Sunday, February 27, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Silvano Cicuto convicted in NYC - former builder and contractor was focus of fierce opposition to construction of "Monster Houses" in Burnaby
I enjoy reading Kim Bolan's reporting in the Vancouver SUN largely because she has been 'at it' long enough to add a veteran's perspective to crime and court stories, and issues which seem to bemuse younger reporters. Meaning what? Meaning that Bolan can remember a time when illicit drugs were not a hefty component of B.C.s economy, and a career option for many.
Her February 12th story details a case which other local media have not covered - a case which has been hidden from us. It involves B.C. men arrested in a sting in 2010, conducted by American police without the assistance of the RCMP. The DEA raids in Newark, New Jersey and Manhattan smashed a cross-border drug ring trafficking in Ecstasy and another synthetic drug called BZP. The name which caught my attention was that of a well known Burnaby contractor. The other man, a recently suspended Vancouver mortgage broker, was totally unfamiliar to me. Silvano Cicuto is identified by Bolan as residing in the city of New Westminster, but many will remember him as a Burnaby resident, often covered in Burnaby newspapers. Cicuto pled guilty last September to serious charges. The Americans had recorded his aggressive telephone conversations and waited for the Canadians to arrive in New York. His alleged accomplice, Luciano Mannu, is said to be from Vancouver and goes on trial tomorrow (Feb. 22). Two other men, drug couriers used by Cicuto, have also been tried.
Kim Bolan's original story, "Tale of failing fortunes," is online [HERE]. Her followup piece, "Cicuto's smuggling sentencing delayed," is archived [HERE].
Mr. Cicuto pled guilty to all charges in a Manhattan courtroom, thus avoiding a public trial. He is represented by Manhattan Attorney Stephanie M. Carvlin who, says Bolan, "lays out Cicuto's life story...like an historical novel". His best excuse for organizing a high risk, cross-border drug smuggling ring, is that he was unable to recover from the loss of a million dollars that was owed to him when an Internet company - 360 NETWORKS, went bust. That alleged capital loss was said to have destroyed his contracting business, but his lawyer did not explain how.
Cicuto and Sons Contracting Ltd., once a booming business in Burnaby, is said to have employed up to 150 people. They still have a yard in South Burnaby. Cicuto is said to have been a great boss, a man who kept a "cantina" in the basement of his business, a man who treated employees like family, on occasion paying for trips to Disneyland. An examination of the Cicuto and Sons bidding history at the City of Burnaby (mostly culvert and waterline projects), shows that in the 1980s and 1990s their firm regularly sought contracts, some of which were in excess of half a million dollars. Sometimes Cicuto won the bidding competition, sometimes he didn't.
Mr. and Mrs. Cicuto shown in a 1989 publicity photo which the SUN obtained from the BURNABY NOW.
The records of the City of Burnaby and the two Burnaby newspapers contain a wealth of information on the Cicuto business and family. More than can shared in a brief Blog article. The Vancouver SUN asserts that Mr. Cicuto is "a complicated criminal" and that is undoubtedly true. From what I pieced together of Mr. Cicuto's open past, (in a few hours with microfilm and old Council Minutes) I surmise that "organized" is only sort of crime he would engage in.
A property owned by Silvano Cicuto, located at 1922 Edinburgh Street, New Westminster, was heavily damaged in an arson fire in 2010. The blaze is still under investigation. The SUN caption notes "Cicuto is currently in New York on organized crime charges."
Luciano Mannu (above) is the unknown in the case, as is his stated profession - the murky world of mortgage brokering. The B.C. Registrar of Mortgage Broker's revoked the licence of Mr. Mannu in May of 2010, when it learned that he was being held in a pre-trail center in New York city, having been arrested in a Drug Enforcement Agency sting. Mr. Mannu was a one-man "corporation," masking his business with a dummy Vancouver address. The details of the suspension of his REHAB CAPITAL CORPORATION are available as a FICOM download, here .
MONSTER HOUSES IN BURNABYAlthough the term "Monster House" has fallen out of fashion, it was once a major political and cultural issue in the Vancouver region. The construction of oversized houses, which broke up the staid and leafy profile of many Vancouver streets, was often blamed on newly arrived Hong Kong Chinese. It was claimed they lacked an appreciation for the West Coast aesthetic, and were displaying the arrogant behavior of the nouveau riche. Understandably, the Chinese saw the issue in B&W terms - ie. "racism". That's what it was, and the issue took 20 years to settle out. Meanwhile a legion of urban planners, activists and politicians made careers for themselves.
In Burnaby, the most famous builder of "Monster Houses" was Silvano Cicuto. His chapter of the tale started when he went to the Municipality and negotiated a covenant which would allow him to build a super-house on Burris Street, where he owned a 65,000 sqft lot. The Burnaby NEWS (now the NEWS LEADER) reported that "the rezoning for Cicuto's became one of the most controversial municipal issues of 1990. Neighbors and other residents seized on the proposal as a symbol of the evils of monster houses. Cicuto [Italian born] accused his critics of racism." It got worse. Cicuto overbuilt by 3,000 square feet before city inspectors caught on, and the media became intensely interested.
