Sidney, B.C. - The Town of Sidney is still not in a position to confirm the location of the new Community Safety Building (CSB). Based upon a recent BC Supreme Court decision, the Town, along with the Memorial Park Society (MPS), initially believed that MPS had been given the green light to enter into a long term lease arrangement on a portion of the MPS lands. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived, when the judge (The Honourable Madam Justice Dardi) qualified her decision by including the following statement in her summation:
“In conclusion, 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.”
Perhaps as a result of Madam Justice Dardi’s statement, the Mayor and Council of the District of North Saanich, along with their solicitor, raised concerns to the Attorney General’s (AG) office and MPS regarding, what they perceive is a lack of compliance of the proposed CSB lease relative to the Trust.
The Town previously intended to establish the required borrowing bylaw in early 2016 with hopes to begin construction on the CSB late this summer or early fall. Now, however, the only recourse the Town may have in pursuing the long-term lease with MPS will be to return to the Courts for a final decision on the compliance of the proposed lease relative to the Trust. Doing so will result in another minimum 6 month delay, as well as incurring additional costs to the project. It has been estimated by the Town’s project architect that each additional year that the new CSB is delayed, an additional 10% is likely added to the overall construction costs.
Furthermore, the Town is seriously concerned about jeopardizing the potential participation of the British Columbia Ambulance Service (BCAS) as an important component to the CSB facility. Currently, BCAS occupies a small station on Third Street in downtown Sidney, but has been given notice by the property owner that their lease will not be extended when it comes up for renewal next year. Consequently, the Town and BCAS have been in lengthy discussions about incorporating them into the new Community Safety Building (CSB), which both parties agree would be an ideal fit and, in doing so, maintain the service in Sidney, thereby also ensuring that the service remained within its existing proximity to North Saanich.
The proposed lease agreement between the Town and MPS would provide sufficient land for the CSB, for a term of up to 100 years. In return, the Town would pay rent to MPS for use of the land, thus providing them with a long term revenue source and ensuring their future sustainability as the principal arts and cultural centre for the Saanich peninsula.
Town and MPS officials met with the AG’s office to present what they believed to be a very compelling case for why the proposed lease agreement did in fact meet the purposes of the Trust. The Town and MPS came away from that meeting believing that the AG’s office was convinced, but had to ensure that North Saanich was also on side before providing their support for the lease. Unfortunately, North Saanich continues to oppose the Town’s plans to finalize the lease agreement and commence construction of the CSB on MPS lands.
During discussions with the AG’s office, it became clear that their initial opposition to the lease was based on an incomplete understanding of the proposed lease itself – it seemed to be based entirely on a brief MOU (Memorandum of Understanding between the Town and MPS, outlying the basic terms of a future lease agreement) and also the existing state and use of the Mary Winspear lands. It also became clear that the judge did not have this information in front of her when considering the MPS Trust amendment. The Town/MPS delegation added the required context for the AG’s consideration and it appeared to be both appreciated and well received.
While a further court decision regarding the lease will certainly delay the project, there is also no guarantee that a judge will decide in favour of the lease being in accordance with the Trust. Unfortunately, if this were to occur, MPS would lose the security of a long-term revenue source and the Town would lose what is deemed the most suitable location for the CSB. Given significant limitations around available land within Sidney, and critical requirements that the Fire Department has with respect to emergency response times for a primarily volunteer department, finding another appropriate site will be a major challenge. Accordingly, the Town will be revisiting previously identified sites as moving the CSB to an alternative location may be the Town’s best option.
The Town is working on detailed public information on the CSB project, including the borrowing and financing aspects. This information will be made available as soon as there is a higher degree of certainty about the location of the building.
Media contact: Mayor Steve Price