A vacant Eagle Mountain lot bought a decade ago by Henry Braun and his son has raised the suspicions of election opponents of the incumbent mayor. But Braun says the questions being asked are easily answered.
On Sunday, a website operated by council candidate Vince Dimanno published a story that included series of documents related to a three-quarter-acre property on Eagle Mountain and topped by a headline declaring, “Mayor & Son implicated in collusion on land deal.” The piece itself does not allege any specific wrongdoing, but lists a number of questions it says are raised by the deal.
In an interview with The News on Monday, Dimanno, who said he didn’t write the piece but did take responsibility for it, said Braun must answer questions related to the property, but fell short of alleging misbehaviour. Henry Braun’s son Darren is Abbotsford’s director of development planning and has worked for the city since 2010, the year before his father ran for office.
Ownership of the property was transferred from Darren to Henry Braun earlier this year, around the same time that a prospective buyer had filed an application to reduce a riparian setback on the site. That made Dimanno suspicious. He said the piece was published on the until-recently dormant Abbotsford Today site because it is a legitimate news story. The documents came from a “confidential source,” and Dimanno said the story’s proximity to the upcoming election is merely because that is when the documents were revealed.
“For no reason that I can surmise … Why do you transfer ownership in early 2018, within 30 days of another environmental assessment being done and within 60 days of a developmental application being put forward?” he asked.
The piece suggests that by transferring ownership Darren would be able to involve himself in the file at city hall. It also asks why an advertisement for the property last year suggested prospective buyers could contact the city about subdivision possibilities.
“There may very well be a good explanation, but in terms of perception to the public, it does not look like there is a good answer,” Dimanno said.
Henry Braun said there is a good explanation, and both he and city manager Peter Sparanese say Darren Braun remains uninvolved in the file.
Braun said that even though his son’s name was on the title, the property was purchased with his – Henry Braun’s – money in 2007. Now, Braun said hopes to recoup his investment. He said the decision to transfer ownership was made without much thought and won’t impact the application before the city.
“[Darren] stays away from this file and I stay away from it,” Braun said. “If people think there’s something nefarious going on, that’s hard to convince people there isn’t.”
He said the advertisement was created by the realtor and posted without him seeing. Braun said when he saw the mention of subdivision opportunities, he immediately contacted his realtor and got him to remove the reference.
As for Braun’s opponents in the Abbotsford mayoral race, Coun. Moe Gill alluded to Darren Braun’s position in a recent press release, while Eric Nyvall said on Facebook the questions should be answered. But Gerda Peachey said the documents don’t back up the explosive headline of the piece, and linked it to Gill’s previous attempt to cast doubt on Braun’s integrity, a tactic she called “character assassination.”
Questions were also raised about Darren’s involvement in an application to build a transit facility on Gladys Avenue, adjacent to a piece of residential property owned by Henry Braun and his brother. Braun recused himself from the matter, given the proximity of his own property, but his son did briefly speak in his city role during a council discussion of the matter in July.
Sparanese said Darren didn’t have any involvement with the transit property so he could present on the matter.
Dimanno suggested the transit depot increased the likelihood Braun’s property could be used for industrial purposes. But Henry Braun said it will actually negatively impact the value of a site, given its rural residential designation in the official community plan. He noted that the 2016 Official Community Plan process reduced the subdivision potential for the land, decreasing its value. “I never said ‘beep.’ I let the process play out.”