Dan Hilborn, covered the story for the BURNABY NOW. His report for April 3, 1981 began: "The public will get a chance to vent its anger against a house built more than 3,000 sq. feet larger than allowed under Burnaby zoning regulations. Tuesday night Burnaby aldermen were expected to approve a new public hearing on the 11,984 sq ft.ft. home of contractor Sivano Cicuto at 7347 [sic] Burris. St." In the report Alderman Corrigan is quoted as saying that Cicuto had phoned him and attempted to blame the whole mess on his architect. Corrigan, a lawyer by profession, was not about to be manipulated and indicated he didn't know where the truth lay. The news report added:"Since articles began running in local newspapers, daily media and television news, the family has been forced to call the police to stop window smashing and trespassing on the Burris Street property, Cicuto said." Circuto was particularly incensed with the Vancouver SUN which had ignored his many supporters, choosing to quote "an angry part-time newspaper reporter who lived several blocks away."
In his June 5, 1991 story Mr. Hilborn upped the square footage of the house, but his point was made: "The massive 12,500 square-foot Silvano Cicuto home at 7437 Burris will stand exactly as it was built." Cicuto had defeated his neighbors in Buckingham Heights, and City Council. Alderman Corrigan, for one, was still upset with Cicuto noted that Cicuto had already suffered the "punitive effect" of negative press coverage. (It's an argument his lawyer will also make at his sentencing hearing in New York.)
That didn't end it, because the Federal Fisheries experts had an ongoing interest in rejuvenating salmon s on the slopes around Deer Lake. Circuto's project had disturbed the creek which ran through his property, and he had spent good money to fix the problem. In 1993 a neighbors' redevelopment brought the matter of silting back before Council, and into the press. Cicuto had further plans for his property and he did not relish the attention.
In 1995 he applied for a relaxation of the very covenant which he had negotiated with the City in 1990. Why? His son planned to sub-divide the family's 1.5 acre property and build a 10,000 square foot house at the back of the newly created lot. An outraged neighbor remarked, "The bylaw restrictions in Burnaby are very generous as it is, and it just seems that everyone is pushing and pushing and pushing".
In 1991 Silvano Cicuto mustered a 378 name petition of support, and successfully "swayed" Burnaby Council. His lawyer in Manhattan has assembled a thick file of letters signed by his "passionate defenders," folks who suggest he is the victim of unscrupulous men who took advantage of his good nature. I think the judge in New York may be outmatched. If I had to guess, it would be that Mr. Cicuto will get a very light sentence and be returned to Canada to serve it.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
SOVEREIGN Tower - BOSA has a tiger by the tail, but deserves praise for imposing rules to avoid an ugly feeding frenzy
In Burnaby Metrotown, the good folks at BOSA Properties are scrambling to get into shark cages, lest they be eaten in the feeding frenzy beginning at their tower site at 4509 Kingsway.
We were alerted just a week ago that BOSA would have tents, heating and and porta-potties on site by 9 a.m. Friday, a full 25 hours before the Sales Centre was scheduled to open - i.e. Saturday at 10a.m. Suddenly matters threatened to get out of hand. Late on Tuesday night, after the final SOVEREIGN preview concluded, over 125 Buyers refused to go home. BOSA staff must be praised for being fast on their feet and putting together a solution. The details are in a Realtor Advisory which went out just after 11 A.M. today:
Bravo ! These measures will certainly deal with queue-jumpers, but it remains to be seen how staff will calm the agitated majority who will take a number but have no chance at all of securing an apartment. My suggestion is that BOSA give each disappointed client a hearty handshake and remind them that Intracorp's METROPLACE will begin marketing in about six weeks time. In addition there are several other mid-size towers coming to the Metrotown corridor. A Chinese language forum I consulted today reported that one less than generous Chinese realtor was offering placeholders $1,000 for three days of work. That is three 24 hour days! Now he can keep his cash in his pocket.A knot of prospective Buyers wait to enter the SOVEREIGN Tower sales centre on Kingsway. That was before noon on Feb. 10. The final Preview concluded last night (Feb. 15), and more than a 125 Buyers refused to go home. They elected to camp out over night and BOSA staff had to scramble to bring in tents, heating and toilets to keep them comfortable.
I should mention the offer of 1.9% Financing, which has figured prominently in BOSA marketing for SOVEREIGN Tower. For me at least, it was a very attractive proposition, especially in light of the Bank of Canada's firm decision to drive up the rates, over the next three years. Well, in brief, BOSA is offering 1.9 % on the first 80 units sold - and guarantee the rate for 36 months. If you have your own lender, the Buyer could opt for 5% on their purchase deposit. My sense of the situation is that the clientele, almost exclusively Mainland Chinese, are in no need of a break on financing. Pardon my enthusiasm, but that is the glory of this landmark project. The SOVEREIGN tower is a magnet for wealthy Chinese, and will pull in a container load of foreign dollars. Enough to fill the pay-packets of the local building trades and later create jobs in the hotel and the retail stores. The down-side of course is that SOVEREIGN is contributing to raising the ceiling on condo prices in Burnaby, although at 4509 Kingsway "market value" may settle out a tad lower in 2014, when short-term investors begin flipping units.
