Victoria forum on sale of public lands draws interest

Transparency, inconsistent policy among concerns relating to city land dealings

As the city prepares to entertain the possible sale of a second piece of prominent public land, some are calling for a made-in-Victoria policy to guide such sales in the future.

Irwin Henderson presented his research to a standing-room only community forum last week.

“It’s a matter of fairness, that you want buyers and the taxpayers to be treated fairly over time, as well as in individual cases, and that’s why it’s important to have a policy,” said Henderson, an active community volunteer.

City councillors Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon hosted the community discussion, which attracted nearly 100 people. While some people feel public land should never be sold, others have argued for more transparency, open competition, or other standard criteria.

Both Isitt and Gudgeon recently opposed the majority vote by council to consider an offer from Ralmax Group of Companies to purchase the city-owned marine industrial land at Point Hope.

That decision sparked the community forum, but the issue of public land divestiture has been a sore point since January.

That’s when details of the Northern Junk proposal came to light.

Two years ago, council granted developer Reliance Properties permission to submit a rezoning application for the public land surrounding its privately-owned property on Wharf Street.

The company proposes to restore the two heritage buildings on its own lot, and to build a multi-use development extending into property currently owned by the city.

While council still has the authority to reject the rezoning application, it risks a lawsuit if it withdraws its offer to include municipal property in the development plan.

For many, the irreversible nature of the deal came as a nasty surprise.

The public learned of the situation thanks to a motion by Coun. Lisa Helps to report on the council decision made behind closed doors.

It was Helps who again made a motion in late April to report on council’s motion to entertain an offer by Ralmax.

“That’s important to me that the conversation happens in public,” she said at the time.

Isitt argues that the process is backwards.

“The city should really be the driving force (behind land sales),” he said.

When faced with an offer to buy land, he added, the city’s first question should be ‘is this surplus to the city’s current or future needs?’

By agreeing to consider an offer before this analysis, the city is sending the message that ‘if the price is right, the land is surplus,’ he said.

In his presentation, Henderson shared his research into three other North American municipalities with land-sale policies. There were some commonalities shared by each, he said.

“They (all) had some kind of notification procedure that land is on the market and available, and that’s at the early stages,” he said. “It also announces, at that point, the process that will be followed, and it will give a hint, or more, for the policy reason for doing this.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

Did you know?

• The City of Victoria has no municipal land-sale policy, but must abide by the provincial Community Charter. The charter dictates that before council disposes of any land, it must publish a notification. If the land is available to the public, the city must publish the terms and process by which it can be acquired. If the land isn’t publicly available, the city must publish who will acquire the land, the nature of the sale or disposition, and what the city receives in exchange.

• The city has a policy dictating the allocation of proceeds from land sales: 10 per cent goes to the parks and greenways acquisition reserve fund, and the rest goes to the tax sale land reserve fund.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using piece made at Kennametal’s Langford site

The Greater Victoria plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

A provincially appointed consultant has recommended a change to the funding formula for the VicPD that will save Esquimalt a significant amount of money. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt to save a bundle on policing costs under new formula

Provincial consultant studied funding model, resource deployment for VicPD

A rockfall closed Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
UPDATED: Malahat reopens following rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

A Victoria resident was scammed out of $1,700 after a fraudster impersonated a police officer and convinced the victim to pay a non-existent fine in Bitcoin. (Unsplash)
Fraudster impersonates Victoria police officer, steals $1,700 in Bitcoin

Phone call showed up as VicPD’s non-emergency line

The Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tsartlip First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA revealed COVID-19 outbreak

Chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA Adam Olsen apologizes

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

Most Read