4 min

Stop work!

Gays win round one; brace for round two

GET READY TO PACK A PUBLIC MEETING. Gay city councillor Tim Stevenson took seriously the gay community's concerns about redevelopment of the Parkhill Hotel and city staff slapped a "stop work" order on the building. Owners will now have to go through a public process if they want to transform the hotel into residential units, and the gay community will have a chance to be heard. Credit: Robin Perelle

It was all over less than 48 hours after it began. Construction at the Parkhill Hotel screeched to a stop May 14, after city inspectors slapped an immediate “stop work” order on the property. Their report, leaked to Xtra West, suggests the property’s owner was doing more than simply renovating the hotel’s suites as claimed.

The order came just hours after councillor Tim Stevenson demanded answers from city staff about the hotel’s rumoured re-development into a residential tower.

The inspectors stopped the process “dead in its tracks,” Stevenson says with a smile. “It has come to a screeching halt until we find out what they’re doing and what their intentions are.” The developer will now have to go back to square one and submit a new development application, he says.

The hotel’s owner, Northland Properties, had permission to renovate the building-provided it remained a hotel. But several indicators suggest Northland has more than a hotel in mind.

Though the company’s executives have yet to confirm their intentions to Xtra West, word in the real estate community is they’re planning to turn the hotel into an apartment building smack in the middle of Davie St.

And that would be a disaster for the Village, says the president of the Davie Village Business Improvement Association (BIA).

A residential tower would “absolutely conflict” with the BIA’s plan to turn the Village into a vibrant, 24-hour, gay entertainment centre, Randy Atkinson recently told Xtra West.

Entertainment centres can be noisy, Atkinson explains, and residents tend to object to noise. That’s why it’s a bad idea to put an apartment building right in the middle of a 24-hour entertainment strip.

Stevenson agrees.

He, too, has been concerned about the Parkhill, ever since rumours of its possible conversion began surfacing several weeks ago. He, too, thinks an apartment building has no place in the middle of a vibrant entertainment strip.

“If it goes residential, we’ll lose the whole nature of our Village,” he warns. “Lots of people don’t understand. This is our one Village. It’s like Chinatown. If we lose this, we’ve lost it.”

That’s why Stevenson refused to take no for an answer.

For weeks, he’s been trying to find out exactly what has been going on at the hotel. Twice he asked staff in the city’s zoning department if they knew what was happening. Twice they replied that it was only renovations. Anything more, they said, such as changing the hotel into apartments, would require a permit to change the building’s usage-and no one had applied for such a permit for the Parkhill.

Stevenson wasn’t reassured.

Then an unnamed source slipped him a copy of the realtor’s prospectus describing the Parkhill to potential tenants-and confirming his suspicions.

The prospectus clearly refers to the Parkhill as a residential tower.

And that’s not all. The prospectus doesn’t mention the gay community at all. Its photos and descriptions highlight the chain businesses in the area, such as Starbucks and Rogers Video, but make no mention whatsoever of any gay businesses in the Davie Village. They don’t even call it the Village.

Stevenson immediately brought the prospectus to council and demanded answers. Staff responded promptly and sent two inspectors to the Parkhill. The result: the immediate “stop work” order-and a promise from Stevenson to keep a close eye on the project and make sure it follows proper procedures from now on.

If Northland wants to turn the Parkhill Hotel into a residential tower, it’s going to have to get permission from the city just like everybody else, Stevenson says.

Atkinson is pleased that Stevenson-and staff-acted so quickly and decisively.

“Having that kind of an advocate at city hall, who immediately understood the implications for the community, is remarkable,” he says. “But then to have that person also have the power to intervene is what this community has needed for a long time.”

But the battle is not over, Atkinson quickly cautions. This was just round one; staff meetings and public hearings are sure to follow.

Still, if round one was about getting the city’s attention, then “we have definitely won,” he adds. “We now have the attention of city council and staff. And, my guess is, we now have the full attention of whoever owns that building.”

Atkinson says he’s hoping to soon sit down and talk to Northland Properties. He’d like to try to find a solution that benefits the gay community and the company, if he can.

But if the owners are adamant about converting to apartments, Atkinson says he won’t hesitate to oppose them.

“I’m not afraid of going to battle for the community,” he says. “We will use every legal means in our power to influence the decision-makers at city hall to stop the change to a residential unit.”

And one of those means will be packing the public hearings, he says. If the owners apply for a change of usage permit, city planners will not only have to notify the community, but will likely have to hold public hearings as well. And that will offer the community an opportunity to voice its concerns.

“I think what we need is people to stand up and very clearly say, ‘listen to us, listen to our needs.'”

Packing public hearings can be very successful, Atkinson notes, pointing to the Fountainhead Rebellion of 1999. That was the year approximately 200 members of the gay community packed a public hearing on the then-proposed pub’s liquor licence-and won. The gay community not only won permission to open a pub in its own Village, it paved the way for two more pubs (the PumpJack and the Oasis) and got city hall to acknowledge its existence and take its needs more seriously.

The community can do it again, Atkinson says-provided it packs whatever public hearings are called for the Parkhill.

Stevenson says Northland Properties is supposed to meet with city staff soon to discuss its plans for the hotel.

Despite repeated calls from Xtra West, Northland Properties could not be reached for comment.