The Town of Gibsons is planning to give away Winn Road in a two-part deal they are describing as a “Land Exchange.”
The Town has drafted a Land Exchange Agreement outlining its intent to exchange ownership of publicly owned Winn Road for ownership of land between a hotel and condo building in the proposed George hotel and condo complex.
This land area is described in the Agreement as a “road dedication area,” or “public plaza.” This area was labelled a “Pedestrian Plaza” when the George project properties were spot-zoned in October 2015.
Under the current OCP and zoning bylaw this land is an undevelopable “view corridor” that the Town requires of any development in the Gibsons Harbour Area.
The View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza is approximately 10,500 sq. ft. in area. It is a requirement of zoning and the land must remain undeveloped as a view corridor through the massive hotel/condo complex.
Winn Road also has an area of about 10,500 sq. ft. This land is considered a highway under the Community Charter and the Land Title Act of BC. It is fee simple land, owned by the public and currently provides unrestricted vehicular access to the ocean.
The Community Charter and BC Land Title Act provides many opportunities and prohibitions to stop a municipality from giving away highway access to the ocean. Constraints for subdivision of lands require road access to the ocean must be given to a municipality.
The Community Charter specifically restricts the Town of Gibsons from closing and selling/giving away Winn Road unless it is
- exchanging the property for other property that the council considers will provide public access to the same body of water that is of at least equal benefit to the public, or
- the proceeds of the disposition are paid into a reserve fund, with the money from the reserve fund used to acquire property that the council considers will provide public access to the same body of water that is of at least equal benefit to the public.
The Big Question: If Gibsons Council really considers the land between the George Hotel and condo buildings to be is as valuable as Winn Road; and the Town really intends to secure ownership of this land - why not just draft a straightforward agreement to sell Winn Road to the developer at fair market value, put the money into a reserve fund and buy the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza once the plaza is built?
Why get into a convoluted land exchange scheme?
Benefit to the public?
In what appears to be an attempt to circumvent various legislative prohibitions, the Town has developed a convoluted land exchange agreement. The Town claims Winn Road and the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza are both worth $560,000 and it will simply swap lands of equal value. It has also created an underground air parcel space beneath the Road, to be sold to the developer for $61,600. This $61,600 is the only money the Town would receive for Winn Road.
The Town owns Winn Road and as explained above, it cannot simply sell it off or give it away. The town has the right and authority to sell the property for fair market value and the obligation not to provide benefit to any developer by selling or exchanging the land at a discounted price.
The Town claims it will gain ownership of the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza through this exchange for Winn Road. This may be so, but rather than specify that the developer will subdivide the plaza land, raise title and sell the land to the Town in exchange for Winn Road, the Land Exchange Agreement contains ambiguous language which allows the developer to "dedicate the area as road" and/or subdivide and transfer it to the Town, yet later specifies that the town will subdivide and raise title on the land after the fact.
NOTE: If the developer subdivided the land and sold it to the Town, the developer would be required by legislation to give the Town access 20m wide to the ocean because the land the town is trying to exchange (Winn Road) for the plaza, is a highway that provides access to the ocean. It appears the Towns intention in entering into this convoluted agreement is to allow the developer to get around the legislated requirement to give access to the Town.
Winn Road was spot-zoned in 2015 as Mixed Residential Tourist Accommodation zoning, allowing commercial high density development 3 times higher and denser than any other zoning in Gibsons Landing. No other lot in Gibsons Landing, save the privately owned George project properties, has this zoning.
The George View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza is undevelopable as long as the project is built as proposed.
In 2014 prior to re-zoning the George developer had Winn Road appraised at $425,000. The appraisal was based on the premise that the “highest and best use of the land” is single family residential. After the Town spot-zoned Winn Road in 2015, the BC Assessed value of the land on either side of Winn Road, rose dramatically. In 2017, in the hottest real estate market in the history of our town, the developer’s appraiser once again undervalued valued Winn Road at $560,000. Once again, the appraisal was based on the faulty premise that the highest and best use of the land, is single family residential development, even though the property has been spot zoned for mixed residential tourist accommodation and the town is selling it to the George developer to be part of the George project. Simply put, this Winn Road appraisal is based on a fallacy.
The View Corridor/Public Access is a requirement of zoning. The land cannot be developed. Its value is minimal. It appears the Town has not had an appraisal done to quantify the value of the George View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza.
Quality of the Land
Winn Road provides gently sloping pedestrian and vehicular access from Gower Point Road to the ocean. At the bottom of Winn Road one can reach the beach path, by foot, car, bike, baby carriage, scooter, motorcycle… with kids, dogs, kayaks and paddle boards in tow - 24 hrs./day, 365 days/year.
The “public plaza” would provide pedestrian only access up, across and down to the beach bath via a Hotel and Condo complex plaza. It would be twice as far, would not accommodate people with mobility disabilities, and we have no assurances as to what kind of agreement for access and upkeep will be made and enforced with hotel/ condo strata owners through this area.
Winn Road provides access to the Town’s recreational water lease and provides the opportunity to secure a water lease at the foot of Winn Road.
The View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza land abuts the sea walk in Gibsons marina. This land provides no marine access, nor any opportunity to hold a water lease.
Maintenance of the "Plaza"
The Town also says the George hotel and condo strata will maintain improvements to the land in perpetuity. But how will it all work?
- If the town ends up owning the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza freehold, and maintenance is managed by the George Hotel and Condo strata, certainly town staff will have to deal with the strata corp. in perpetuity.
- What else might the strata manage? Access? I.e. will the property end up gated?
- What if the strata corp. decides it doesn’t want to pay anymore?
Why Not Keep It Simple?
Regardless of how the town tries to spin the land “exchange” the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza
- Is a requirement of zoning and subdivision.
- Is a pedestrian area, not a road.
- Does not provide access to the ocean equal to what Winn Road currently provides.
- Is not equal in value to Winn Road.
Rather than entering into a convoluted exchange agreement, the town could have kept it simple and achieved its proclaimed goals by
- Getting independent appraisals of Winn Road, and the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza.
- Drafting an agreement to sell Winn Road to the developer at fair market value and to purchase the View Corridor/Pedestrian plaza for fair market value.
- Agreeing to sell Winn Road, put the money into a reserve fund and use the money to purchase the View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza once it’s built.
- Agreeing to provide an easement to the hotel/condo strata for access through a publicly owned View Corridor/Pedestrian Plaza, on the condition that the strata maintain the plaza in perpetuity.
Instead of negotiating the best deal for the taxpayers, it appears the Town of Gibsons is giving away a public asset in a way that provides benefit, advantage and assistance to the developer and developed within a convoluted “exchange agreement” that may also leave the town with limited recourse in the event that plans and/or ownership changes and could become a serious burden/liability for the taxpayers.