City may soon buy waterfront land

New Westminster News LeaderBy Michael McQuillan

Published: September 26, 2008 2:00 PM
Updated: September 26, 2008 3:04 PM

The City of New Westminster is involved in closed-door meetings to buy the Westminster Pier from an Alberta investor group. The deal could be completed within a month.

The Westminster Pier is a seven-acre former dockside property located on the Fraser River, east of the Fraser River Discovery Centre and the Larco property parking lot. Acquiring the land would allow the city to continue its goal of reclaiming its waterfront for public access.

But the deal is in jeopardy, say some members of New Westminster council, now that details of the sale are public.

Voice New Westminster, which released the information Thursday, counters some council members’ plan to use the announcement of the purchase to score political points with New Westminster electors, who go to the civic polls Nov. 15.

“If this is being trotted out as an election goody, there better be some substance to it,” said Blair Armitage, the mayoralty candidate for the Voice slate.

“I’m sure (Mayor Wayne Wright) wouldn’t comment about trotting this out as an election goody but the timing of everything is once again too coincidental,” he said, referring to the mayor’s 2005 announcement regarding the Plaza 88 development prior to the 2005 civic election.

“If they’re going to do this again, let’s have the substance behind it.”

Voice learned about the sale when members of the civic electors group spoke to surveyors working at the site, said Armitage.

But Coun. Johnathan Cote accused Voice councillors Bob Osterman and Betty McIntosh of revealing information about the deal, which was discussed by council during an in-camera meeting.

“This release of information may compromise the city’s ability to complete this incredibly important deal,” said Cote.

Armitage came to the defence of the two Voice councillors, and explained that he asked Osterman about the land deal and was told he couldn’t discuss it because of its confidential nature.

Mayor Wright refuted Armitage’s claim that the land purchase was aimed at gaining votes.

“We’ve been really diligent in trying to get this for a waterfront park for some time. That part is public knowledge,” Wright said. “We’ve been trying to get the waterfront back for over 30 years.”

The land had been owned by the provincial government but was then sold to Westminster Pier Development Corp., which planned to build residential towers on the site. The land was then sold to the Alberta investment group when Westminster Pier Development Corp. ran into financial problems.

Business Company posts miraculous pre-election “profit”

At last night’s school board meeting, we finally got to see where the school district’s business company ended up financially at the end of June. Not surprisingly, the business company is claiming a miraculous pre-election profit of $36,649 for the year ending June 30th.

In light of last night’s announcement, it will be interesting to see the detailed financial information on the school district business company at their AGM next week. What I’m really curious to know is whether the accumulated interest on the $1 million borrowed from the school district by the business company will figure at all in their financial calculations. After all, there aren’t many places where you can borrow money for free. However, I doubt that any borrowing costs will be showing against the $36,649 being claimed as profit.

The other thing that needs to be taken into account is the fact that the business company’s CEO (Brent Atkinson) is working for free. In the real world a CEO position would represent a cost to the business company of at least $130,000 per year which means the business company really ended up last year with a minimum $100,000 loss.

It’s also important to keep in mind that when Brent Atkinson took over as CEO of the business company, on an emergency basis, it was intended to be a short term solution. It was recognised that there was an inherent conflict in having a school trustee serve as CEO. But Brent has now been in this CEO position for a considerable amount of time and it is therefore not unreasonable to expect that costs reflective of a CEO salary should be accounted for in the business company financials.

If my memory serves me correctly, the previous CEO of the business company (Russ Pacey) was being paid in the order of $120,000 per year as an Assistant Superintendent, of which 20% was being shown as a cost for the business company. Even at 20% of a $120,000 per year salary (and I believe the 20% figure is low), the previous cost of a CEO for the business company was a minimum of $24,000 per year.

So in my opinion, the profit being claimed for the business company is really just pre-election smoke and mirrors. The business company has not lived up to the promise held out to the community seven years ago that the venture would be financial boon to the school district and its students. In reality, it’s been a boondoggle and not a boon at all.
– Patrick O’Connor

Amenities, Variances and Density Bonusing

I attended the recent “downtown Charette” hosted by City staff. The City is currently updating the Official Community Plan for the Downtown neighbourhood and this exercise was designed to solicit community input. The staff involved were knowledgeable, respectful and approachable and “no idea was dismissed”. Attendees chose between four design groups. The group I participated in touched on issues such as replacing and/or including rental housing units, senior residential spaces, daycares and schools etc. in new developments. The community participants brought different ideas to the table and showed great vision. I really enjoyed the event and hope that some of the input will be considered in the planning process for Downtown development.

