Plans for the old Sidney fire hall site have opponents wanting a better deal, while Mayor Steve Price and supporters saying the $9.9 million project will keep the Town of Sidney financially healthy and allow it to finance community projects.
Mayor Price and three councillors, Cam McLennan, Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, and Tim Chad have supported the proposal thus far, while Couns. Peter Wainwright, Erin Bremner-Mitchell, and Barbara Fallot have opposed it.
During an August 13 regular council meeting, the politicians made their cases.
Price said he had been through real estate cycles, and the fire hall property could sell for millions less in a few years, or perhaps the same amount ($9-10 million) a few years after that.
“It’s nice that some people around the table here are prepared to roll the dice with the Town’s financial health; I’m not,” said Price.
If the $9 million purchase proceeds, $7 million will be dedicated to the new Community Safety Building (which passed unanimously at the June 25th council meeting). However, supporters like Price, McLellan, and Lougher-Goodey said the tax revenue from businesses and homeowners in a proposed building would put $2-300,000 into the town coffers each year. In addition, the developer is paying a higher rate for bonus density due to the height of the building, which is around $900,000, two-thirds of which ($600,000) would go towards an affordable housing fund.
McLennan felt that Council demands for more parking or other changes would leave the town with weaker proposals.
“In the same sentence, you’ll say there’s an affordability problem in Sidney,” McLennan said of the plan’s critics. “Well I wonder why. Maybe it’s because we keep on gouging and gouging and gouging…to the point where every door becomes so expensive that the proponent has to sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it worthwhile.”
Bremner-Mitchell recognized some positives and negatives of the plan, and agreed it would defray the cost of the Community Safety Building, but felt that the parking and pedestrian traffic concerns were not adequately addressed, and would have preferred Modo carshare memberships. She said that “a project of this magnitude from the perspective of the Town and the developer deserves not to be rushed.”“If any member of council feels like they are not 100 per cent behind this…it’s not too late to say so,” she added.
Town of Sidney staff said that the deal to purchase the property was conditional on Development Permit approval on or before October 16, 2018, to reduce the possibility of uncertainty with a new council, a rationale also stated by Mayor Price.
“If we cannot meet the Oct. 16 deadline, that’s a risk I’m willing to take, and I encourage you to as well,” said Bremner-Mitchell during the meeting.
Cliff McNeil-Smith, a candidate for Sidney mayor who has been endorsed by Bremner-Mitchell, also expressed his opposition to the proposed development on the old Sidney fire hall site, saying in an interview, “I believe a much better development than the one proposed is necessary and possible.”
McNeil-Smith said because the Town only allocated $7 million of the sale towards the Community Safety Building, the Town should consider a different development.
“A case could be made that you could have a better development, and perhaps a slightly lower purchase price, and still fund the Community Safety Building,” he said. A better development in his view would include more parking, because the 22,000 sq. ft. of new commercial space and visitors for the 82 condos would generate increased traffic. Because a surface parking lot will be retained, there is no dedicated visitor parking for the building (66 will be for residents to purchase and 20 will be for employees of the ground-floor businesses).
“If there was ever an opportunity to create the ideal development for the community, for the residents and businesses of the town, it’s with a property that you own,” said McNeil-Smith.
In a follow-up interview, Price pushed back against that view.
“If we have an option of retaining millions as opposed to giving them away, which one do you think we’re going to pick? So here you’ve got three councillors saying, ‘Well that doesn’t really matter; that doesn’t affect the way I make decisions.’ Well, it should! And if it doesn’t then you should not be here,” said Price. “If you’re that loose with residents’ money, you should not be a councillor. Period.”
Council will meet Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. to receive public input on the project.