Lease plan on Memorial Park Society land in Sidney gets court approval

Decision clears hurdle for Town’s new community safety building plan.

Two elevations of the proposed community safety building for the Town of Sidney. The building would house the fire department

Both the Town of Sidney and Memorial Park Society are hailing a recent court decision as beneficial to the community on many different levels.

On April 6, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Dardi allowed changes to the Society’s 1921 Trust document that would allow the Society to conduct business activities on Trust property.

In this case, it’s on land south of the Mary Winspear Centre, currently being sought by the Town of Sidney on which to build its proposed community safety building. The ruling allows both parties to complete negotiations that would see the Town lease land for an approximately $8 million new building that would house the fire department, among other things.

“It’s good news,” said Richard Paquette, president of the Sidney and North Saanich Memorial Park Society. “We can move forward with a lease of the property and it’s just a better use of the property.”

Mayor Steve Price echoed Paquette.

“It’s excellent news for the entire community,” he said. “Now we can move ahead.”

The court has been reviewing the Trust agreement held by the Memorial Park Society for approximately six months. The Society had sought to change definitions within the document that would not only allow business activities on Society land, but drop a stipulation that allows residents to seek to end leases after only five years — and with 30 days’ notice.

Paquette said that latter clause would have made it impossible to enter into any long-term agreement with the municipality.

“This facility is really for community use,” he continued, “and it will benefit the community in so many ways.”

With those specific Trust clauses cleared away, it gives the Town the assurance that they can lease the land over the long term and better negotiate with potential other tenants. Price said the Town has resumed talks with the B.C. Ambulance Service as a result. He said he’s confident they are on board with moving into the proposed community safety building.

While waiting for the court’s decision, Price said the Town continued to prepare designs for the structure. Consultants have drawn up plans and have been working on specific technical details.

Those details will help the municipality determine a more firm cost estimate for construction. Last year, the Town was estimating that the building would cost in the range of $7 to $8 million.

Councillors and Town staff have said the cost of the project means they will be seeking voter assent through a counter petition process. With the Trust issue resolved by the court, financial details will have to be worked out for council approval.

The proposed lease, now being finalized between the Society and the Town, would put $55,000 into the coffers of the MPC in the first year. Payments would increase annually by $7,000 until year 11. After that, increases would be based on the inflation rate.

Sidney already contributes to the Centre’s budget — 2.5 per cent of the municipality’s gross revenues, or around $260,000 each year.

Paquette said the lease payments will put new revenue into the accounts of the Society, enabling them to save money to maintain facilities like the Mary Winspear Centre.

“It’s always a struggle to do the job that we should be doing,” he said.

Extra cash, he continued, will be used for maintenance in other places like Blue Heron Park and nearby public pathways owned by the Society.

“Tremendous work was done here 15 years ago by volunteers to raise the money to complete (the Mary Winspear Centre),” Paquette said. “Now … the building needs ongoing work.”

He said lease negotiations have recommenced with the municipality, adding he could not pin down a date when it might be signed.

Price noted those talks had not been simply idle over the last six or seven months, but could not be finalized until the court made its ruling.

“Our design is 100 per cent ready to go,” said the mayor. “And one way or the other, it was going to get built.”

He noted that had the court ruled against changing the Trust document, the Town did have an alternate site for the community safety building. The proposed site south of the Mary Winspear Centre is actually the Town’s second choice. In 2014, School District 63 (Saanich) rejected their proposal to locate it next to Sidney Elementary School.

Price said he estimates negotiations to continue over the next three to four weeks, adding he hopes work will begin at the site this summer.


Highway interchange at risk

B.C.’s ministry of transportation has re-affirmed this month its November 2, 2015 letter to the Town of Sidney that stated proceeding with the community safety building in its current site could eliminate plans for an interchange from the Pat Bay Highway into the Town.

Mayor Steve Price added Wednesday that Sidney had written to the ministry, acknowledging their position, as well as offering options for a more traditional intersection in the future. He said any such intersection is probably 30 to 40 years away.