The headline two weeks ago that the City of Charlottetown spent $1.25 million on a vacant lot attracted lots of taxpayers’ attention. Even though the property is in front of Founders Hall near the waterfront, it is a lot of money to spend to ensure it remains green space.
There are lingering problems surrounding this transaction.
Mayor Clifford Lee insists the land was sold last year without the city’s knowledge. The Charlottetown and Area Development Corporation (CADC), which owned both Founders Hall and the vacant lot before selling them as one parcel to Newfoundland developer Paul Madden, asserted last week there was nothing secretive about the sale.
If the city was unaware the property was being sold, there is a problem. Charlottetown is a 15 per cent stakeholder in CADC, and as such, should be informed of the corporation’s decisions - especially in this case where the property is historic, on the city’s waterfront and of vital interest.
The decision to sell as one parcel likely deterred local developers who wanted the vacant lot but not Founders Hall. Madden later subdivided the two pieces of property and put a for sale sign up on the lot while retaining Founders Hall.
CADC admitted it didn’t directly consult with the city before selling the property, but wasn’t trying to hide anything because the process was open and public. In that case, how could the city remain unaware of what was happening there?
Another problem is with the purchase price. CADC now says that if the city had expressed interest in purchasing the property, that as a shareholder, it would have gotten preferential treatment. It’s been suggested the city could have acquired the land for $600,000 – half the eventual purchase price.
Why was civic interest only fanned when a local developer expressed interest? APM submitted a building and development permit application earlier in January to erect an estimated $10 million structure on the lot - a development which would have resulted in a larger tax base for the city.
Shortly after the APM application arrived, the city met in emergency session and narrowly voted 5-4 to purchase the property, over the strong objections of finance committee chair Melissa Hilton.
Ms. Hilton said $1.25 million is a lot of money for a small parcel of land and for a little bit of green space when Confederation Landing Park is right around the corner. She added it wasn’t the best use of taxpayers’ dollars when there are other prime locations the city could have purchased, such as the former coast guard wharf at the end of Queen Street. Damning words.
Mayor Lee said the city didn’t act to block the developer, but rather to ensure the land stayed as a public gathering space. The developer thinks otherwise and asks where the city found $1.2 million unbudgeted dollars?
As Ms. Hilton says, this green space is a very expensive outdoor skating rink and public area. Perhaps too expensive. Maybe for $600,000, it was a good deal.