There remain a number of issues about which Gibsons residents and taxpayers still have little information when it comes to the proposed "George" hotel, condos and marina development.
Dr. Dorothy I. Riddle, CMC, President & CEO of Service-Growth Consultants Inc. moved to Gibsons in 2009, just in time to participate in the development of the OCP Harbour Area Plan. With 30 years of experience as an economic development consultant in over 85 countries, Dr. Riddle was delighted to see the community engaged in the planning process. So she assumed that the Town would welcome input about the economics of the George project and ways to ensure the greatest benefit for all parties, particularly Gibsons taxpayers.
Yet since Dr. Riddle provided the Town in January 2014 with an economic impact analysis of the George proposal that pointed out some serious issues, the mayor, who once deferred to Dr. Riddle on issues of economic development, has publicly dismissed her credentials and completely ignored her attempts to raise legitimate questions about this complex project. In any development project, Town and Council have the responsibility to look after the best interests of the community—all of the community—and to negotiate the best possible terms, in keeping with the community’s wishes as reflected in the OCP. At each stage of the project’s consideration by Council, Dr. Riddle has provided Council with detailed memos outlining issues that are outstanding and possible constructive ways forward. These have been ignored, without the courtesy of a Council response.
Concerned by some Town staff memos that options to protect the interests of taxpayers were being overlooked in a rush to accommodate the developer, Dr. Riddle sent a memo to Council in July 2015 (as a resident and taxpayer) requesting that Council direct Town staff to “take two actions that I believe will help ensure an informed decision making process” and not leave the community on the hook for what some feel could be a net loss to the taxpayers of Gibsons. Below is that request, which has been blatantly ignored by town staff, the mayor and newly elected councillors.
The question remains - WHY?
Dr. Riddle concluded her July memo by saying: “I recognize that some aspects of negotiations need to be kept confidential; however, I assume that our elected officials have complete access to information about all discussions, negotiations, and ‘proprietary information’ in order to make informed decisions. I believe that the community – and particularly the taxpayers – have a right to know what is under discussion, if even in outline form. I hope you will give serious consideration to this request. Surely all of this information is already available through the work that staff have been doing. Providing the above to the public is, I believe, is an important civic responsibility of Council and critical to an informed public discussion.”
Since the memo was submitted and ignored, Dr. Riddle has corresponded with the Town about when the community will have an opportunity to question the peer reviewers retained by the Town to analyze the adequacy of the developer’s approach to remediating the toxics on the site and protecting the aquifer and whether there would be reports forthcoming on the developer’s revised plans. She was told, “For now the work of Levelton and Waterline with regards to the peer review for the George Hotel is finished. They are likely to be retained again once further review will take place, if the project would proceed to Development Permit and Building Permit. There are no plans for a public meeting with the two peer reviewers.“ These are professionals, paid by taxpayers, who had serious reservations about the plans submitted by the developer. While the developer’s technical staff were allowed an extensive period of time to present to Council in May 2015, there has been no opportunity provided for the community to interact with the professionals who are supposed to be guarding its interests and apparently the Town has not acquired peer review data on the development plan revisions.
If a public hearing and subsequent Council action on this development proposal is to be meaningful, surely the community is entitled to answers to the questions raised by Dr. Riddle and an opportunity to interact with professionals retained on its behalf.
1. Publish a list of all of the decision points under discussion and the covenants to be contained in a development agreement. These would include, but not be limited to:
a. How the sale or lease of Winn Road [a public road providing waterfront access] will be handled in order to ensure a comparable benefit to the community as per the Community Charter.
b. How the value of the airspace benefit from the zoning uplift will be calculated.
c. How free on-street parking at the Post Office will be protected for residents who receive mail there.
d. The amount to be charged to the developer for the shortfall in required parking spaces [cash in lieu of parking $30k per space], and the cost-sharing terms between the developer and the Town regarding paid underground parking that is replacing the current free on-street parking.
e. Compensation for use of the Town’s water lots and building out over them, as well as cost sharing with the Town of any revenues generated from use of that public space by the developer or property owner.
f. Restrictions on how the Town’s water lots and recreational water lease can be used, in order to ensure that the public continues to enjoy their use.
g. Ensuring that there is a 15 m. linear park along the water side of the property, to be maintained by the developer (as per the Official Community Plan).
h. Ensuring the minimum required setbacks around the property, including 3 m setbacks on the Winegarden Park side, 15 m riparian setbacks along creek beds, and the specified 15 m geotechnical setback.
i. Protecting the use of Winegarden Park for music and festival events, up to at least midnight.
j. How the affordable housing requirement is being handled.
k. Ensuring that stormwater management (the bioswale) is on-property rather than off-property in Winegarden [public] Park.
l. Specifying which service infrastructure developments, on all sides of the property, are being required and so are not DCC creditable.
m. A covenant that ensures unlimited and unencumbered public access to the waterfront (24hrs/day 365 days a year), which is physically accessible (i.e., without stairs), rather than allowing the property owner to “gate” the access, create stairs, or limit hours of access (e.g., dawn to dusk)
n. A covenant that, since significant concessions are being made by the Town and community, the developer or property owner will not ask for a tax holiday (as property taxes are one of the promised revenue streams).
o. A covenant that, since significant concessions are being made by the Town and community, the designated land may only be used for a commercial property that will provide clear economic benefits to the Town – i.e. that condos may not be “built separately” from the hotel project and that construction of the hotel will precede that of the condos in order to ensure that the “economic benefit” does indeed materialize.
p. A covenant ensuring that Gibsons Marina is not privatized all or in part but remains available for public use as per the original grant.
2. Publish a balance sheet of what the Town would be gaining and what the Town would be losing if the George proposal were to go forward. This would include realistic estimates of items like the following (but not limited to them):
a. Town revenues and community improvements
i. Gain in Gibsons municipal property tax revenue from the George
ii. Upgrading of service infrastructure on all sides of the property (as required), including the sea walk
iii. Amenity contributions
v. Gain by Gibsons businesses of revenue, and associated jobs
b. Town expenses and costs to the community
i. Loss in Gibsons municipal property taxes (e.g., 10-20% for properties in Lower Gibsons that have their view partially or fully blocked, as “view” is becoming increasingly valued in assessing the value of property)
ii. Long term servicing costs by the Town of the new infrastructure
iii. Transference of a significant list of Town public assets to private ownership without compensation
iv. Possible loss of tourism revenues during the 18(?)-month construction period
v. Loss by local businesses of revenue, and associated jobs , through business transference