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Council nixes developer request to switch student housing to seniors housing

Prince George city council has denied a proposal to change a proposed student housing unit to a seniors housing facility.

Vancouver developers The Hub Collection Ltd. had proposed the change for property at 4500 Ospika Boulevard that it purchased from the city in 2020. A condition of the sale was that the developer construct a 256-unit student housing facility on the property within 24 months of the purchase. It has now been 30 months and while land has been cleared, nothing has been constructed.

Hub Collection had requested a change to the restrictive covenant placed on the property to allow it to build a 122-unit housing facility intended for seniors. City staff recommended council approve the change.

“We sold the land for a specific purpose,” said Coun. Kyle Sampson at Monday’s council meeting. “That’s what I expect to be built there.”

The original sales agreement had a provision whereby if the purchaser didn’t meet the 24-month timeline to begin construction, the city could buy the land back for $485,000. Complicating that now is the fact that the property is now assessed at $3,547,000 and an amendment to covenant, approved by city staff in October 2021, means the city is no longer in a position to exercise its right to purchase back the land, after The Hub Collection failed to meet the two-year requirement to begin building.

The change in the covenant was a concern for Coun. Brian Skakun.

“The first time I saw that was in a (media) story,” Skakun said. “The point is we could have had information about what the actual conditions of the covenant are (before now).”

The issue has also caught the attention of Ginter’s Green Forever which urged council to reject the plan.

“When you sell public land below market value, you can only legally do that if the public gets
something in return,” said James Steidle of Ginter’s Green Forever before Monday’s city council meeting. “We need to have a boiler-plate  guarantee that the public will get non-market housing in this new deal equivalent to the hit the public  has taken in this bargain-basement sale.”

“The assessed value has climbed over $3 million dollars since the time of this sale, which
represents a 710 per cent return on investment while students are still struggling to find affordable
housing,” said Susanne Weber of Ginter’s Green Forever.

Council subsequently denied the request to change to seniors housing.

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