Council reaffirms decision to sell parcel of land to developer for $1

Lake Estates spokesperson Curtis Lemieux addresses city council during a public hearing on March 18. – Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

A public meeting and more than 20 minutes of debate did little to sway city council, as they reaffirmed their decision to sell a parcel of land for $1 to Lake Estates on South Hill.

City council had approved the sale by a 6-3 vote at a Feb. 25 executive committee meeting, but held a public hearing for the matter on Monday after receiving a number of complaints from nearby residents. Most of those complaints had disappeared by Monday’s regular council meeting, where the city’s elected officials approved the project again by a 6-3 margin.

The sale will not be official because two required bylaw changes did not receive unanimous consent. Barring a major change of direction, they will be passed at the next regular council meeting. Once completed, the developers plan to build 40 units of bungalow-style seniors housing.

Mayor Greg Dionne said the sale showed the city was being a good steward of its resources during a difficult economic time. He also rejected concerns about administration opposing the sale, saying council ran the city, not administration.
“There are no people lining up to buy this property,” Dionne argued during the meeting. “When you’re good stewards then, and there are no people lining up, and there’s only one purchaser, you’ve got to look at what’s the advantage. (It’s) $60,000 to $70,000 in taxes in the first year and putting people back to work.”

Several letters of concern were forwarded to council prior to Monday’s meeting, and the public hearing attracted so many people it created standing-room only conditions at City Hall. Despite the large attendance, only two people spoke to council on the matter. The first was local homeowner Blair Mooney, who said he wasn’t excited about the project because of the loss of green space, but still supported the development.

“While we are not enthused to have the park area removed from our view, we do believe that the proposed bungalow development preferable to the alternative of three 24-unit apartment buildings,” Mooney told council.

The second speaker was Lake Estates developer Curtis Lemieux who attended the meeting with his three business partners. Lemieux said they’d made a conscious effort to reach out to homeowners in the area, and argued that the project would be good for the area.

“We’ve reached out to all the people who have sent those letters and requested to meet with them to show them what we were intending on doing,” Lemieux said in response to a question from Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky. “To date, the people that we’ve met with who were unsatisfied or weren’t happy with what we are doing, left satisfied. If we could have the opportunity to meet with these people, we’re sure that we could satisfy their wants or their questions.”

The largest concern centred around the loss of park space. When Lake Estates originally purchased the land, they gave more than three acres back to the city to build a park. However, the city didn’t use all of that land in their development, leaving a small strip that was surrounded by a pond on one side, and Lake Estate property on the other. The parcel is not accessible by road.

Craig Guidinger, Prince Albert’s Planning and Development Director, said new developments are required to use at least 10 per cent of its land for parks or green spaces. The Lake Estates currently has double that amount of green space, meaning the small parcel wasn’t needed.

“In this case, between the storm pond and municipal buffer spaces and things like that, we’ve actually got almost double the requirement (for green space),” Guidinger told council. “We can certainly look forward to giving up this land and have it satisfy the requirements of the planning and development act, the zoning bylaw and the subdivision bylaw.”

Since the land was no longer needed, Lemieux and his partners hoped to purchase the unused parcel back for a dollar, and build a different type of housing. Their original plans called for a four-story seniors apartment high rise.

If completed, the bungalow senior housing will be rented out at roughly $1,700 to $1,800 per month, and generate more than $60,000 in tax revenue for the city. It will also employ between 60 and 80 tradespeople during construction.

In an interview afterwards, Lemieux said the partners thought the new development would create a quieter neighbourhood with less traffic. If they knew what kind of controversy it would create, they probably would have handled things differently. Not all local homeowners have agreed to meet with the partners, although they say they’re willing to talk to whoever has reservations about the project.

“We thought what we were proposing now was a better fit than the one we did before, so we didn’t think we’d have this much opposition,” Lemieux explained. “If we can meet with them, and we’ve met with probably four or five different individuals already, I think we’ll have a good outcome with all.”

Lemieux and his partners added that they didn’t want to begin consulting residents before they had official approval from council, especially since the sale would require council to change two bylaws.

Although there was a lot of talk and discussion around the issue, all city councillors voted the same way on Monday as they had in February.

Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski, who represents that area of the city, said the development would be good for the city, and felt it was unfair to make the developers pay again for land they’d already bought once.

In addition to paying for the parcel before donating it to the city, Lake Estates also paid a $100,000 per hectare levy to cover infrastructure like sewer and water. A portion of that levy does go to pay for parks and green space in the area.

“In a day and age where it’s very difficult to get developers to spend their money and provide housing for the residents, so I think this is a good move,” Zurakowski said. ““This is a bit of a unique situation. It was owned by the developer. It’s not like we’re slicing a piece of Kinsmen Park out. This is a development that has evolved over the years, and continues to evolve to a need in our community that is absent.”

Couns. Evert Botha, Dennis Ogrodnick and Blake Edwards also offered strong support for the project. Edwards said the city could wait 20 years for another buyer to come along, and said the project bring jobs and tax revenue to the city sooner rather than later. Botha said the lost park space would have little affect on the development, while the benefits of having more seniors housing would be significant. Ogrodnick also touted the need for increased seniors housing, and reaffirmed his desire to see a similar development spring up in his ward.

However, just as with the meeting in Febraury, not all councillors were convinced of the project’s benefits. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp was the most vocal opponent of the project. She said the city was making a mistake by not listening to administration’s recommendation to oppose the sale, and added that the city should wait for a better offer before selling.

A report from city administration said the decision to sell for a dollar would “show a lack of similar standard sales practices.”

“I think we need to think about that,” Lennox-Zepp said after referencing the report. “When we’re selling city land we want to be stewards of the land. We want a fair, reasonable price. We want to follow our similar standard sales practices and not set a new precedent in this type of situation.”

Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller also remained unconvinced. Miller said the city was wrong to not use the parcel of land for park space as intended, and wondered what the consequences of this decision would be down the road.

“I stand here and think about things that we are supposed to be ensuring, things that are supposed to be done properly, and park space is one of them,” she said during the meeting. “Park space is very important to our city, and important to the neighbourhood it is situated in. I just wonder what else are we willing to sell?”

If the sale receives final approval at the next regular meeting, Lemieux and his partners say they’ll begin construction as soon as possible.

The parcel of land for sale is located in the southwest part of Prince Albert.