Sidney faces fight for its new fire hall

Proposed new building may have to move or face the courts and an uncertain outcome.

Sidney’s proposed community safety building faces continued legal battles from the District of North Saanich over a lease with the Memorial Park Society.

Sidney may move its proposed new community safety building instead of fighting in court with its neighbour over using land next to the Mary Winspear Centre.

The Town of Sidney and District of North Saanich were scheduled to meet today (Tuesday, June 14) morning over an ongoing dispute over the validity of a proposed lease between the Town and the Memorial Park Society, operators of the Centre. Sidney Mayor Steve Price says he finds it hard to understand why North Saanich council would be against the project.

“We’re going to try to get them to see reason here,” he said of Tuesday’s meeting.

If they cannot reach some sort of consensus, Price said Sidney has only a pair of options — seek the court’s and the Attorney General’s agreement that the project is of a broader community benefit, or move the building to a new site.

“If North Saanich is going to strongly oppose this … we have to consider there’s a strong possibility that we’ll lose the case,” he said, noting that court costs and the cost of delaying construction will drive up the price of the project for Sidney taxpayers.

Ideally, Price said they can convince North Saanich to see the merit of the project and stop their attempts at blocking it — including the threat of pulling its share of funding to the Mary Winspear Centre.

Price said the District met with the Society board in April and their lawyer made “veiled threats” to withhold future funding. In a letter presented at Monday night’s Sidney council meeting, Price stated this opposition by North Saanich hurts the Centre, by not allowing the Society to take advantage of the lease payments by the Town.

He also asserted that North Saanich is hurting its own residents’ safety, as the building will house fire services and the B.C. Ambulance Station, among other services.

North Saanich has asserted the lease appears to be in conflict with the purpose of the Society’s charitable trust — that the land be used for the benefit of all residents in Sidney and North Saanich.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall has stated the Supreme Court Justice who ruled on changes made to the trust document has concerns “as to whether the tenant’s intended use (safety building) of the Trust property … confirms to the charitable purposes of the Trust.”

Both the judge in the case and the B.C. Attorney General’s office shared the same concern back in March when the Trust document was modified to allow the lease.

Finall, in an email to the News Review, stated the Society and Town of Sidney have not yet met their concerns — specifically that the lease may not respect the purpose of the Trust document, as stated by the court.

“I am gravely concerned by the manner in which the whole issue has been framed by Mayor Price,” Finall wrote. “Our Mayor, CAO and MPS representatives met with the Attorney General’s representatives on May 30 … to confirm our concerns with the outstanding legal issue.”

Finall did not return a News Review call by press time to address Price’s concern over the Mary Winspear Centre funding issue.

Price and Sidney CAO Randy Humble said Sidney also met with the AG’s office to present their case as to why the proposed community safety building meets the Trust document’s mandate. The proposed building will house a small museum and community meeting space, to name a few.

All parties are awaiting the AG’s comments.

Price said following the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting, Sidney council will meet to decide on a course of action. He said they will debate further legal steps or whether they wish to move the proposed building to a site the Town already owns.

The current site south of the Winspear Centre is already the Town’s second choice. Their first, a site next to Sidney Elementary School, was rejected by the local board of education more than a year ago.

The delay and uncertainty at this point, Price continued, has also stalled negotiations with the B.C. Ambulance Service on taking space at the new building. Without that service, Price said, the cost to Sidney for the new structure will increase. Humble noted as things stand now, the Town cannot proceed with plans to borrow money to pay for the community safety building, pegged at around $10 million.

“We cannot really undertake a borrowing (bylaw), based on a potential challenge by the District of North Saanich and their residents,” he said. “We would need a definitive answer.”

The whole debate has not helped relations between Sidney and North Saanich. Sidney recently told the District it no longer wished to hold regular tri-municipal meetings with Central Saanich. Finall, in a reply, stated North Saanich still favours those joint sessions.

Asked if the conflict on the fire hall issue has created a chill between neighbours, Price stated “it doesn’t do it any good.”