BC Housing has verified that the purchase and sale agreement between Holborn and PRHC provides adequate security for delivery of the social housing units on the sites that are intended to be transferred by Holborn to BC Housing after completion (Lots 2, 5, 8),” said City staff in October. “BC Housing has confirmed that they are supportive of Holborn’s request to remove the City’s OP holds in the housing agreement that are currently registered on the Phases One and One market lots (Lots 1, 6, 7).”

The City of Vancouver is accepting public comments on both development permit applications until Friday, February 9.

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