The area included as “Downtown” was essentially from the waterfront to Royal Avenue and from Albert Crescent and along the waterfront to the Krueger Paper site. Two major properties up for discussion were: (1) the property adjacent to the Degelder site on Carnarvon; and (2) the vacant lot previously known as St. Mary’s Hospital.

The height of the Degelder project has created permanent shadowing on surrounding properties. There is (at least) one highrise in the vicinity that I’m sure will never see direct sun again. One idea put forward that may work in spite of this shadowing problem was a mixed use/mixed density development in a style we referred to as the “Village at Carnarvon”. One thought was to include the Civic Centre on this site. The Civic Centre is being funded entirely (so far) by casino money. It has yet to be decided what will be incorporated into the facility, but we have been led to believe it will include a large art component.

The discussion for the old St. Mary’s site (owned by Bosa and currently listed for sale) was lively. I have always felt that any redevelopment on that property (that is not a new hospital) would have to have include a community amenity; one that would be accessible to all residents. Keeping in mind the pride this City has for its history, my thought would be to include a new museum.

The City currently has a museum at the back of Irving House. The building is completely unsatisfactory. In fact, the City-commissioned Cornerstone Report completed in June 2004 identified that there was risk to the collections, personnel and public from seismic deficiencies.

There have been discussions to include a museum in another building at the Quay, but the proximity to the water has been identified as an environmental condition that would be harmful to the collection. A museum on the St. Mary’s site could include a memorial to the hospital incorporating some of the tiles that had been saved from demolition – perhaps even recreating the garden. It would also compliment and support Irving House, an existing museum that cannot be moved to another area as the location is a large part of its historical value.

If a developer were to give the City adequate space for a museum (and perhaps even sponsor the entire museum) or a different amenity, concessions, likely in the form of variances, would need to be afforded. Bearing in mind this is a large parcel of property, the surrounding zonings and the fact that the developer needs to make a profit, is this something the community would be prepared to accept and if so, to what limits? One 20 storey highrise? Or 2 highrises? Higher or lower? More or less? Mixed density? Townhouses? Commercial? Mixed use? All of these ideas? What are your ideas for the site? Is trading variances (Density Bonusing) for amenities something that would be generally accepted city-wide?

Susan Wandell

Director Paul Johansen’s response to Michael Ewen’s Letter to the editor

Dear Editor:

Re: It’s time to move forward, The Record, Letters to the editor, Sept. 13.

With interest, I read school trustee Michael Ewen’s letter on the land use study, but still, it does not explain why the district-commissioned Archie Miller report about the Douglas Road Cemetery was kept so secret.

According to a recent newspaper article, it was never acted on or shared with all trustees until this summer, years after it was issued by Mr. Miller. To commission, withhold and ignore consultant reports is not “best practice.”

In fact, as a glaring example of how this board neglects to follow proper channels of process, it completely contradicts Mr. Ewen’s claims about debate leading to consensus decisions at the board table.

This is further evidenced by the construction of school district parking lots.

In constructing the high school site parking lot, the board ignored the Archie Miller report that outlined the possibility that there were remains still buried on site and also ignored the requirement to secure permits for the construction of the parking lot.

Having knowledge of the lost graves, and bypassing city hall’s permit process, the upper parking lot at the high school was constructed anyway.

At McBride Elementary School, another parking lot was also improperly constructed; as a result, damage was caused to neighbouring residential property. Because the construction was done without permits, the city ordered that the parking lot be removed and that the site be restored to its previous state.

For lack of a permit and because of faulty construction, at great financial expense, the McBride school parking lot was done and then undone with no benefit to anyone.

Consequently, the parking difficulties at McBride remain, and the money that was spent was completely wasted.

In this district, the board does not have sufficient capital funds to address its many facility issues.

This makes it completely unacceptable for the district to continually repeat “rookie” mistakes.

Not only is it bad management to bypass process and ignore expertise, it’s arrogant. Ultimately, over and again, it is the students who are penalized by board incompetence.

That said, one outstanding question remains: will a fine be assessed and will a correction of the high school parking lot be ordered as well?

Paul Johansen, New Westminster

Voice is looking for volunteers, financial support, and most of all, your vote!!

The decision to run in a civic election can be a very daunting proposition to an unaligned or independant candidate. As an electors organization, going through the process of talking to people who have expressed interest, or talking to people the organization might have an interest in, you realize just how overwhelming the process really is to prospective candidates. There always will be independants, and that is the way it should be. However, Voice now gives an avenue for people to explore, to question, and to determine if the organization is a fit for them.
Voice is completing the final steps toward a full slate, and it certainly has been an invigorating process.
It is very clear that Voice is a neighborhood focused, issues driven breed of cat, and that it is an organization that has appealed to a vast range of individuals. In speaking to many of these good folks, it is clear that the issue of transparency and the prospect of being free of the clutches of special interests has caught the attention of many of them.
It is very gratifying that a great number of the members of the public agree with many of the tenets that Voice was founded on.
It is clear that this community is ready for change.
It is also clear that this community craves for leaders with vision, leaders who have integrity, and leaders who have the skillset and the competence to get this City and the School Board moving forward.
Voice provides that leadership, that vision, that integrity and that competence.
Voice is looking for volunteers, financial support, and most of all, your vote!!
Be a part of this great grass roots movement, join Voice, as it steers this community back on course.
Support those people who have made the brave decision to put their name forward, support them so that this city can once again be the leader that it’s residents, businesses and taxpayers deserve.

