Should the City of Victoria sell four parcels of City-owned land on the western side of Victoria Harbour to the Ralmax group of companies? While I support our working harbour and family-supporting jobs provided at the Point Hope Shipyard, I think the question of land ownership needs to be given serious consideration.
The site, on which the Songhees Indian Reservation once stood, has been home to ship-building for the past century. Now, a majority on City Council have voted in favour of a motion to consider an offer from the Ralmax group of companies to purchase the lands. City staff are currently negotiating the terms of sale with Ralmax.
I believe City Council has inadequate information to pursue this land sale. The decision to consider an offer from Ralmax was made at 11:30PM on the night of Thursday, April 12, in the absence of any written report from staff on the benefits and rationale for selling the land at Point Hope. I moved a motion to postpone consideration to allow more time for discussion, but this motion was narrowly defeated on a 5-4 vote. The main motion to consider the offer from Ralmax carried 7-2, with only Councillor Shellie Gudgeon and I opposed.
I voted against the motion because I believe it is improper to move so quickly when so many questions remain unanswered:
Are the four parcels of land on Harbour Road surplus to the City’s current and future needs?
Many public entities hold strategic waterfront land to address social, environmental and economic goals that are not addressed by the private market. These include providing public access, stewarding environmental resources, pursuing industrial and economic strategies, and retaining land for future City infrastructure (as is the case for lands now required for the Johnson Street Bridge project).
Has the City undertaken a sufficient review of its land requirements, as well as the particular requirements for the westerly shore of Victoria Harbour, to conclude that these lands are surplus and appropriate for sale? Based on the absence of any written staff report supporting this proposed land sale, I believe that such a review has not been undertaken.
Will the City realize the greatest economic benefit by selling, rather than leasing, these lands?
According to a 1993 report commissioned by the City on its land holdings: “industrial sites should be offered for long term lease rather than for outright purchase. In that way the City of Victoria can generate a reasonable rate of return from these sites while maintaining control over their use and realize the anticipated appreciation in value for these sites.”
Does this rationale still apply? If not, what economic circumstances have changed to make sale rather than lease more economically beneficial to the City? Earlier this year, the City renewed leases on the property, for which Ralmax pays $250,000 per year, scheduled to increase to a market-based rent of $750,000 in 2016. This is a sizeable, regular annual revenue source that the City would forego by selling the lands, not to mention the long-term appreciation in land values.
Is the City in a stronger position as owner (rather than regulator) of the lands when it comes to sustaining a working harbour and ensuring a manufacturing base for the City and its people?
What if the private purchaser of these lands goes bankrupt? Or decides to move into the condo business? We have seen how difficult it has been to hold the private purchaser of former City lands at Dockside Green to its affordable housing commitments. While conversion of Point Hope from industrial to residential use would require rezoning and environmental remediation of these contaminated lands, I believe the owner (whether the City or a private party) is in the best position to shape future use on the land and realize any corresponding “lift” in property value.
If Point Hope is surplus to the City’s current and future needs, will this model of sale (negotiation with a single buyer) produce the greatest return for the City?
Would the City realize more revenue from this lucrative water-front property on the open market (rather than by accepting an offer from a single entity)?
Would Ralmax make a higher offer if the ordinary rules of competition governed this proposed land sale — installing a “For Sale” (literally and figuratively) to indicate the City’s expectation of receiving the highest value for the land?
If the City intends to sell Point Hope, should the public be consulted at the outset of the process, rather than at the very end?
By defeating the motion to postpone consideration, and by approving the main motion, a majority of City Councillors authorized staff to begin negotiations on the land sale without consulting the public. The process currently being pursued would see the terms of sale negotiated behind closed doors between City staff and the Ralmax group, with the final proposal to divest the lands publicly posted in a newspaper advertisement before approval in a public City Council vote.
In my view, much more rigorous and meaningful forms of public consultation are required, to help address all these unanswered questions, and to ensure that City Council arrives at the best decision, a decision that is in tune with the views and aspirations of the community.
To this end, a grassroots initiative in underway to consult the public on the question of Selling City-Owned Land — to develop a policy that can inform the current debate over Point Hope, while ensuring best practices are followed for any future decisions with respect to City lands.
Selling City-Owned Land
A Public Forum
Hosted by Councillors Shellie Gudgeon & Ben Isitt
Where: Garry Oak Room, Fairfield Community Centre (1335 Thurlow Road, off Moss)
When: Wednesday, May 9th, 7:00PM
- Should public land ever be sold?
- Should public land sales always be secret?
- How do we determine whether land is surplus to current or future needs?
- Should Victoria have a policy and procedure for public land sales?
Learn what your fellow-citizens think about these questions. State your views.