Hundreds of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request have uncovered new facts about the George project in Gibsons.
The developer wants to use the public waterfront of Winegarden Park for private moorage, public parking would turn into paid parking, and the present access to the waterfront at Winn Road would be closed to the public at night. Another condo development is planned next to The proposed George Hotel and Residences.
And the entire Gibsons marina could be sold, affecting 350 boaters.
The Freedom of Information request included all documents and emails concerning The George and Mayor Wayne Rowe, Director of Planning Andre Boel and Chief Administrative Officer Emanuel Machado. In total 941 documents were produced.
The documents concerning Boel were freely given; the ones about Machado have been promised but not yet released. No documents concerning Mayor Rowe were released. That decision is being appealed. Out of the 941 documents, 120 contained no information for reasons of privacy or to protect business interests.
The documents show that the Town of Gibsons kept a crucial letter from the public. And in one email about the profitability of The George, the developer writes to Town staff: “I do not want the information to be viewed by any member of Council given the sensitivity of this project.”
On February 1, 2013 Klaus Fuerniss applied to the Town of Gibsons to build a Hotel with 96 rooms and 20 apartments on the waterfront in Lower Gibsons. In October last year, the size was increased to 118 hotel rooms and 40 condos. With a height of 125 feet high,the hotel would be the highest building on the Coast.
From the beginning, included in the proposal was the public water in front of Winegarden Park and a part of the marina, in particular the A dock, currently the visitor dock. On May 1, 2013, Andre Boel, Director of Planning of the Town of Gibsons, replied with a 13-page letter to the first, smaller proposal. He identified major problems: the project was too big for the OCP (Official Community Plan) and did not fit with the desired “West-Coast, seaside village feel.” There were a host of other problems, like the closure of Winn Road, loss of public parking, the impact on the local environment and a loss of view. Boel also objected to the use of the water in front of Winegarden Park for private moorage and the wish of the developer to have part of the marina for moorage for hotel guests and apartment owners.
This letter never went to Council or the Advisory Planning Committee and was not made public.
On May 3, 2013, Boel met with Klaus Fuerniss’s project consultant Art Phillips. Phillips is director of development for Larco Investment Ltd. which has the Park Royal Shopping Centre, the Village at Park Royal and the Marriott Hotels in Canada in its portfolio. He also acted as representative of several property owners on Gospel Rock who wanted to develop.
The notes of the meeting show that Phillips made it clear that the massing and scale of the building were “not to be changed” and that the marina “can’t be smaller.” If the Town cannot secure the GMHI A-dock, the project is not viable, he said. Four days later, Boel, Phillips, Chief Administrative Officer of the Town Emanuel Machado and Mayor Wayne Rowe had a meeting to discuss the plan.
According to the notes of that meeting, Phillips again said that the project can only go forward if Winn Road is sold to the developer, if the building is allowed to be as big as proposed and if the developer has the A dock in Gibsons marina. On July, 23, 2013, Boel sent a report on the proposal to Council. It mentions the developer’s needs for part of the marina and the water in front of Winegarden Park, but without the objections in the May 1 letter.
In a meeting with Boel on August 8, 2013, Klaus Fuerniss explains again how the proposed moorage for the George Hotel is critical to its success. The need for the water in front of Winegarden Park and part of the marina was further discussed in meetings between Phillips and Town staff on September 5, September 17 and October 18, 2013. On October 2013, Omicron, the design and contracting firm for The George, also communicated with the Town of Gibsons about “a major upgrade of waterfront amenities including new marina and docks.” “The water lot in front of Winegarden Park is required in order to support the Hotel Conference Centre,” Omicron said. “Expansion with the Gibsons Marina area is needed to accommodate the fuel dock and to keep operations viable.” “The area in front of Winegarden Park will be used for transient moorage for a maximum of 7 days per period,” the document reads.
The issue of the water in front of Winegarden Park was never discussed in Council. It came up in the Advisory Planning Committee only once, on November 15, 2013. “The town’s water lot in front of Winegarden Park, is that anticipated to be an expansion of the Hyak Water Lease?” somebody asked. “Yes,” Phillips said, “there will be an extension to the Hyak water lease.” The owner of the lots for The George is registered as Hyak Marine Services Ltd.