Casey Cook

We can only shudder to imagine

Somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, there’s a parallel New Westminster where, the week before last, nearly 2000 high school students walked into a brand new high school. Their new high school isn’t laden with asbestos nor is it being held together with Bondo. It doesn’t leak when it rains or snows, and best of all – in this parallel New Westminster – an exhausted rat-catcher is now mercifully being sent off to a well-deserved retirement. The entire focus at this parallel universe high school is on learning, not dreading what’s going to happen next.

Unfortunately, none of the above is happening here in the New Westminster we live in and the week before last our high school students returned to the same critically wounded NWSS they inhabited last year and the year before that.

There’s no point elaborating here on what went wrong with the high school replacement project or the negative impacts the endless delays and screw ups have had on students, staff and parents alike: these have been well-chronicled elsewhere.

But now that our kids are all back at school, the big question on the mind of many parents and community members is surely going to be “WHEN” will the new high school project finally get underway?

As we wait to hear fresh news of where things stand with the project, and whether the summer months have brought any solid progress, we can only shudder to imagine what bizarre new obstacles could conceivably be thrown in the project’s path.

In the interim, I’ve prepared a brief report from the notes I took last June 27, 2008 at an information meeting organized by incoming DPAC Chair Margot Barton (click here to read my report). Doug Hibbins presented information directly to those of us in attendance and it was extremely helpful to hear the information firsthand. I’m certain that all those who were in attendance at the meeting were most appreciative.

– Patrick O’Connor

SCHOOL TRUSTEE LISA GRAHAM JOINS VOICE NEW WESTMINSTER

Voice New Westminster is pleased to announce that New Westminster School Trustee, Lisa Graham, has joined Voice New Westminster and that she will be part of the Voice slate of candidates seeking election to the New Westminster school board on November 15th.

Graham says she’s had an interesting vantage point on New Westminster politics over the last two terms on the school board and this vantage point made it an easy decision to joinVoice New Westminster.

“Voice is a diverse group of very capable individuals who have an impressive track record of community service,” Graham said. “Municipal politics is very different from provincial and federal politics; the ideal of municipal politics is the free vote, unencumbered by party-whips, party-lines, or special interests. That’s the principle that should be reflected in all the decisions made at city hall and the school board.”

Graham says Voice not only respects the principle of unencumbered “free-voting,” it strongly endorses the principle. “Voice is a group that includes members of all political stripes, and members of no political stripes,” Graham said. “I like that; it’s cause for renewed optimism for New Westminster. This is a very good fit for me.”

Voice New Westminster was formed nineteen months ago to support a broadly-based,non-partisan slate of candidates for mayor, council and school board. Voice will be announcing its complete slate of school board candidates very soon.

Voice director, Casey Cook , welcomed Lisa Graham to the electors organization by stating, ” Lisa has shown extraordinary resolve in fighting, often single-handedly, to get issues out to the public and to education stakeholders. She has been a champion of the public’s right to know. In that respect, she has set herself apart from other trustees. Voice has stated since it’s inception that it endorses the principle of transparency in the decision making process.”

Voice Candidates will Represent Community

In the September 6th Record, M. Lovick claims that Bob Osterman and Betty McIntosh have joined a political party. Voice is not a political party but an elector’s organization formed by concerned citizens of New Westminster. We come from various backgrounds. Some of us are, or have been, active members of various federal and provincial parties and some of us have not belonged to any party. Our purpose is to support candidates for Council and for School Board who put the common interests of our citizens before those of any special interest groups. We do not have “policy guidelines” for our candidates to follow. They will be free to vote their conscience when they are serving as elected representatives of the people of New Westminster. We do not “target” labour as many of our members, including some of our candidates, are members of unions. If one looks at the Labour Council supported candidates they usually vote as a block, and usually side with the Mayor. It is curious how these representatives of labour are so willing to do what the Mayor and his developer friends want. Zoning by Variance has become an all too common practice with those members of city council. As one who is active on my residents’ association it is disheartening to see how the wishes of neighbourhoods are pushed aside by these councillors who claim to represent the working people of this city.

– Joan Davis