Court order allows vote on campaign donor’s project

Project applicant donated to campaigns of five council members

Abbotsford city hall.

Abbotsford city hall.

A BC Supreme Court order will allow five members of city council to vote on a proposed development, despite the project having been put forward by a donor to their campaigns in the November election.

A proposal for a 435-unit multi-family development at the intersection of Maclure Road and Livingstone Avenue in west Abbotsford, next to Gardner Park, came to council for first and second reading on Monday.

The applicant is Red Valley Enterprises Ltd. The only director is Paul Esposito, a local business owner whose Esposito Group owns Finnegan’s Pub and Grill, Phoenix Lounge and the Mt. Lehman Liquor Store.

Esposito is the sole director of a corporation which donated $300 to the campaigns of Couns. Dave Loewen, Patricia Ross, Moe Gill and Les Barkman, as well as $1,000 to the campaign of Mayor Henry Braun.

City manager George Murray explained that this falls under common law bias, which arises out of an act or activity where a council member could be seen to have been put into a conflict of interest. A campaign donation can create a perceived bias for an application that is “in-stream” – whereby it has been dealt with by city staff, but has not been considered by council before an election.

If the five council members recused themselves from the vote on the project, which was in-stream during the November civic election, there would not be the required quorum.

The city sought a Supreme Court order, which indicates that councillors can vote despite the sections of the Community Charter on conflict of interest, to meet the necessity of a quorum.

Each of the council members read a statement indicating that as they received a donation from Esposito’s corporation, they would have declared a common law conflict in relation to the project. However, the court order makes them eligible to discuss and vote on the official community plan and zoning amendments needed for the project.

The proposed project would include two-storey buildings on the east part of the property, rising up to six storeys on the west side nearer to Highway 1, with 400 apartments units and 35 townhouses. Council approved the readings and the project will now go to public hearing.