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Petition: Mayor Moore responds to allegations

A pre-COVID-19 meeting of Rossland City Council in the Miners Union Hall; photo by Sara Gollling

Editor's Note:  Rossland has a rich history of community involvement.  That tradition continues today, as groups of citizens agitate for and against various developments in the community.  The most recent example is a petition, signed by over ten percent of Rossland voters, alleging various things about the City’s involvement in the  Mid-Town Transition Project to create workforce housing for Rossland, and – perhaps, if all goes well – a new City Hall on the ground floor. 

The petition seeks to have the Provincial Government order the City to put the matter to a referendum.

The petition is based on statements which Mayor Kathy Moore addresses in her response, below:

Hello Minister Robinson, staff and other interested folks,

The attached document  (below) has been prepared to address the concerns and erroneous information expressed in the petition submitted by Mr Aaron Fletcher Quince. It also provides a review of some previously shared information addressing other questions (most of which involve City Hall).  We continue to provide clear and complete information to the community with respect to this exciting proposed affordable housing and city hall development. I have also attached the design concept for the project.

For additional information, the City of Rossland has maintained a section on our website that we update regularly as more information has become available since the early stages of this project.  http://www.rossland.ca/midtown-mixed-use-development.

Should you require any further information with respect to above, please feel free to contact me or the City at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Mayor Kathy Moore

 

Big Questions (and Answers) about the Mid-Town Mixed Use Development

(AKA Emcon lot development)

July 2020

Summary:

On June 15, 2020, the Project Committee was made aware of a petition circulating in the community requesting a referendum on the proposed project. This note directly addresses the concerns and erroneous information expressed in that petition and provides a review of some previously shared information addressing other questions. Most questions involve City Hall.

Council was elected to make decisions on behalf of the community. Sometimes those decisions concern projects, like this one, that aren’t suitable for a “yes” or “no” vote in a referendum. Council, staff, the project team and project partners have spent hours, in some cases years, working on this project and, on the basis of all the evidence and analysis, believe it is in the best interest of our community to proceed with it.

This proposed project addresses the need for affordable housing and provides a functional space for City Hall.  Housing has been a concern for years and was identified by the community as a top issue in the last election. City Hall had outgrown the old space as our community has grown, legislative requirements have increased and the services we provide to the community have expanded. It will provide better service to the taxpayers for decades come.

Providing a functional City Hall has been in the financial plan for the last several years. Funds have been put into reserves for this purpose, $500,000 specifically towards General Capital Reserves earmarked for City Hall and $1.1M into the Major Capital Reserve Fund in order to leverage grant and insurance funds and advance community strategic objectives. Surplus vacant lands on 3rd avenue and the old City Hall building will be put up for sale; generating sales proceeds as well as future new tax revenue. The balance of the funds to build the new City Hall will come from reserves. No borrowing is anticipated. It is true that the City will have to expend money for a new City Hall; however, it is no different than many other services provided for our taxpayers that require capital investment such as the water treatment plant, the Miners Hall, the arena etc. This proposed project is different in that the new taxes generated will pay back the investment from reserves over time.  City employees strive to be as productive as possible, and that is not realistic in the old City Hall. 

This project is a partnership between the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society, BC Housing, Columbia Basin Trust and the City of Rossland. The Project Committee consists of members of the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society, the architects, (Boni Maddison) the project manager consultants (CitySpaces) and members of Rossland City Council and staff.

The petition claims:

·       The City is moving forward with combining City Hall with housing without public consultation.

NOT TRUE. There have now been three formal public consultations. The City and the Project Committee held two open houses - a pre-application open house on March 5, 2019, and a Rezoning Application open house on October 29, 2019 - and a Public Hearing (February 3, 2020). Each open house was advertised a minimum of two weeks prior on the City’s website, the RosslandNews, a direct mail out to neighbours of the site, as well as social media. At each of these consultation events, the proposal for City Hall in the ground floor was presented for public input.

As well, a two-page information handout about the project was distributed via Canada Post and email to all residents. The project has been mentioned in the monthly Council Connects newsletters multiple times over the last several years. A direct link from the City of Rossland home page takes any interested reader to much more in-depth information on the project, including all relevant planning, assessment and approval documents and reports.

·      The City did not inform the public of environmental and geotechnical information regarding the site prior to the Public Hearing.

NOT TRUE.  The City undertook three environmental assessments: An Environmental Phase 1 Study (September 2017), a Detailed Site Investigation Study (October 2018), and a Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment study (October, 2018) for the site. The Project Committee commissioned a geotechnical study (completed July 2019).

