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Concerned citizen raises questions; answers provided below

The editor explains:  The Mid-town Transition Project is a contentious topic among some residents.  A concerned citizen submitted the following document, outlining questions and concerns which may well be shared by others – and which deserve answers.  Jan Morton of the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society was kind enough to obtain answers from the Project team to the points I passed on to her  – fire hazard,  environmental risk, and ownership.  Those answers appear below the resident's submission.

Here is the submission from the concerned citizen:

“Rossland’s Mid Town Mixed Use Development Project exposes tax payers to unnecessary risks.

“Fire Risk– This project proposes locating a new 3 million dollar City Hall on the ground floor of an apartment building. The city hall facility and operations of the city will be affected by any fire event in the building. Since there are 37 apartments located above the city hall it represents a significantly higher likelihood of a fire event disrupting operations and damaging infrastructure. 

“This may be a minor kitchen fire that triggers the fire alarm and causes evacuation of the building and a disruption of hours to a major fire that leaves the building unusable until repaired and we find ourselves in the same situation we are in now looking for another building to use until repairs are complete.  You would think given the situation we are currently experiencing in Rossland we would be taking every measure possible to ensure we are not in the same situation in the future.

“This additional fire risk is unnecessary and only present due to the proposal to combine the City Hall and the housing structure.

“The Environmental Assessment– Due to the history of the site the environmental assessment states the ground floor of the structure cannot be permanently occupied and yet the proposal is to send City employees to work on the ground floor on a full time basis. It would seem this exposes the City to possible litigation should an employee have serious health problems. Even if it is proven the site did not contribute to the health issues you still deal with the litigation. Then there is the even more serious situation where the site may be contributing to employee health issues as we learn more about the impact of toxins in the workplace. I expect this risk is very low but it’s hard to deny it exists. This risk is unnecessary and is tied to the site selection.

“Building Ownership – The City of Rossland will own the bottom floor of the structure only. The upper floors will be owned by the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society.  This partnership model in my mind presents the most significant opportunity to hamper City operations and potentially cost taxpayers significant dollars. The proposed design life I have seen is 75 years. This partnership is currently in the honeymoon stage and could work reasonably well for a few years. Most partnerships fail (75 years).  There is I believe a high likelihood that in the longer term this partnership will be strained and could get very messy. The demand can change. It’s tied to a very unstable economy. Imagine this structure with only 50% occupancy.  It’s not hard to imagine with the funding challenges facing government due to Covid 19 these types of sponsored housing projects could be sold to the private sector and the city would be dealing with a very different partner. The risk goes both ways here and I would suggest it’s a very risky business decision for the Housing Society as they will be dealing with many different Mayors and Council over the years.

“We clearly need a new City Hall and there is documentation on the City Web Site that defines a need for the housing. As much as it may not appear from this article the Community appreciates all the work Council and City Staff have put into this project. I believe the Community also highly values the partnerships with the Lower Columbia Housing Society, BC Housing and the Columbia Basin Trust. A risk assessment exercise for this project would look at the consequences of not doing the work but also of delaying the work. I expect the consequences of a few years delay in the long run would have very little negative affect. We should not rush into a poor decision. Perhaps a new City Hall and a housing facility in a different configuration would meet the same objective without the additional risk.

“I requested a professionally facilitated detailed risk assessment for this project and documentation identifying these and other risks to inform and discuss with the community. It appears Council has no interest in this work.

“If you don’t think this project is in the best interest of the community you can contact the Mayor and Council by email council@rossland.ca with a simple NO MT MUD.”

The Midtown Transition Project Team has provided the following answers to the concerns raised in the concerned resident’s letter about perceived risks associated with the planned project:

“The Project team has been working on due diligence and assessment of potential project risks since before approval of funding in 2018. This includes the creation of a project charter and risk register which is continually updated as the project has proceeded through the various approval stages at the City of Rossland and BC Housing, a Crown Corporation.

“Fire Risk:

“The project will be designed to all code and fire/life safety requirements for a mixed-use building. The entire building will be sprinklered and will conform to modern residential and commercial fire risk standards. The project design team is experienced in mixed-use projects and has designed the building to ensure safety and security of all occupants. Modern life safety systems are designed to address and contain fire events quickly and efficiently.

“Environmental Risk:

“As noted in the Environmental reports and Health and Ecological Risk Assessment reports, the ground floor can be used for commercial spaces and will meet all government environmental regulations for staff and the public using the space. The Risk Assessment report also confirmed that residential uses are appropriate on the upper storeys of the building. This due diligence is a requirement for BC Housing funding and financing and all parties have an interest in these assessments being thorough and accurate. The professional design team has considered these reports in depth and is satisfied with the consultants’ recommendations.

“Building Ownership:  

"The City of Rossland will continue to own the site. The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society will own, by way of a long-term lease, the majority of the residential units and BC Housing will also have an ownership stake in the residential portion of the project. This ensures all parties are invested long term in the care and function of the building. The leases and operations of the building will all be secured by way of operator and lease agreements with the Society, the City, and BC Housing, all of which will be registered on title.

“The mortgage for the property is insured through BC Housing. BC Housing is a consistent project partner on thousands of housing units and projects across the Province and is an important and experienced partner for a mixed-use building. BC Housing provides rigorous oversight at every stage of the project.

“The Midtown Transition Project team consists of representatives of the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society, Boni Maddison Architects, Rossland City staff and Council as well as project consultants, CitySpaces.

“We appreciate the work and time dedicated by everyone involved, toward making this project  a reality.”