Concerned residents are questioning whether the Town of Sidney should proceed with the potential rezoning of waterfront land before all of the details of a proposed land swap with a developer are worked out.
Most of the opposition to the plan for the Seaport East Lands, north of the Sidney Pier Hotel on First Street, centers around what some are calling a bad financial deal for the town.
The municipality signed a memorandum of understanding with Sidney Waterfront Partnership (SWP) in October, 2013 to explore redeveloping the site. SWP currently has a 40-year lease on the town-owned property and owns the Pier Hotel next door.
The agreement had been made in camera over the course of a year and was released to the public in November. The memorandum outlines the potential for SWP to obtain the land through a combination of cash, contribution of services or improvements or “development-related obligations or commitments, having a value equal to or greater than the market value of the Town owned (leased properties).” Part of the preliminary discussions include the Town keeping a strip of land on the waterfront edge of the property to be used as an extension of Beacon Park. SWP would be responsible for landscaping and improvement costs of around $250,000.
Sidney’s Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble says the parties do not have any financial deal in place at this time, despite people’s calls for the Town to put all details on the table.
“It’s a bad deal for Sidney,” said David Bryson at the Feb. 24 council meeting. “This land is a valuable Town asset and should see some value for the Town.”
SWP is proposing to tear down the Captain’s Table building, replacing it with up to three, two-storey structures with commercial and residential components. SWP would also renovate the exterior of the Rumrunner Pub building and pay to upgrade roads, parking areas and sidewalks.
Bryson said he is concerned any financial details involved have not been made public.
“We’re in a rezoning process right now,” countered Mayor Larry Cross. “It’s a complex rezoning. And one appraisal has been done so far.”
The appraisal, completed by Cunningham and Rivard Appraisals Ltd. and paid for by both the Town and SWP, has placed the value of the land at $4.38 million. Humble said that appraisal took into account the 40-year lease, a covenant on the property limiting building height to two storeys and some fill at the north end of the property that could affect construction.
“The current value of the Town’s interest in the land has been appraised at $1.732 million and SWP’s at $2.648 million,” Humble stated in an email to the News Review.
Both Humble and Cross have given the News Review detailed answers to questions posed about the Seaport East Lands proposal, from long-term lease details and land values to potential benefits for Sidney. The News Review will be writing about the plan in upcoming editions.
“I’m concerned the land transfer would only leave the Town with a small portion of the land,” added Maggie Warkentin, adding she isn’t concerned about the rezoning — only the land transfer and financial details.
Cross said the terms of any agreement would be made public.
Jack Barker said with all the uncertainty in the plan so far, the details of the land transfer should be worked out prior to any rezoning of the property.
“You are the guardians of our waterfront, of the town’s property,” he told council. “So far, you’ve done good job, but I ask you to think twice about this proposal.”
Gary Anderson urged council to hold a town hall meeting on the financial details.
Council has voted unanimously (with the exception of Kenny Podmore, who excused himself due to a conflict of interest) to hold an open house on March 19 at the Mary Winspear Centre.
Coun. Tim Chad asked that staff include as much of the financial details as possible in that public meeting. Humble reiterated that staff isn’t there yet.
“No transaction is being considered,” he said, suggesting council can ask that another meeting be held once that issue comes up.
Cross agreed, asking that the appraisal details should be available on March 19.