FINGERS are pointing and accusations are flying in the wake of the apparent death of developer Onni Group's Safeway site project, but it may be too soon to conduct an autopsy.
Despite an announcement by the company's president last week that the application would be withdrawn, it remains with city staff and could be revived, according to Beau Jarvis, Onni's vice-president of development.
The developer is also weighing its legal options after information came to light last week that it says shows opponents of the project on council may have been in a conflict of interest during recent discussions - including the meeting at which City of North Vancouver councillors voted 4-3 to hold a second public hearing for the project.
Onni management was informed last week that Coun. Rod Clark has been working for a subcontractor of Onni as a flagman at another site in Richmond since May.
"We have the most vocally opposed council member and the council member who has been making all these accusations of manipulation, hijacking, and bullying - all the while, he's working on our job site," said Jarvis.
Onni is seeking a legal opinion on whether it amounts to a conflict of interest on Clark's part. As of Tuesday, the company had only received preliminary opinion from lawyers that Clark's position was "riding the line."
"If it is in fact just riding the line, don't you think it would be in the interest of the public and the interest of the applicant for him to err on the side of caution and disclose the fact that he's working on an Onni job site?" Jarvis asked.
It is ironic given that Clark is usually the first to ask Coun. Linda Buchanan and Mayor Darrell Mussatto to recuse themselves from discussions of the Safeway project due to having accepted $5,000 in campaign donations from Onni's parent company during the 2011 campaign, Jarvis noted.
But Clark flatly denies he is in any conflict of interest, and says he stands by every statement he has made about Onni and the process.
"They can make whatever accusation they want," he said. "I spoke with a lawyer before I took this job, and she assured me that because I was working for a subcontractor and not working directly for Onni, I was not in a conflict."
As for declaring that he was employed by a subcontractor of Onni, Clark said that was a matter of his own discretion.
"That was my choice and I made the choice not to, because I was assured by a lawyer that I was not in conflict," he said.
Clark's grievances with the project and the process are based entirely on the merits of the proposal and the concerns raised by the public, he said.
The company plans to make a legal filing and determine the rest of the project's future accordingly, said Jarvis.
Clark said he has no plans to relent in the face of Onni's criticisms.
"I have dealt with a few schoolyard bullies in my day and the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to them," he said.
Beyond the alleged conflict, Jarvis said the developers have been unfairly maligned, and faced double standards and public hostility and a misinformation campaign, while putting on the most robust public process in the company's history.
While Onni staff admittedly signed up a host of supporters to speak at the public hearing, so did the opposition, Jarvis said. He added that many of the speakers who left the lengthy meeting before their turn to speak were proponents of the project who had been signed up by Onni.
Opponents have also grossly exaggerated the value of the extra density negotiated with the city in exchange for the amenities offered, he claimed.
"All of these numbers are on the mark, and there's backup and all anybody has to do is ask for it. There's no magic to this," Jarvis said.
Jarvis denied that the decision to potentially axe the project was due to either a slump in condo sales projections or lack of capital to get the project completed. Instead, he said, he didn't believe the project would get a majority vote on council due to a letter-writing campaign by residents opposed to the project.
Council has not cancelled the second public hearing on the project it set for January, though it is not yet clear whether the meeting will go ahead.
Whatever the case, Clark said, everyone will benefit from a time-out over the holidays and a fresh approach to the issue in 2013.
"Let's come back at this in the new year and get the job done right," he said.