At about 3 pm on Wednesday Feb. 10, 2011, residents noticed suspicious activity at 1401 Comox St, the former St. John’s United Church, now owned by property developer Westbank Projects Corp. (CEO Ian Gillespie) and financier Peterson Investment Group (CEO Ben Yeung).
The church is threatened with imminent demolition despite pleas from the community, and a prior assurance from Westbank and Peterson, to maintain the structure until a rezoning decision is made.
Many people were seen entering and leaving the building behind a newly erected privacy screen that was placed in front of the entrance to keep activities within, hidden from public view. Fire extinguishers are seen by the entrance in this photo.
Witnesses say what sounded like Tibetan horns and ceremonial chants could be heard from inside the former Christian church, but were startled to see the appearance of an open fire through windows, and smoke billowing out.
Westbank employees were identified at the scene as was Gregory Henriquez in this photo. Henriquez is the architect behind a controversial proposal to rezone the property for a 400% increase in density, in spite of calls by the community for no further rezonings until a comprehensive plan is in place for the West End.
The Vancouver Fire Department were called out, whom after speaking with witnesses, indicated a ceremony was taking place within that involved lighting a fire. A local fire department made clear that there are no circumstances that would permit an open fire within a building unless it was contained in a fireplace.
In this youtube video, people are seen exiting the church afterward, dressed in saffron coloured robes, along with several firefighters, and a plain clothed woman carrying out four fire extinguishers:
An investigation is in order to determine any criminal wrongdoing or fire bylaw infractions. The public are looking for evidence that laws and regulations are being applied properly and fairly.
Ian Gillespie of Westbank says in this West Ender article:
“It’s a wood-framed building, and the building next to it is quite close,” Gillespie told WE. “The fire engineers have told us we’ve got to do one of two things: put a fire watch on [the building] 24/7, or put a new sprinkler system in, and that doesn’t make sense to me.”
How is it then that activities which constitute a fire hazard and bring out the fire department are being allowed by the building’s owner, who insists the building must be demolished due to risk of a fire hazard?
No doubt the insurance company would want to know the same. Tonight is the first night since January 26, the date of the West Ender article Gillespie is quoted in above, where a security guard has been placed on the site.
For more information, see WEN Release_Developer Westbank lights fire 1401 Comox church 10-Feb-2011.