City of White Rock rental ‘already decided behind closed doors’

City of White Rock rental ‘already decided behind closed doors’

Councillor frustrated after White Rock agrees to lease former church building to private business

A decision to lease out a building on White Rock’s civic campus to a commercial entity puts the city in competition with the businesses it purports to support.

So says Coun. Helen Fathers, who made the strong statements Monday, prior to voting against giving third and final reading to zoning amendments that enable the 1174 Fir St. building in question to be used for professional or semi-professional purposes.

“There are dozens and dozens of empty vacant properties awaiting the possibility of a leasing tenant,” Fathers said, reading from a prepared statement.

“It is council’s job to help build our core and town centre by encouraging business into these vacant spots. We should not be in competition with them. Do we desperately need these funds from the tenant so badly that our city would fold without them?”

The building – the former home of the First Church of Christ, Scientist – was purchased in 2010 for $1.6 million, completing the city’s ownership of the entire block occupied by its civic, police, fire and library services. The city took full possession in February 2012, and voted last May to direct staff to proceed with $200,000 in upgrades.

Determining the best use for the building became the source of controversy last summer, after council voted by a narrow margin (4-3) in July to shift their chambers into the space – in support of a motion by Fathers – then reversed the decision in September after Coun. Bill Lawrence withdrew his support.

Couns. Larry Robinson and Al Campbell had also supported moving the chambers.

Following the September rethink, Robinson and Fathers – questioning the legality of the move – called for a special council meeting to get to the bottom of what transpired. While they withdrew that call in short order, Fathers followed with a motion for a second legal opinion on the September decision.

That, too, was defeated by a 4-3 vote.

A decision on the amendments had been stymied Dec. 16 by a split vote, when Coun. Louise Hutchinson was absent. With Robinson absent this week, Campbell asked to again postpone the vote. Baldwin declined.

The amendments passed 4-2, with Fathers and Campbell opposed.

Baldwin told Peace Arch News after the meeting that Robinson’s absence didn’t affect the outcome of the vote.

Delaying the vote would have been costly, Baldwin added, noting a five-year $400,000 lease is in the process of being finalized with an IT company, formerly Prizebox Entertainment.

Company CEO Tracy Wattie told PAN by email Tuesday that Prizebox is now Brabeia Inc.

Regarding leasing the building, Wattie said only that “we are happy with whichever outcome the city council determines is best for our community.”

City manager Dan Bottrill would not confirm a tenant, citing ongoing lease negotiations.

In protesting commercial use of the building, Fathers criticized the “backwards” process. She told council that a member of the public was advised of the incoming tenant on Dec. 17.

“The decision to rent the building and tenant has already been decided behind closed doors,” she said. “This is everything that’s wrong with politics in general, but especially in White Rock – the constant retrofitting of ideas and concepts to suit the needs of city hall and political viewpoints.”