Onni buys Pearson-Dogwood lands

Vancouver Coastal Health announced last week it’s sold most of the 25.4-acre Pearson Dogwood lands, located at West 59th Avenue between Heather and Cambie streets, to Onni Group.

The sale comes a year after city council approved a policy statement to guide the site’s redevelopment. A rezoning application is expected to be filed in January 2016.

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Jeff Lee of the Vancouver Sun wrote the rumoured sale price was close to $300 million. Gavin Wilson, director of public affairs for Vancouver Coastal Health, told the Courier Wednesday he couldn’t discuss financial details until closer to April when the deal is finalized.

VCH is keeping a 3.2-acre portion of the property for health care and community uses, while Onni’s two parcels total just over 22 acres — an almost six-acre portion that runs parallel to Cambie Street where the Dogwood Lodge Residential Care Home is situated, and about 16 acres on the western part of the site where George Pearson Centre is located. The Onni land will be redeveloped into a mixed residential community with commercial, retail, park and community garden space.

In 2013, Brad Foster, the real estate consultant for VCH who was working on the Pearson-Dogwood project, told the Courier there were no plans to sell the land.

Foster said: “Ideally we don’t want to sell because it is a public asset. The model that we’re looking at is similar to what UBC has done where they’re able to lease the land to developers for 99-year leases. By doing that, you generate cash flow and capital from the land but the health authority, and the province in effect, is able to retain the land asset long term so you don’t lose that public value.”

Wilson said at that time that was the model being considered, but ultimately the decision was made to sell most of the property outright, which he said offers the best value to the taxpayer.

“Part of the reason for that is it does transfer the development risk over to the private developer rather than being maintained by us. Because if we had stayed on as a master developer of the land, then there is some risk attached to that,” Wilson said. “So with this model, we sell the land outright and in return we get a substantial financial asset. As well, we’ve retained some of the property on the site and we’ll be able to rebuild obsolete health care facilities and actually add new health care facilities.”

A 150-bed residential care home will be built to replace Dogwood Lodge. Construction is expected to start mid-2017 on that project. The following year, VCH anticipates construction on a community health centre will begin.

The George Pearson Centre is being replaced by 114 housing units for people with disabilities, which will be distributed across the Pearson Dogwood property with other market and affordable housing. It’s unclear when work on that will start.

“The Pearson replacement is a little more complicated because we heard loud and clear from stakeholders in the disabilities community that they don’t want that kind of outmoded, institutional setting,” Wilson explained. “What we’re going to be looking at is different housing options mixed in with the market housing, so the details of that have yet to be worked out.”

noconnor@vancourier.com

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