It was a unanimous shut down for Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski last night after city councillors criticized his plan to put the former Terrace Co-op property up for sale.
Pernarowski had wanted the city to ask for proposals from real estate brokers and site selection companies to start the process of listing the property and looking for buyers.
But not one councillor agreed, with some suggesting the plan was rushed and lacked public consultation.
“When I saw this report and the motion I thought this is out of the blue,” said councillor Brian Downie at the meeting. ” This almost sounds like a fire sale.”
He said that while he sees merit to the sale, council has spent so much time on this particular issue that the next step deserves equally careful consideration.
“We can all argue the wisdom of it at the time,” he said, noting that the property was purchased so the city had control over what it saw as a key piece of property in the downtown core.
Downie said it was clear in the city’s downtown plan that community involvement was necessary when deciding what to do with the property and that he wasn’t satisfied the public supports a sale.
Other councillors agreed.
“I didn’t think council had come to any decision about what we were going to do with the coop property,” said councillor Carol Leclerc. “If this motion comes forward I won’t be supporting the motion.”
“There’s places like city hall and the library that are prime pieces of property downtown and they are for the benefit of the people,” she said. “It’s important for council that we look long term about the needs of our city.”
Exploring a sale so soon would be shortsighted, she said, noting that the property is key and that the city should not shy away form spending money to use it for public benefit if the community leans that way.
Councillor Lynne Christiansen said she too felt the decision was rushed, and that more consideration was needed.
“We have this property for good or bad,” she said. “We need to look long term.”
But not every councillor thought selling the property was a rushed idea.
Councillor Bruce Bidgood said that selling the property has been on the table for years now, and that the mayor’s proposal came as no surprise to him.
He did say, however, that it would be best to wait until after the election so that the incoming council is not “handcuffed” to a decision they might not have made.
“I can understand why we could put it for sale,” he said. “But I think that decisions is best left to the people that will be sitting around this table in one month. It has some pretty long term implications to our next council.
Bidgood said he doesn’t favour big decisions made close to election time as it’s hard to gauge whether or not they are in the best interest of the city or being made to raise someone’s profile.
But councillor Brad Pollard disagreed, saying councillors are in their positions to make decisions until the very end of their terms.
Councillor Pollard also said he was surprised by some of the arguments brought forward during the meeting, specifically the suggestion that council not be afraid to spend more money on the property.
“Frankly, the idea of having some area there for city use… I mean that’s a great idea, but where’s the money going to come form that?” said Pollard. “What I see is selling that property produces money that we can use to do what you guys are talking about.”
“I don’t have any issue whatsoever with the proposal on the table,” he continued. “We’re put in this position to make decisions… and I hope we have the wisdom not to make this decision before election time.”
“In this situation, I’m looking around the table and I’m seeing diverse opinions all over the map about where we go.”
Councillor Bruce Martindale was present but did not comment on the matter.
After discussion, Pernarowski said there didn’t seem to be enough support to support a motion and the rest of council agreed.
Pernarowski has long been an advocate of selling the property and made it part of his mayoral campaign platform during the 2008 municipal election.
And although not formally placed on the market, the city has entertained sales queries and even tours of the stucture.
The city bought the co-op building and property for almost $1.1 million in late 2005, just prior to the municipal election of that year.
And in the 2008 campaign, the building became the defining campaign feature separating Pernarowski and then mayor Jack Talstra in 2008.
Talstra hoped the building would feature prominently in the downtown core and be used as a provincial low-income housing unit, remaining a public space.
Pernarowksi said he wanted to see the building sold but would negotiate tax incentives with a buyer willing to fulfill a specific purpose to the community’s benefit.
Pernarowski repeated his stance during last night’s council meeting.