Plans for Sidney’s Seaport East land could have added value to the waterfront property and cleaned up the contaminated soil at the site, says the proponent of a now-defunct redevelopment deal with the Town of Sidney.
Grant Rogers, Sidney Waterfront Partnership (SWP) principal, said the municipality’s cancellation of a memorandum of understanding on the redevelopment proposal came as a surprise to both himself and his environmental consultants who discovered the contamination. Now, Rogers said he has little option but to try to lease out the existing buildings.
“We are planning on finding new tenants for the big building,” Rogers said. “We are considering retail at this point.”
The building on the site is currently being used as a film set for the ongoing production of Gracepoint. That could last until May. Rogers said he doesn’t feel leasing out the building space is the best use of the property but added he doubts the proposal to redevelop the site into residential and commercial units can be resurrected.
“We’ve been here before,” he said, referencing past plans for the property that went nowhere.
SWP hired an environmental consultant to test the soil at Seaport East. They found contaminants such as metals and hydrocarbons, Rogers said, adding they are not hazardous but exceed provincial regulations for residential and commercial development.
This prompted the Town council to vote March 3 to end the land exchange process while it looks into its liability at the site.
“The risk factor is too great,” said Mayor Larry Cross.
Cross admitted the municipality has little understanding of the issues surrounding the land contamination and felt they could not proceed with the memorandum of understanding until they knew more.
“If we did negotiate (with SWP) and opened the ground, the Town could be liable for whatever is in the ground.”
Cross added if the process were to be restarted, it would have to be reworked based on this new reality.
Rogers said that could leave the Town with a lot of uncertainty. He said that under current legislation, the Town as the landowner is responsible for the clean up. The municipality, he added, trucked in fill to the site in the late 1980s and that fill is the source of the contamination.
Yet, he continued, that in itself should not have been a deal-breaker. He noted that during the construction of the Sidney Pier Hotel (another SWP project), they found hazardous material there which they had to remove.
In the case of Seaport East, Rogers said there are two options: haul the soil away and replace it, or manage the contamination in place with impermeable layers or containment. The latter, he continued, would be the most cost-effective paired with a redevelopment of the site.
Without any change there, Rogers added, the Town and its residents could be saddled with the contamination for years to come. The Town will, Rogers said, eventually have to pay for the clean up. By leaving it now, he said it will only get more expensive and it changes the public’s view of what the site is really worth.
Cross has said municipal staff are looking into their options and researching legislation and legalities.
“We can’t do nothing while they decide what to do,” Rogers said.
He said he feels the redevelopment proposal was a good one, adding they had plenty of positive support for it at their public open houses last month. They had been negotiating with the Town to build up to three, two-storey buildings with a mix of commercial and residential space. The process involved working out a potential land exchange that could have brought the Town a strip of parkland along the waterfront walkway. The town council has been getting a rough ride on the proposal from residents who felt it was a bad deal based on what the Town might or might not get in return.
For his part, Rogers said he heard mostly positive reaction to their plans, but added the negative reaction was typical of such projects in his experience.