Councillor critical of sale of city-owned lands

Eckhardt Avenue property slated for hockey school dormitory

  • Oct. 27, 2011 3:00 p.m.

Penticton is selling nine city-owned lots on Eckhardt Avenue for $925,000 to make way for a housing project for the sport tourism sector, despite one councillor’s objections that they weren’t getting a fair price.

Council approved the sale during a special meeting held Wednesday morning, when the sale of nine lots between 903 and 969 Eckhardt Ave. was brought out of in-camera discussions. A rezoning application to develop a hockey school dormitory on the lands in question was imminent on the agenda.

For Coun. John Vassilaki, the land sale was not a good deal for the city.

“Everybody knows how I feel about selling city property, especially in an area that’s so important to the city’s future,” he said.

Vassilaki said the city had to pay $2.3 million to expropriate the land under directive of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which wanted to see an expansion of the highway to allow for the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Given they paid top dollar for the land, he said, “The $925,000 that we are selling it for is just way out of line.”

He said he has priced out land in the South Okanagan and found that average lots are going for $175,000 to $250,000. B.C. Assessment found the property gained in value as a result of development, he said, adding he feels the “prime, prime land” was worth closer to $2.5 million.

“The land doesn’t grow on trees. I can assure you that if we need that property 10 to 15 years from now, in my mind, we will be paying many, many millions more,” Vassilaki said. “We have to have a vision for that area.”

Coun. Mike Pearce objected to that math, stating the city conducted two internal appraisals of the land in addition to receiving an independent appraisal that came in close to figures obtained.

“I’m satisfied this will be a good economic generator,” he said. “I have no fear that we’re not getting anything else but fair value.”

Pearce asked Anthony Haddad, development services director, to reveal how much the various appraisals came in at. Haddad told council that the two staff appraisals conducted at different times range from $945,000 and $1.055 million. The city also spent $3,000 to contract Inland Appraisal to review the site, which it assessed at $925,000.

The nine lots on Eckhardt are situated to the west of the South Okanagan Events Centre, running from Alberni Street toward Comox Street. According to schematics, four lots remain to the west of the proposed development.

Coun. Garry Litke said the price takes into account that the proponent is willing to “take a risk” on the lot, which could face the same impaired soil condition that SOEC builders tackled.

“We were forced to expropriate these … properties. It’s not fair to say these are full-size residential lots anymore,” he said. “A lot of work has been done in the area. This piece of land, it’s the residue of the original property.”

The vacant 1.3-acre lot will be the new home of a dormitory building to be used by the Okanagan Hockey School, Okanagan Hockey Academy and Okanagan College.

The building will consist of several uses. The ground floor will house a lobby in addition to commercial and retail space. The second floor will have a cafeteria, instructional rooms and offices. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors will serve as dormitory space, with 22 suites per floor. The seventh floor will have 13 apartment units.

The plan will require rezoning to mixed-use commercial from small-lot residential. The official community plan calls for general commercial. The Transportation Ministry must approve the plan as portions of Eckhardt have arterial highway designation.

The city’s engineering department is recommending council require the developer to design and build the full width of the lane from Alberni Street to Comox Street. Staff are also suggesting parking provisions allow for one parking space for every eight beds.

Mayor Dan Ashton said council has “been very aggressive” in reviewing marketable city land and shopping it out to potential developers as a way of growing municipal revenues. “We’ve taken a hard look at this,” he said.

Chief financial officer Doug Leahy said that revenues from the land sale would go toward the capital reserve fund, which may be spent on future capital projects at council’s discretion.