Ming Sun Benevolent Society’s response to City of Vancouver Information Bulletin dated, December 6, 2013
Prepared on December 12, 2013
(NOTE: reference to “Exhibits” may be made available to qualified requests)
City of Vancouver: “ Over the past five months, the City of Vancouver has taken repeated steps to ensure the safety of the Ming Sun Building at 437-441 Powell Street. Unfortunately, the owners have refused to provide a plan to make the urgent repairs required. The Ming Sun Benevolent Society themselves informed the City on November 14 that the building is beyond repair and should be demolished.”
As disclosed at our Media Conference on Dec 6, 2013, it has been the City of Vancouver who has not responded in a timely manner. The MSBS has always met with city reps in good faith, and met on a timely basis.
On July 30, 2013, MSBS representatives and family members met with the City to express concern regarding the City’s role in the demolition of the neighbouring building (451 Powell St) and the damage to MSBS building that resulted from said demolition. The MSBS was informed by the City that it would assist in repairing the damages. The MSBS were to receive a letter from the City documenting this agreement (Exhibit A). After numerous delays and requests to the City for this letter, the City eventually responded with legal references to justify their actions that had led to the overnight demolition of 451 Powell Street, and denied the MSBS compensation. The City informed the MSBS that the delays in receiving a response from them was the result of city staffing issues. The then contact person, Mr. Will Johnson resigned from his post as Chief Building Official (Exhibit B).
The MSBS was further informed that communications were delayed due to the fact that key city staff were away on summer holidays. (Exhibit C)
City of Vancouver: “ City has received reports from two professional engineers, one hired by the Ming Sun building owner and one by the adjacent building owner.”
There were three, not two reports produced. The MSBS hired an engineering firm recommended by the city. The firm stated in two separate reports, that 439 Powell Street showed no obvious signs of distress, and that the walls, windows and doors showed no signs of settling; the brick veneer appeared loose, and recommendation was made to remove the brick veneer off the timber frame building, and to replace some exterior wood sheathing. (Engineering reports will be made available to qualified persons).
In contrast, the MSBS requested from the City, on nine separate occasions, the independent consultant report that resulted in the City’s overnight demolition of 451 Powell Street in the name of public safety. To the MSBS’s knowledge the demolition order was based on one complaint from then pending purchaser of the property. (Exhibit D)
City of Vancouver: “ After discussions with the building owners, they have not been able to develop a plan to undertake the repairs or to address the public safety risk. They have not applied for any permits to prepare the building for reoccupation.”
The MSBS had engaged a contractor to repair the damaged exterior east wall. After meeting city staff, the City advised our contractor to prepare permit drawings with professional documentation, and that a permit could take upwards of 3 to 5 weeks to be issued.
The MSBS solicited quotes from building professionals and contractors. A concern for the MSBS was that time was not on their side. The now vacant property of 451 Powell Street was to transfer ownership to the individual who earlier alerted the city of the “failed wall”. The MSBS negotiated with pending new owner to allow scaffolding and construction activity on his property. An agreement could not be reached. MSBS shared their quandary with elected city officials, asking the City to speak to the new pending landowner to allow work crew access. Elected officials indicated that discussions had been undertaken with city staff to help them resolve this problem. The MSBS was informed to wait until other elected colleagues were back in town. MSBS was eventually informed that the city’s legal department had instructed elected officials not to communicate with MSBS due to possible litigation. (Exhibit E)
City of Vancouver: “ Additionally, it should be noted that the demolition of the neighbouring building was supervised by a professional engineer hired by the demolition contractor and by the City’s senior building inspector. There is no evidence that this demolition in any way impacted the structural integrity of the neighbouring building.
MSBS still awaits independent confirmation of this. Interesting to note, that this city query, “There is no evidence that this demolition in any way impacted the structural integrity of the neighbouring building”. This implies the MSBS building was still structurally sound.