The public was informed of the environmental studies and site investigation work at the March 5, 2019 and the geotechnical report at the October 29, 2019 open house. All studies were posted on the City’s website as part of the rezoning application process in January 2020 prior to the Public Hearing.

The Environmental Study along with the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment noted that development could take place on the site with a commercial ground floor and residential uses on upper floors. The geotechnical report indicates that the site is suitable for the multi-story development proposed.

·        Are the geotechnical and environmental assessments good enough to ensure the safety of the project?  

Yes. These reports are legally required and are also a requirement of BC Housing funding and any financing. All parties have an interest in these assessments being thorough and accurate. The professional design team has considered these reports in depth.

Some of the concerns expressed in the petition are likely confusing the Emcon lot site with the geotechnical conditions of the lot to the west of the arena parking lot which are indeed comprised of fill and other unstable material. This is not the situation with the Emcon lot as it is not the location of this project, thus irrelevant.

The assessments are posted at Rossland.ca. Click on “Midtown Housing Project” and then look under “Rezoning Information – January 2020”. There is also a transportation study there (Sept 2019) that looks at parking issues.

·       The City committed $3 million to the project without the Alternative Approvals Process.(AAP)

Clarification: The AAP doesn’t apply to this proposed project. The AAP is a process that is specifically required in BC for boundary extensions, loan authorizations (long term borrowing), disposal of utilities, and various property tax exemptions. The City’s financial plan for the project doesn’t involve any long-term borrowing, so the AAP process is not triggered.

To be clear, the City has not yet committed to any contribution, or spent any funds on this proposed project. The City has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society so they can proceed with design in preparation for tendering the final cost of the project. When those final costs come in, the City will decide whether to approve its share.

·       The City assumed significant financial risk by issuing the Development Permit for contaminated lands.

NOT TRUE.  As noted previously, the Environmental Study along with the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment noted that development could take place on the site with a commercial ground floor and residential uses on upper floors. The Geotechnical Report indicates that the site is suitable for the multi-story development proposed. These reports have formed the basis of the design of the proposed building by the architect. The design and attendant costs have been, and will continue to be, peer reviewed by BC Housing at multiple stages of the project.  Regardless of any City involvement, the current property can allow for any future building to be constructed that is similar to the one proposed with the Midtown Mixed-Use Development Project.

These questions have been answered before but they are important and bear repeating:

·      How much is this going to cost Rossland taxpayers?

Rossland taxpayers are not paying for development of the top three floors and any amenities related to the 37 units of affordable housing. That part is estimated to cost $11.7 million, with $5.7 million coming as grants from CBT and BC Housing, and $6 million coming as investment by way of a mortgage through BC Housing from the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society, a local non-profit Society with three existing housing developments in Trail and Rossland. Rossland tax dollars will pay for the ground floor, which will be the new City Hall. The estimate for this is $2.8- $3m which includes costs related to design and a healthy contingency. However, it is important to note, until the project is tendered and a bid accepted, the final costs for either portion of the project are estimates.

·       Where will the City’s funds for the project come from?

1.      A variety of current City capital funds ($2,220,000) from reserves to leverage grant funding and advance community projects,

2.      Selling of previous City Hall building and lands (approx. “2019 assessment value” of $639,000, appraisal done shows approx. $500,000, note that insurance funds would be used to restore building prior to its sale.)

3.      3.     Selling of City owned properties on the southside of 3rd Avenue (approximately $400,000),

4.     Potential short-term borrowing, if required

·       What about cost overruns?

This proposed project is a partnership with BC Housing, Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society, Columbia Basin Trust and the City of Rossland. BC Housing, a Provincial Crown Corporation, does projects and partnerships like this all over the Province. Cost containment is extremely important to them so many checks and balances, including independent 3rd party reviews are in place at each step in the process to ensure that there are no cost overruns and any change orders are kept to a minimum. In addition, the budget has generous contingencies built into it for each phase of the project, including the city hall portion. The City is taking advantage of BC Housing’s rigorous oversight processes for our portion of the project as well, since they are intrinsically linked.

·       How will the affordable housing part work? Why is the City involved in housing and competing with local builders?

The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society will be the owner of, and landlord for, the top three floors. The rent they collect will be used to pay off the debt for their share of the costs of construction. BC Housing will also have an ownership interest in the project and will enter into an operating agreement with the Society. This will provide continued oversight of the operations of the affordable housing units. Future tenants of the building will have to meet LCAHS and BC Housing requirements, including household income testing and year around local employment.  The residential floors will also present increased future tax revenues for the City.

