Plans for Maple Ridge’s long-awaited hotel on 224th Street are being bogged down in civil court as three investors sue the developer and immigration consultants for $3 million.
Xiaohong Lu, Aihong Cai and Zhen Ye, all residents of China, filed the claim against the developer and related companies Dec. 8 in Vancouver Supreme Court.
The civil claim says that three plaintiffs agreed to invest a million dollars each into the hotel project proposed for the foot of 224th Street, on the Haney Bypass.
But when their applications for immigration were denied in December 2013, the three demanded their investments be returned, saying that was part of the original agreement.
They also wanted the refundable portion of their immigration consultation fees returned from the immigration consultants, a total of about $370,000. The trio wants ownership of the 224th Street property, as well.
Maple Ridge resident Seiko Huang is the developer of the project, along with related companies. Huang’s wife Julie Chen is also named in the claim.
His lawyer said they would be filing a response in the new year.
The claim says that Huang and Chen guaranteed they could immigrate to Canada.
Huang denies that.
“Nobody can promise that.”
He said a promise to return the money wasn’t part of the agreement, either.
“We are really doing everything right and according to the agreement.”
Huang said he hasn’t profited in any way, that he’s been trying to find someone to buy out the investors, and that under the contract, the money is tied up for five years.
All of the money is in the company’s account, he added.
“There’s nothing in my pocket.”
Some of the money, more than $2 million was used for consultation, legal and architectural fees, and other costs to get the project underway. Huang added he even spent some of his own money on costs.
One line in the claim contends that the project wasn’t close to receiving development permits from the city.
However, the project has received rezoning from the City of Maple Ridge in 2013 and a development permit was issued that same year.
A separate lawsuit from two other residents of China makes another claim of $2 million each, plus the property on 224th Street, saying that the original agreement stated the investments would be returned if immigration applications were rejected.
Those applications were also rejected in December 2013.
Huang said those agreements also didn’t guarantee immigration.
“On the planning side, his approvals are in place,” said city planning director Christine Carter.
Huang also received a building permit this July.
He wants the suit resolved before continuing with the project.
He said if he can find a partner with hotel experience, that person could buy out the plaintiffs.
Huang first proposed building the 125-room hotel in 2011, when the project received first reading.
Originally, the building was to be concrete, then was changed to wood construction for the four-storey hotel section.
That created delays in getting renewed approval from the hotel chain involved. Then the city’s permission for changes had to be obtained.
This July, he received a building permit.
“This is a very, very long story. You can see I worked so much. It’s so complicated,” Huang said Tuesday.
“This is a real project and real land there.”
Overall, the project will cost between $36 million and $38 million. If a partner and investor with hotel experience is found, it could possibly could buy out the plaintiffs.
“We followed the law and we followed the agreement,” said Chen.