Sidney, North Saanich remain at odds over fire hall lease

Municipalities did not meet this week; Sidney says they will debate moving the building 50 feet south.

North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall  says she’s not sure why her Sidney counterpart is suggesting, in a series of statements made to the News Review, they oppose a new community safety building.

For his part, Sidney Mayor Steve Price is sticking with the assertion that North Saanich continues to push back against their $10 million project and may force it to move 50 feet south of its proposed location.

Responding to Wedensday’s front page story in the PNR and a media release issued by the Town Wednesday, Finall said North Saanich is not opposed to the proposed home of Sidney’s new fire hall — only that a lease between the Town and the Memorial Park Society (MPS) conform to the terms of a trust document.

That document is controlled by the Society and states the use of land within the MPS must be to the benefit of residents in both communities. Finall said the proposed lease doesn’t do that and Price said not only does it do so, but that Finall is ignoring the facts.

Finall said her council is fine with Sidney’s plans for a community safety building that could house the ambulances that serve North Saanich. She added they are concerned that a court ruling on the legitimacy of the lease between Sidney and MPS for land on which to building the facility, makes that agreement contrary to the purpose of the trust.

“The lease could be challenged,” Finall said.

She added it should be up to the Society, who went to the court to have the trust document changed to accommodate the lease in the first place, to seek clarification on the issue from the court.

The judge in the case  noted in her decision on the trust document back in March that she shared “the Attorney General’s concern as to whether the tenant’s intended use of the Trust Property under the proposed lease conforms to the charitable purposes of the trust.”

It’s that point, Finall said, that North Saanich is saying needs clarification. It’s a stance she said her council made clear to Sidney on April 27 and have not had a response to it since.

Meetings sought by Sidney this week with North Saanich on the issue did not materialize. Asked why, Finall said Sidney’s request came too late and conflicted with other meetings. Price said Finall cancelled meetings and later submitted a list of conditions under which she would meet. As a result, both sides had not met.

Price said Finall’s stance on the lease matter ignores the fact that a portion of the MPS land near the Mary Winspear Centre has been used for commercial purposes for years. That site is currently occupied by an artist’s studio.

“She seems to be opposed to anything on Winspear lands,” Price said. “That rings hollow.”

He added he suspects that few residents of North Saanich or Sidney are concerned about the proposed site, saying Finall seems to be listening to a few voices who are opposed. He even went so far as to place some of the blame on North Saanich CAO Rob Buchan for not “steering his council in the right direction.”

Price added the Town met with a representative of the B.C. Attorney General’s office this month and outlined the site and proposed uses within the community safety building. He said they received a positive response.

“The fact that North Saanich is still opposing this defies logic.”

Finall said when North Saanich met with AG’s office, it was made clear this was a legal issue, not one of supporting a new fire hall. She added the AG’s office has not made any statement, noting it’s up to the MPS to get clarification on the court’s comment.

Responding to Price’s assertion on Wednesday that North Saanich threatened the Society with withholding its annual financial contribution if it didn’t stop the lease, Finall said that’s not true. She admitted, however, she was not at a meeting between the District’s legal counsel and the MPS. Finall said North Saanich council has not given any direction on their funding to the Mary Winspear Centre.

Price said going back to court could set the project back a minimum of six months and cost around $1 million in construction delays, among other costs. He suggested the Society itself might not be able to afford another court case.

A call to MPS President Richard Paquette was not returned by press time Wednesday.

Price added Sidney council will now talk about moving the community safety building 50 feet south, covering the current skateboard park and small field near the Town’s works yard. It’s one of the Town’s alternate locations and one Price said is controlled entirely by the municipality.

That debate could happen as early as June 20.