Currently, the water in front of Winegarden Park is public and zoned for recreational use. The citizens in Gibsons can use it to launch kayaks and canoes, paddle or simply wet their feet. It also provides a view. “If we give it to the developer, there is no benefit to the Town, but we will have given up an enormous asset to the community,” said Councillor Lee Ann Johnson, who is seeking re-election.
As for the marina, more people were interested in privatization. Shoal Bay Properties, a company registered as 324383 Ltd in Richmond, owns the lots between the proposed George and the marina. In an email to Keith Anderson of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, Bob Papau of Shoal Bay Properties said on February 6, 2014 that his company is planning a multi-unit residential condo project and needs private moorage in Gibsons marina for the condo-owners.
Shoal Bay Properties has a long history in Gibsons. The lots were acquired in 1996 and 1997. The directors are Chris O’Toole and Arthur Wong. Bob Papau, who speaks on behalf of Shoal Bay Properties, is director and president of DOM Santi Management Inc. From 2003-2004, he was a member of the Town of Gibsons Select OCP Review Committee. From 2002-2004, he was a member of the Municipal Planning Committee of the Town of Gibsons.
The footprint of Shoal Bay Properties is almost twice the size of the properties for The George. In emails in February 2014, Bob Papau and Chris O’Toole were discussing the need for a part of the marina with the Town of Gibsons and Keith Anderson, Manager of Authorizations South Coast Region of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources. The provincial government leases out the water use rights to the town, which in turn has subleased it to Gibsons Marina Hotel Inc.
“Hi Keith,” Bob Papau wrote on February 5. “On Monday we had a meeting with the Chief Administrative Officer and Director of Planning for the Town of Gibsons. They are eager and willing to work with us on the acquisition of a sublease that would, more or less, include existing marina infrastructure within the extended lines of our north and south property boundaries; and, at the same time, accommodate the marina needs of the proposed George Hotel and Residences.”
Papau reminded Anderson that “for a multi-residential condo development, the Province has a category of use called ‘Group Moorage.’ This category provides boat moorage for condo owners and or full time residents of the housing development. The moorage is restricted to use by full time residents only.”
As it turned out, the sublease held by Gibsons Marina Hotel Ltd. cannot be divided. But the whole sublease can be sold, Anderson confirmed. On October 31, 2014, he said Gibsons Marina Hotel Ltd. was still the sublease holder. “The sale of the marina is a logical next step,” said Katie Janyk, who served on the Advisory Planning Committee since 2012. She is running for Council. “Under the terms of the lease, the marina cannot be subdivided. So if Klaus Fuerniss needs the A-dock, his only option is to buy the whole marina. It’s a no-brainer. And about 350 boaters could lose their moorage.”
“Yes, Klaus Fuerniss needs the marina for his plans,’”said Councillor Johnson. “But the marina is very important to the Town. Not only for the local boaters, but also because of the visitors who tie up there in summer.” In an email on November 2, 2014, Anderson said that approval from the Town of Gibsons is needed for a sale of the marina.
The Town had asked the developer of The George about the loss of 17 public parking spaces on Winn Road and Gower Point Road. On October 23, 2013, the developer replied that the public can use paid parking at The George, space permitting. This was not mentioned in the staff report for the Council meeting on January 14, 2014. It did not become public knowledge. But the matter was raised in the APC meeting of November 15, 2013: Will a portion of the hotel parking be available as paid parking to the public? someone asked. “Yes,” Art Phillips answered, “I would like to encourage people to think of their transportation choices.”
And the developer intends to close the walkway between Gower Point Road and the waterfront, what is now the lower point of Winn Road, at night. A letter dated October 23, 2013, reads: “The proponent will retain the right to close the plaza between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am to provide a quiet period for residents and guests.”
