At City of Powell River’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, February 5, PRWDC president Wayne Brewer said the agreement is for $300,000 and well above the appraised value. The parcel will be subdivided from an 80-acre property.
PRWDC, which is wholly owned by the city, has received a $30,000 deposit from Sino Bright and the sale is to be completed by August 2019.
“It could still fall apart before August,” said Brewer. “We've signed a binding contract. If Sino Bright wants to proceed then it will happen but I suppose if they were to default, walk away, they'd lose their deposit. That might happen.”
The parcel is part of 80 acres owned by PRWDC, and the appraisal was done on the entire property. It is rectangular in shape, below Marine Avenue, opposite Brooks Secondary School, and extending from Laurel Street part way toward the haul road, with the lower boundary essentially an extension of Larch Avenue.
Sino Bright is an international high school and had previously looked at locating its school on another parcel of property adjacent to Brooks, but the provincial Agricultural Land Commission turned down an application to exclude the property from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“It was so important that we not lose Sino Bright and let them slip away to another community,” Brewer said. “This is really important for Brooks Secondary School because it enhances opportunities for all students. Our graduating numbers have been dwindling over the past few years and having students from elsewhere coming in really helps keep our school viable.”
School District 47 superintendent Jay Yule supports the deal.
“We are fortunate that the city and Sino Bright have found a solution that allows Sino Bright to create needed student housing that will enhance our partnership and grow the program,” said Yule.
According to Yule, Sino Bright will build dormitories before classrooms, with students initially having their academic studies at Brooks, which has an international students program.
The sale of the land was done at arm’s length from the city, according to councillor Maggie Hathaway, and Brewer’s report was the first time anyone on council was aware of it.
“I wasn't consulted: should we sell this land? It was done by the corporation,” said Hathaway. “So now somebody has bought it, it becomes the jurisdiction of the city as to what they're going to build there and how it's going to roll out.”
While the committee praised Brewer’s work on the commission, it was not until question period that controversy arose over the contract and whether it fitted the mandate of PRWDC. Brewer said, in this case, it was go find a place for the school.
The property was not widely known to be for sale. There were three other offers on the land, two for the entire 80 acres and the other for half and they all came in $8,000 under the appraised value, according to Brewer.
Powell River resident George Orchiston said he thought the 10 acres was more valuable than the $300,000 deal with Sino Bright.
The property was not publicly listed for sale, according to Brewer, which Orchison said did not allow regular taxpayers and local developers the opportunity to bid on the land.
“On what legal ground does the Powell River Waterfront Development Corporation have any authority to sell that land?” asked Orchiston.
In his report, Brewer said under a Partnering Agreement with the city, dated May 28, 2013, PRWDC was to acquire and develop lands on behalf of the city with the goals of attracting purchasers for its parcels of land to reduce reliance on the mill, diversify the local economy, attract investment by people who might create jobs and to stimulate the economy.
The school is expected to generate approximately $10.5 million of economic activity in Powell River each year and help diversify the local economy.
Orchiston also drew attention to PRWDC’s debt.
PRWDC is currently $1.3 million in debt. If the purchase of the land is completed by August 2019, the entire $300,000 will go toward paying down the debt to $1 million, which is due at the end of its five-year term in August at the same time the sale is to be completed.
Because the city, as sole owner of PRWDC, guaranteed the loan, Orchiston said taxpayers could be strapped with it.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, the five years will be up, there will be $1 million left, we guaranteed it and PRWDC doesn’t have a million dollars to pay and we’ll have to pay it, either by extending the loan or borrowing,” said Orchiston. “We’re on the hook for it, the citizens, the taxpayers.”
Brewer said the debt is not a huge amount, given the corporation’s remaining land holdings.
“In one sense, $1 million remaining is not a huge amount of money. If the city wants to market something else or come up with the money to pay off our debt, we've got 70 acres of some interesting land. Let's talk about how to develop it,” said Brewer.