Society and Sidney lease proposal being questioned

North Saanich Memorial Park Society working to get lease in line with court concerns.

A proposed lease between the Town of Sidney and operators of the Mary Winspear Centre is being reviewed and changed to meet concerns expressed by the Attorney General of B.C. and a provincial court judge in a recent court ruling.

The Memorial Park Society, which runs the Sidney entertainment hub, is looking to satisfy concerns that a proposed lease of land south of the Mary Winspear Centre will better meet the stipulations of a Trust Deed on the property.

“As trustees of the land, we want to make sure any agreement we enter into is consistent with the terms of the trust,” said Society President Richard Paquette.

Since the court ruling came out, making enough changes to the Trust Deed to enable the Society to consider a lease with the Town, residents and politicians from North Saanich have questioned how that ruling might be challenged.

In a statement to the PNR, District of North Saanich Councillor Heather Gartshore said the District has concerns with “apparent contradiction between some aspects of the judgement and the Memorial Park Society’s press release and public statements to the media regarding recent amendments to the Trust document.”

In that decision, made April 6, Supreme Court Justice Dardi stated, “I wish to underscore that by approving the amendments, I have not approved the proposed lease with the Town of Sidney. Without explicitly ruling on the point, I must state that I share 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.”

In the ruling document, counsel for the Attorney General’s office noted that while the proposed lease — for a Town of Sidney community safety building — may be of benefit, it “does not constitute “use” by the Residents of the Trust Property for “community, cultural, athletic and recreational purposes” in accordance with the terms of the Trust.”

“It appears that the purpose of the Trust could be violated if the MPS enters into a lease with the Town of Sidney for the purposes of building a new community safety building,” Gartshore stated. “As a major funder of the MPS, we have a responsibility to protect the interests of North Saanich residents in this matter.”

Area residents have also started speaking out on the issue. North Saanich resident Don Enright said he’s concerned with the Society and the Town “just rolling over everyone.”

“I’m not sure if it’s a good community use of the land,” said Enright, who runs a website he has used to call for a change in local government and to oppose the proposed Gateway commercial development. “But my biggest concern is the process, it’s confusing and is not transparent. I feel like this will get built and damn the torpedoes.”

Paquette noted that the court nor the AG’s office were not asked to specifically comment on the proposed lease. However, he acknowledged those concerns, saying the Society of Town have been meeting to try to address those issues.

“We are concerned with those statements,” he said, “and any challenges that might come up around that.”

Paquette said he is satisfied that the final lease with the Town will better meet those concerns. He added there have been meetings with the District of North Saanich as well, as its residents are included in the language of the Trust document.

“We’re certainly listening to what (North Saanich) has to say. (The lease) will be on side with the Trust, or we will not go forward.”

Paquette said the District doesn’t have a concern with the proposed use of the land by Sidney, but only the process.

“They want to see the process … clear and transparent and that the lease is compliant with the Trust.”

Gartshore stated in her email to the PNR that the “MPS is aware of the implications of the Trust and has given us assurances that they will not proceed with any agreements that are in conflict with the Trust.”

Paquette added the Society plans to revise the lease with the Town and, if they have to, take it back to court to address the outstanding issues.

“We’re trying to do what’s right for the community and for the society and what’s best for the residents.”

The proposed lease, for the Town to build a community safety building (fire hall) south of the Mary Winspear Centre, would put $55,000 into the coffers of the MPS in the first year. Lease 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.

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.

The money, Paquette told the PNR in April, will be used for maintenance in other places like Blue Heron Park and nearby public pathways owned by the Society.

The Town of Sidney is anticipating borrowing money to pay for the proposed building, estimated to cost around $10 million.

The municipality has stated it would need to borrow between $5 and $8 million, with the rest of the money coming from gas tax accounts, BC Ambulance lease payments and the sale of the current fire hall site.