COUN. Rod Clark of the City of North Vancouver outraged three of his colleagues Monday by abruptly reversing his vote and allowing two illegal fourplexes to escape city bylaw enforcement.
In earlier debates, Clark had vehemently denounced the landlords of both buildings.
At issue are 330 East 14th St., owned by the Pucci family, and 263 West Sixth St., owned by Arnold Wallner. Both buildings are duplexes, each with a pair of illegal secondary suites. Both have been on the city's radar for as long as two decades, but in each case, the landlords have managed to obstruct, postpone and otherwise frustrate attempts by the city to have the suites removed, although the city has collected utility charges for all of the units involved.
In 2009, the Puccis attempted to have their building rezoned as a fourplex, legalizing the suites and allowing them to renovate. At the time Clark described the application as "a dog and pony show."
"Mr. Pucci has been living there for just two months, running this illegal fourplex all these years and now he's trying to sneak in here as the court of last resort. I just can't bring myself to do it," he said, joining a 4-3 majority to deny the rezoning. Pucci later went to court and won the right to a new public hearing, which was held Oct. 24 of this year.
Three weeks ago, city staff asked permission to get a court order to remove the suites in Wallner's building. The same four-vote bloc approved the legal action, and Clark described Wallner as "a lousy landlord," and the property as "an investment for him and nothing else."
On Monday, both files came back before council and Clark said: "In black and white, I am changing my vote."
"The city has not exactly been even-handed with respect to its enforcement and quite honestly I think we have to rise above the history of this property. I do not like the situation we're in. I do not like the fact that Mr. Wallner has thumbed his nose at this council and continues to do so. However, I'm willing to rise above this on a point principle . . . we have to consider, by way of an affordable housing policy, legalization of suites in duplexes. I think it would be abhorrent if we were to toss two law-abiding citizens, the tenants in this duplex, on to the street."
Clark said he hoped for a full policy discussion of suites in duplexes following the Nov. 19 election, and added that he wasn't confident the city would have gotten the court order anyway. He joined Mayor Darrell Mussatto and Couns. Mary Trentadue and Craig Keating to cancel the legal action against Wallner. Later in the meeting, he helped the same group advance Pucci's rezoning application.
Across the room, Clark's former allies were aghast.
"We are giving in to schoolyard bully tactics one more time and undermining our own bylaw enforcement process outside of a policy discussion," said Coun. Guy Heywood, who said the city was giving both landlords a financial windfall without any benefit to taxpayers.
"This shows a serious disrespect," Coun. Pam Bookham said, "to those people who came out to those policy reviews, who participated on a task force to develop secondary suite policy and arrived at the conclusion that they did not see it to the city's benefit to have suites in duplexes. There's something radically wrong when we have policies we can't or won't enforce. There's something wrong when property owners can simply do what they want with the property without regard to policy or zoning or anything. . . . When we bend over and allow this to go forward, and sanction it with a vote tonight, we are failing our community."
Coun. Bob Fearnley said city council was "being played like a violin" and "making a joke of its bylaws" in the process. "Too many times on this council we've seen a certain person flip-flopping," he said.
All three councillors argued that any change to the city's illegal suite policy - enforcement triggered only by neighbours' complaints - should have been raised in a policy committee meeting.
Mussatto and Keating kept quiet during both exchanges, but Trentadue, who is not seeking re-election, praised Clark for his change of heart.
"The city has been collecting utilities and taxes for four units in (Wallner's) building. There are four families that have lived in this building and while we may not be pleased with Mr. Wallner and how he has conducted himself, there are people in this building who should not be evicted because the city has not done its business properly. That's the crux of this matter."
Trentadue offered a public apology for not raising the policy question herself.
In his defence, Clark said the city's position was not worth defending.
"Rant and rave all you want about policy and suites and enforcement," he said, "Our policy is very weak. Don't-ask-don'ttell is going down all over the place as a policy. . . . It's not a policy at all, it's turning a blind eye."
Following Monday's votes, no legal action is pending against Wallner. Pucci's rezoning application still faces additional votes.