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TBM council votes to give land to attainable housing corporation

'We need to say: this is the site we're going to build on,' says councillor, suggesting builders wouldn't bid on project without certainty of property
Gateway Project
The site of the Gateway Project in Thornbury.

The Blue Mountains council has approved the transfer of 171 King Street to its attainable housing corporation.

At its committee of the whole meeting on June 28, council voted 6-0 in favour of transferring the property, which was once home to the Foodland grocery store, to the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation (BMAHC).

The resolution to transfer the land passed after a lengthy discussion around the council table. BMAHC plans to use the property for the Gateway attainable housing project.

Coun. Paula Hope sought to have the decision on the transfer of the land delayed. Hope praised the council’s efforts on the file, but said the new council to be elected in October should make the decision.

“This term of council can be very proud of the work it has done on attainable housing. There has been a lot of time, effort and investment in this portfolio,” she said.

Hope also wanted more information about the town retaining ownership of the land and leasing it back to BMAHC for the Gateway project and suggested the town should conduct a full needs assessment on attainable/affordable housing with a strategy to address the matter to follow. Hope also asked that the resolution include a clause that specifically stated BMAHC would not come back to the town for more operating funds.

“It’s a very serious moment,” said Hope, who also questioned a clause in the resolution that council was approving a $3,985,000 grant to BMAHC through the transfer.

Town staff explained that the grant portion of the resolution is a “paper transaction.” The town’s disposition of property policy requires a staff report that includes the actual value of the land being transferred to a not-for-profit entity.

“This isn’t cash, the town is not writing a cheque,” said Director of Legal Services Will Thomson.

Other members of council were anxious to move the project forward and allow BMAHC to get on with the process.

“We should already have had shovels in the ground,” said Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon. “Another delay will have us another year behind.”

Mayor Alar Soever said the town’s lack of attainable housing has been obvious for some time.

“Attainable housing was determined as a pressing need during the last election. We do have a mandate to proceed,” said Soever.

CAO Shawn Everitt added that a lease arrangement with BMAHC is possible, but would require reconsideration by council. He said the current report recommending the disposition of the land was a response to council’s direction and a recent public meeting.

Coun. Rob Sampson said delaying the transfer of the land could delay the request for proposals process BMAHC recently launched to find a design/builder.

“Why would they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bid with no certainty the project has a site to build on?” said Sampson. “We need to say: this is the site we’re going to build on.”

Coun. Andrea Matrosovs suggested Hope bring a notice of motion on the issue of a housing needs study and strategy, as it was not directly related to the disposition of land report.

Members of council were not interested in adding a clause that stated BMAHC could not come back to the town to request more funds, as they weren’t sure how the future would unfold.

After considerable discussion on the matter, council voted 6-0 (coun. Jim Uram was absent) to support transferring the land. The resolution included several conditions that allows the town the option to reacquire the property or recoup the value of the property should the attainable housing project not go forward or if BMAHC chooses to sell the land. Staff estimated that it would take six to eight weeks to finalize the transfer.