It is a challenge for builders to construct affordable housing for lower income earners because there is limited opportunity for profit. That is why BC Housing and Columbia Basin Trust funding are involved.  This project will have little bearing on private supply and demand.

·       Can the Housing Project go ahead without City Hall?

The first floor can be used for commercial purposes (ie office or city hall) but not residential or a day care. This is due to the historic light industrial uses of the lot. The housing project must have a partner to go ahead, both because there cannot be housing on the first floor and because they need a partner to contribute to the shared portions of the development and construction (ie foundation, roof etc) of the site. The City and the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation had looked for potential tenant options and did not get any viable leads. It is unlikely that the City would donate the land to a partnership that included a private entity, thus increasing the costs to build the housing project.

·       Why not use the old City Hall?

The old City Hall building could be restored by the insurance company, up to the amount of the insurance settlement, (which currently is insufficient to bring the building back to its previous state). However, prior to the roof collapse, that building was seriously deficient. Up to six employees located in open public reception area, many staff doubling up in offices, , limited room for public attendance at Council meetings, inadequate ventilated or physically secure server space and insufficient secure storage space for legally required files. Effects: lower productivity and harder to attract and maintain good staff.

The old City Hall could also be upgraded, with the insurance company paying only as much as the settlement to restore it to its previous condition, and Rossland paying the cost of the upgrades. This might be accomplished by adding a second floor, possibly adding a maximum of 2,000 square feet of more usable space. Very rough estimates of this work are around $1.5-$1.8 million.

Pros:

·       Upfront construction costs less than new City Hall option

·       More available room than the old space (was 4,800 sf)

·       Could address some known deficiencies such as: provide some more private office space where citizens could have confidential conversations with staff, provide more work space for existing employees.

Cons:

·       2,000 sf addition will not meet current needs, and no room for future growth, currently have 16-18 employees in City Hall 1,200 sf less than proposal at Emcon.  At best, this would be a temporary solution and eventually, City Hall would have to relocate somewhere else.

·       Takes up valuable space on Columbia that could be devoted to commercial/retail. (City displaced 3 businesses moving to current temp location – all moved to Trail)

·       Loss of potential tax revenues in perpetuity from new tenant on Columbia

·       More energy efficient than old building, but not as energy efficient as new build = higher annual operating costs.

·       May jeopardize prospect of low-income housing development because housing cannot be located on first floor.

Alternatively, the City could upgrade the old City Hall and purchase the office building currently being rented. While the renovation and purchase costs are likely to be lower, the efficiency and productivity of staff would be reduced and the City would forego sales proceeds on the old city hall, forego tax revenue on both buildings, the community would lose the opportunity of having two new businesses in town and the housing project would be unlikely to proceed.

Closing remarks:

Speaking on behalf of City Council, I hope this document has answered some questions and cleared up some misrepresentations about the proposed Midtown Mixed-Use project. We believe this project is in the best interest of our community and are committed to proceeding with utmost care and fiscal responsibility, as we have done from the beginning.

Thank you for your questions and your interest in becoming informed. For any further information with respect to this proposed project, please feel free to contact the City for the facts.

Mayor Kathy Moore

 

Editor's Note: For readers who have not yet seen the wording of the petition, here it is, as submittee by Aaron (Fletcher) Quince on behalf of the Rossland Taxpayers Federation -- preamble excluded; this is just the wording of the actual petiiton:

To the Honourable the Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia, in Legislature Assembled:
 
The petition of the undersigned, citizens and electors of the City of Rossland, states that: Unaddressed Environmental, GeoTechnical, and Financial concerns paired with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to result in significant cost overruns on a proposed Mixed-Use Development Project currently supported by the Corporation of the City of Rossland.
 
Where the City of Rossland did

(1) act to combine the construction of a new City Hall with a proposed housing development prior to public consultation;

(2) prevent informed community participation through the withholding of Environmental and Geotechnical information until after the projects Public Hearing;

(3) circumvent the Alternate Approval Process, and the expressed concerns of residents, by committing $ 3 Million towards the City Hall portion of the project through the allocation of a significant portion of the community’s reserve fund, and the disposal of as yet undisclosed properties, and

(4) assume significant future financial risk on behalf of the community by issuing a Development Permit for contaminated lands.
 
Your petitioners respectfully request that the Honourable House require the Corporation of the City of Rossland to hold a Referendum on the intended development prior to further expenditure on the initiative, or excavation of the contaminated site.