The developer seems to have done a lot of work for the Town of Gibsons. On January 21, 2014, Council voted 3-2 to begin the rezoning process for The George. On January 26, Klaus Fuerniss supplied a zoning bylaw text. On February 3, Colleen Dixon, architect with Omicron, sent an email to Director of Planning Boel: “Andre, I am following up on the Draft Bylaw we sent through last week. Are we still on for first reading this month?”
On March 2, 2014, Dixon wrote to Boel: “As promised, please see the attached Form and Character guidelines for The George for your review. ” Katie Janyk is “very surprised” to hear this. “If Form and Character guidelines are in the OCP, I don’t understand why Omicron would be writing Form and Character guidelines.” She showed an email of September 11, 2014, in which Andre Boel wrote that there was no complete draft zoning bylaw for The George yet.
The documents reveal there were deliberate attempts to keep information from Council. On March 14, 2014, Philips wrote in an email cc’d to Boel and Machado in a discussion about the profitability of The George: “I do not want the information to be viewed by any member of Council given the sensitivity of this project.”
On February 24, 2014, Gibsons Town Planner Andre Boel sent an email to Art Phillips: “The Town has been in recent contact with the Ministry of Environment regarding requirements under the Contaminated Sites Regulations. The Town of Gibsons has opted out of the site profile process. However, if a site has a Schedule 2 activity, (ie above ground fuel storage tank on site), the owner must fill in and submit a site profile to the Ministry of Environment for review.”
This was not entirely true, said Vincent Hanemayer, Senior Contaminated Sites Officer in a conversation with this paper on November 3, 2014. “The province would not process a site profile when a town has opted out.” “If a town opts out, we must assume it found a better way to deal with possible liabilities associated with issuing these permits.” Of course, Hanemayer said, a town cannot opt out of the Environmental Management Act and any other legislation it has about environmental requirements. The Gibsons OCP states that any development on the waterfront must be thoroughly investigated for possible contamination. Also, Hanemayer said, “we would expect that the developer notifies us of found contaminations.”
The developer had, indeed, sent an environmental assessment for the project to the Town in December 2012.
Dr. Andre Sobolewski, an environmental consultant who lives in Gibsons, thought that assessment “inadequate. It refers to an earlier version of the development, so it needs to be updated. And I found many things wrong with it. It only spoke of petroleum and metal contamination. The most toxic substance at this site, tributyltin (TBT), was never measured for this assessment.
“Mike McFarlane, the Director of the Land Remediation Section of the Ministry of the Environment, told me that the levels of TBT I measured in the sediments in front of the development were very close to the threshold that defines a hazardous waste site,” Sobolewski said. “God help us if TBT enters the aquifer with the excavations and the dredging. “I told staff in January and March of this year that there was something seriously wrong and that a new and better assessment was needed,” Sobolewski said. “They assured me they told the developer, but nothing happened. Why did the mayor do nothing?”
Reading the documents, it becomes clear that the Town of Gibsons and the developer have had a cordial relationship since the George was proposed in February last year. An example: although Boel had objected to the size of The George in his letter of May 1 because it did not fit the OCP, and although the size of the project was increased in October, Emanuel Machado, Chief Administrative Officer wrote to Art Phillips, Klaus Fuerniss’s project consultant, on November 16, 2013: “Thank you very much for the cooperative approach you have demonstrated with your proposal. Much appreciated.” The Town may be in a bit of a difficult position over The George. It could be sued in BC Supreme Court for going forward with a project which does not fit the OCP. On the other hand, if the project does not go forward, the developer could complain that he lost a lot of money because he was given the firm impression that the project would happen.
Mayor Wayne Rowe apologized he did not have time to comment.
Margot Grant is an investigative reporter from The Netherlands. She worked for Dutch Radio 1 and won two awards for Best European Documentary for documentaries about climate change in Canada. She also won a Dutch award for investigative reporting. From 2004 until 2012 she was correspondent for Canada and Western United States for Dutch media including Radio 1 and Max TV. In 2012, she retired. Margot Grant lives in Gibsons.
Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community, a registered sponsor under LECFA—gibsonsalliance.com