The MSBS had presented a collection of photographs of the “failed wall” – photos taken a week before the building had been demolished. The MSBS presented photos to other structural professionals for their information. An observation was that the wall failure appeared “unnatural” and warrants further investigation. The MSBS shared this observation with photos to the City with a request for follow up and investigation. The City declined. (Exhibit F)
City of Vancouver: “ The first engineering report was received in August. On September 9, 2013, a City safety inspection revealed that the brinks (SIC) on the front façade posed an immediate safety risk. City officials placed fencing around the building and closed the sidewalk.”
The MSBS appreciated the City’s help in expediting a demolition permit, which the society used to employ a demolition company who successfully removed the front facade bricks in order to decrease the City’s concern of a safety risk.
City of Vancouver: “ On November 5, 2013, a second engineering report revealed that the bricks on the west facing façade were also in danger of collapse without warning.
The MSBS’s primary concern was that the author of the report had no access to the MSBS site to make an informed assessment of the overall and complete structural integrity of MSBS building. In addition, the MSBS questioned the impartiality of this report as it was commissioned by the now owner of 451 Powell Street who was actively seeking to purchase the MSBS building. (Exhibit G)
City of Vancouver: “ On November 14, 2013, the Ming Sun Benevolent Society acknowledged that the building at 437-441 Powell Street had been structurally compromised beyond repair and would have to be demolished.
A number of options were explored with the City, including: restoring the building (MSBS’s first choice), demolishing the building, selling the property, or partnering up with the city and/or some other organization. The City declined a partnership arrangement in a redevelopment option.
The MSBS was contacted by phone on November 13, 2013 (Exhibit H). During that phone conversation, the MSBS revealed its financial strength was no longer strong. The option of demolition was discussed. City informed that the cost of a demolition permit could be waived if the City issued an Order to Demolish. An Order to Demolish would bypass the city’s own rule of SRO removal that required Council approval, and help alleviate concerns of a prolonged delay– as delays would lead to further vandalism to the structure that in turn could result in safety hazards to the vandals themselves. The MSBS agreed, as all other options had been expended and a demolition was inevitable. The City requested that the MSBS follow up with an email with the request. The MSBS sent an email on November 14, 2013 to the City. The following day, the City issued an Order to Demolish. (Exhibit I)
The MSBS had requested a final piece of dignity by having the demolition order picked up in person from the city, and have this document presented to the elders. The City unfortunately posted the Order to Demolish on to the building before it could be picked up. City apologized for this oversight. (Exhibit I)
City of Vancouver: “ In the meantime, the residential tenants have all been rehoused; the commercial tenants have been provided supervised access to acquire their belongings.
The MSBS was informed as of late as last week, that the one of her tenants had not found permanent accommodations, and a number of the MSBS’s former tenants are seeking other more satisfactory arrangements.
City of Vancouver: “ In the case of the Instant Coffee artists, the City has provided them with a number of options in other sites to continue their work and they have finally accepted a storage container in which to safely store their equipment. The City’s Cultural Services staff continue to work with them.
The MSBS received a copy of an email to the City from Instant Coffee artists challenging the city’s statement (Exhibit J)
City of Vancouver: “ Despite months of the Society refusing to make repairs to address the safety issues, and acknowledging that the building could not be repaired and should be demolished, the City has recently learned that there is now interest in preserving the northern portion of the building.
The MSBS agrees safety issues are paramount, and had followed through in each instance where the concern of safety was highlighted. For example, brick veneer cladding for the east and south walls were removed on separate occasions as per separate City requests. In each instance, although building demolition may have been cost effective, the option to retain the building was the priority. As such, care was taken not to disturb the remaining exterior veneer. The west brick veneer wall is now being removed. Although the building proper has been continually vandalized, the MSBS has continued to secure and lock up the structure, with daily checks and visits.
The MSBS engaged the services of a heritage consultant to prepare a Statement of Significance report and documentation. A lot of valuable new material was identified. With recent public sentiment and support, new options have now presented itself. The unprecedented support from across many diverse socio-economical, cultural groups and organizations, have raised an expressed desire to re-examine the MSBS’s first option of restoring the heritage building.