BOB RENNIE BLOWS A FUSE
If you missed the Vancouver SUN report on the Olympic Village pre-sale, which was conducted in secret over the weekend, you owe it to yourself to have a look. It's not often that pros like Rennie blow a fuse when talking to the press, but then it's also a rare day when condo Sellers force Buyers to sign confidentiality agreements. Mr. Rennie is now on the warpath because one of his confidential Buyer's, whom he termed "some A-hole", violated the agreement before the ink was dry. I don't know how long the Vancouver SUN will keep the article available online, (it's already buried by today's news) so I copied it to file. Jeff Lee's story, Olympic Village condos to go to market - again is worth your time.
CLOVERDALE, where antiques are out, condos in
Yes, Burnaby Metrotown is red hot, but property developers are beavering away in all eight corners of the GVRD. Maybe you read in the SUN recently that the famous Cloverdale Antiques Mall was forced to shut down. Customers were still thronging its many shops, but most of the stalls were run by retirees who could not swallow higher rents. The owner of the property was bent on jacking up rates - allegedly the increase was a near doubling, and the lease holder found himself in an untenable position. I must admit that I do most of my own antique and collectibles shopping in Bellingham, but still, Cloverdale has been a weekend mecca for so many families that it's sad to see an institution disappear.
The demolition of Cloverdale Mall (a separate location from the Antiques Mall) began on January 8, 2011. The building was a "leaker" in every sense, and looked its age. After SAFEWAY pulled out a few years ago all the other tenants fled, one by one. Cloverdale residents are now served by Surrey mega-malls. When this tired out property is finally cleared, construction begins on Cloverdale West Village, a wood frame complex with above retail condos. The term "Mall" is now so frequently shunned, it seems at risk of becoming another "antique". What is this mania for labeling every cluster of shops and homes a "village"? Will it end? [The Cloverdale Reporter has a story on the fate of the derelict mall: SLIDE SHOW]
Thursday, February 10, 2011
In front of the SOVEREIGN sales centre on Kingsway, a squirming scrum of prospective condo Buyers waited for the doors to open. All were Asian, all were focused on acquisition and all were oblivious to the yellow blimp. This was the second realtor opening for Bosa Properties' "Estates" in the sky, coming soon to the corner of Kingsway and Willingdon Avenue.
The blimp was intended to punctuate the full structural height of 514.4 feet which the SOVEREIGN tower will top out approximately two years from today, with completion in early 2014.
The handsome 45 story "skyscraper" will rise above Metrotown next door to the Bosa Properties corporate head office, which is at 4555 Kingsway, Burnaby.
Something extraordinary is about to happen in Burnaby. The cap on building height has finally been lifted for the Metrotown corridor, and we are about to witness a race to the sky. Two beautiful buildings will be competing for bragging rights.... the tallest, the greater number of floors, the better views ... the better investment. Bosa's SOVEREIGN has the jump on Intracorp's METROPLACE, but we may see a neck-in-race race to complete. That would be fun, and put some overtime $$$ in the pockets of deserving building trades. METROPLACE will be an all-condo building and it is going to harvest a mountain of cash, so they could afford to make it a horse race. The company is hinting at cheaper prices, but nobody gives anything away in a Sellers' Market. You can give a listen to Intracorp President Don Forsgren in a short YOUTUBE spot (here).
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
SOVEREIGN TOWER - Metrotown, Burnaby - Bosa unveils its landmark project at Realtor Event - February 8, 2011
The scale model for the SOVEREIGN tower seemed to draw even more interest than the display suites. At 511.4 feet it will be Burnaby's first true skyscraper. I was told that Bosa plans to begin excavation in three months time.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Daryll Simpson, one of the dozen Sales staff Bosa had on hand this evening. Mr. Simpson filled me in on a subject which has been of concern. Could Bosa find a hotel chain of sufficient credibility to match this prestigious project? It could...in New York. Bosa Properties is getting into the hotel business! The Burnaby-based developer will maintain ownership of the new hotel, and is already busy designing its 167 rooms. The name of the chain will be announced in two weeks time. The franchise agreement and further details are yet go under the pen. Mr. Simpson says that Burnaby residents will be pleasantly surprised when they learn which brand-name is coming to town.
In keeping with the landmark status of the SOVEREIGN, the tower designer- Chris Dikeakos Architects Inc, have conceived a very dramatic residential entrance coming off of Hazel Street. (corrected) The very wide and open ramp shows up well in these photos of the scale model.