Temporary turf takes over empty lot on Hastings

PHS turns pricey Concord Pacific lot into greenery for homeless soccer team

The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) will be compelled to get a city permit to build and use a scaled-down, turf soccer pitch on a former gravel parking lot at 58 West Hastings.

The 32,000-square-foot lot across the street from Save-On-Meats in the Downtown Eastside will be the new designated home for the Vancouver Street Soccer League. PHS, a non-profit housing society, manages and helps finance the men and women's soccer league, which for the past two years has qualified players for the Homeless World Cup.

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The large property, located in the centre of the block between Carrall and Abbott streets, was most recently assessed at $8.7 million and is owned by Concord Pacific.

The site was prepped for a garden in the summer and by October truck loads of sand were being levelled and drainage was installed on a third of the property in preparation for the soccer pitch, which is roughly the size of a tennis court and will eventually be lined by meter-high boards and outfitted with two goals. PHS, which is putting about $60,000 into the project, hired a landscaper that installed the bright green turf last week.

Without city permits, however, the pitch might not see any action.

Vicki Potter, the city's director of development services, the department ultimately responsible for determining what work requires what permits, said 58 West Hastings likely requires multiple permits. If the paperwork is not filed and paid for, she said, "Ultimately we would have the ability to go down there and tell them to stop what they're doing."

She said the city requires a permit to change the use of the property from commercial or residential to recreational and then likely another permit to use the land recreationally.

"Based on what we've heard that they want to do, because we've been asked for advice whether this activity or that activity requires permits, the last that we heard, it would require a permit," said Potter. "We would call that a park or playground activity that would require permits because it potentially brings in traffic or noise to surrounding neighbourhoods."

Potter said the cost of permits, including any for structures such as fencing, would depend on the land and the value of those structures.

"We would have expected before they started that they would have applied for permits," Potter said.

Mark Townsend, the co-founder and director of the Portland Hotel Society, told the Courier Wednesday he was informed by email that permits weren't needed. After meetings with the city, he said a manager with the department of planning wrote him to say permits were not required. Potter believes Townsend was misinformed.

At 58 West Hastings on Wednesday afternoon, Randy Comiso and Rik Mountain were ripping rotten wood from a retaining wall. Hired by Portland in the fall to work on the garden and the pitch, both men travelled to Brazil in 2010 with the Canadian team to the Homeless World Cup. They expect the bright green turf will serve as a beacon in the neighbourhood and recruit new players to the league.

"I'm proud to have it," said Mountain. "There's a lot invested in this. It's a place to call home."

Townsend said the best use of the large property is low-income and social housing.

"Ultimately, it's temporary," he said, of the garden and soccer pitch, noting the land doesn't serve the community as an empty, fenced-in lot. He said Concord Pacific supports the current project.

"It's space that people don't have because people are squeezed out and pushed to the margins."

Full disclosure: I volunteer with the Vancouver Street Soccer League.

mstewart@vancourier.com

Twitter: @MHStewart

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