Richmond councillors develop townhouses, set housing policies

Coun. Derek Dang says there's no conflict of interest but government critic is skeptical

The finishing touches have been put on the near million-dollar townhouses developed in partnership by two municipal politicians.

Councillors Ken Johnston and Derek Dang were part of a joint venture to build a 15-unit townhouse development on Blundell Road, named Shangri-La and billed by real estate companies as “luxury” living.

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The development’s completion comes just as Richmond city council is to begin reviewing its policies on arterial road housing in an unprecedented affordable housing crisis.

Dermod Travis, of Integrity BC, a non-profit government watchdog group, said it is at least “questionable” whether Dang and Johnston should be participating in that review.

According to the Community Charter, which guides bylaw-making and procedures, “if a council member attending a meeting considers that he or she is not entitled to participate in the discussion of a matter, or to vote on a question in respect of a matter, because the member has (a) a direct or indirect pecuniary [financial] interest in the matter . . . the member must declare this...”

Dang and Johnston excused themselves in council and committee meetings back in 2014, when the two single-family home properties, located near Railway Avenue, were being rezoned. 

As for setting overall bylaw policies, Travis said the charter is vague and while it is possible for Dang and Johnston to remain neutral on housing policies, the opposite is also possible and, furthermore, their long-term relationships on council could affect other council members’ decisions.

“They must be aware that using the knowledge they gain on council as a means for personal benefit, even if not against the law, doesn’t smell right,” he said.

Dang, who works in real estate and development, said he is not in a conflict of interest and has discussed the matter with Mayor Malcolm Brodie (council’s chair) while keeping the community’s best interests in mind.

“This was a one-off,” he said, noting the development happened under the old, existing arterial road policy, which calls for single-family home properties on such roads to be developed into townhouses in many parts.

The charter states there are exceptions from conflict resolutions, such as “the pecuniary interest is so remote or insignificant that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence the member in relation to the matter.”

According to Dang, he and 10 other investors, including Johnston, created Blundell Ventures Ltd. to build the townhouses, which sold out quickly and are nearing completion.

Sale prices ranged from about $600,000, plus tax, for the nine, two-storey units, to as high as about $900,000, plus tax, for the six, three-storey units.

Dang said he wouldn’t provide specifics of the business arrangement, only to say that the group profited from the development.

Dang and Johnston appear to be the only municipal politicians in Metro Vancouver actively and directly personally profiting from residential housing development.

Richmond city staff is now reviewing whether to allow for more densification along such arterial roads — with more “dense” housing options, such as rowhouses and quadplexes.

Dang said he would continue to provide input on the arterial road policy review, noting he has no immediate plans to develop more townhouses. He added Richmond needs to expand its housing options to provide for more affordability, noting his townhouses sold for what the market bears.

Johnston, who runs a Richmond-based delivery service company, did not return inquiries made by the News.

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