City of Powell River councillors discussed the proposed new library at the June 7 committee-of-the-whole meeting for close to an hour, but came to no conclusions.
Both Mayor Dave Formosa and Councillor Maggie Hathaway had asked that the issue be included on the agenda. Formosa wanted to talk about the new library design report, which was recently released by the Powell River Public Library. It estimates the proposed 15,000-square-foot building located on the former arena site, the vacant lot on the corner of Marine Avenue and Abbotsford Street, would cost $9.5 million.
Hathaway said that she intended on bringing a motion to council that would commit the city to holding a referendum before council approved construction of the building. “The community is being divided over this issue. There has been name-calling and mud-slinging. I find it extraordinarily upsetting and I think we have the power to stop this.”
Councillor Debbie Dee said she would like the process to continue and a referendum would happen if the library board came to council asking for long-term borrowing. “If the library board of trustees were able to secure all the funding and not come to council asking for money, then I wouldn’t be in favour of a referendum at all,” she said.
Councillor Myrna Leishman said she thought it was prudent to have a referendum on the location before the city spends any more time or money. If there’s support for moving forward with the proposal, she said, “it would be much more positive for prospective funders to know it is the will of the people.”
Councillor Jim Palm said he has committed to the process. “From the city’s perspective, we put the ball in the library’s court and I’d like to see it play out,” he said.
Formosa talked at length about the issue, noting that he likes the location. However, a significant number of people have said that they don’t want anything on the site, Formosa said, adding that he has read each name on the petition. While some people who signed it live in the rural areas of the Powell River Regional District, “they are going to be paying almost half,” Formosa pointed out. “There are children on there. There are people from out of the community. But also, people who were born here, live here and I know a lot of these folks. There are a lot of people that don’t want it there.”
People are asking council to have a second look at its decision, Formosa said. “Regardless of what Dave Formosa wants, I feel somewhat compelled that people should have a voice.”
However, he said that to avoid another failed referendum, the city should include alternative locations for people to vote on. He was also concerned about the cost of a referendum, when it would take place and if other, unrelated questions could be included on the ballot.
Councillor Chris McNaughton said he wasn’t sure what Formosa was actually suggesting. “If we’re talking about a referendum on location, then we might have been thoughtful about that in the process, going from one vote not to rezone the property to two weeks later, rushing to support the library’s position without consulting with the public on a different use. We might have learned then that it was going to be problematic.”
If what council was really talking about was determining whether or not another location was needed and the referendum was about location and the community deciding on location, “then that becomes a whole other conversation, that becomes something we have to sit down and take a real hard look at with the library board and others,” McNaughton said.
Some new information did emerge during the discussion. Hathaway said there has been further investigation into the property the city owns on Barnet Street next to the RCMP station and there are no herons there. She also said there “likely would be room for a library and a fire hall on that piece of property.”
As well, the former space occupied by the Brick is now available.
Councillors decided to ask the library board to make a presentation about the new library design report at the next committee-of-the-whole meeting. Hathaway agreed to defer her intention of bringing forward a motion to council until after that presentation.