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City's role questioned in proposed student housing project

City sold land to private developer at more than 25% below market value

A proposed student housing complex at the corner of Ospika and Tyner Boulevards has one area homeowner questioning the city's role in the project.

The Hub Collection Ltd. is seeking to build a 256-unit, four-story student housing complex on a 5.6 acre lot located between Tyner, Ospika and Sullivan Crescent. City council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Monday night to debate an amendment to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and rezoning needed to allow the project to go ahead.

Leah Lampert co-owns a home in the area with her son, and first found out about the proposed development when she read about it in The Citizen on March 5. She said she wants to know why city staff pushed the developer to build the project on a site which doesn't fit with the city's own OCP and zoning.

"This is very outside what the OCP says. That's a massive building in, and around, what is predominantly a single-family neighbourhood," Lampert said. "The developer has said they had not considered this site. They were looking downtown. City staff kind of talked them out of that, and into this one."

In a stakeholder presentation from April, included as part of the report going before city council on Monday, the developer said the company looked at a variety of sites for the project.

"Initially we identified a potential site closer to the Downtown, and 'the Bowl.' After consultation with The City of Prince George, 4500 Ospika Boulevard S was presented as a viable opportunity for our project," the presentation says. "The City is keen for the site to be redeveloped, but very restrictive topographical characteristics make the site unfeasible to be redeveloped properly with the current RM1 zoning. However, the main reason we selected the site is that the size of the location allows us to have a large green belt around our residence and it was already zoned multi-family. We have the room to construct a beautiful building that will not intrude upon the sight lines of the neighbourhood."

When Lampert filed a freedom of information request to the city for documents to support her submission to city council against the proposed development, she found out the city sold the land to The Hub Collection at more than 25 per cent below the assessed value – with a covenant requiring the developer to build the proposed student housing project in two years.

A copy of the purchase agreement provided to The Citizen shows that on July 29, 2020, The Hub Collection Ltd. purchased the lot, located at 4500 Ospika Blvd., from the City of Prince George for $500,000. BC Assessment valued the land at $682,000 in its 2020 assessment. That value grew to $758,000 in the 2021 assessment, based on prices as of July 1, 2020.

A covenant agreement attached to the purchase agreement says, "The Covenantor will commence construction of the proposed student housing project upon the Property and will have completed framing on or before 24 months following the completion of the purchase of the lands."

In addition, the covenant says that The Hub Collection may not apply for any building permit that is not "in the City's opinion, substantially in the form as indicated in the Plans and Specifications."

If The Hub Collection fails to meet the timelines set out in the covenant, the city has the option to buy back the land, including any improvements made, for $485,000. If city council votes against amending the Official Community Plan and approving the rezoning on Monday, the developer will be unable to meet the terms set out in the covenant.

The documents show that the city was engineering a project on the property directly in conflict with its own OCP, Lampert said.

"When city staff are urging development contrary to what the OCP says, that is an abuse of process," Lampert said. "Why are city staff doing that? Is the OCP a meaningless document? The onus should be on the city and developer to say why it should be changed."

During the city's public consultation about the proposed OCP amendment, running from March 12 to April 9, the city received 26 letters and one 21-name petition opposing the proposed project.

Many of the letters cited concerns about density, increased traffic, the stability of the slope, water drainage and the preservation of greenspace and animal habitat.

The city also received nine letters in support of the project. The applicant also submitted a petition with over 40 signatures in favour of the project, however only 31 of the signatories were from Prince George.

Lampert said she and some neighbours she's spoken to are concerned that the proposed student housing project is only the beginning of new development in the area.

"We built these neighbourhoods based on what we thought was quiet, single-family neighbourhoods," she said. "They wonder why people are pissed off at the city. This is why. Anybody who lives near undeveloped city land should sell now, because they don't know what is coming."