Cranbrook mayor and council balked over a draft working plan for the former Tembec industrial lands that could potentially see millions in municipal investment needed to develop the properties.
City department leaders are currently reviewing five-year budget plans with mayor and council to identify spending priorities across all areas of city operations over the last two days.
The industrial lands, 100 acres that were purchased last year by the City for $3 million, are envisioned by Mayor Pratt to be developed for lease by businesses to provide sources of income in perpetuity.
However, there are some large estimated costs potentially on the horizon that mayor and council debated in discussions with city staff on Tuesday.
At issue is a proposed and projected $8.8 million budget item set for 2021 that would be needed for a road and shallow utilities network throughout the industrial lands.
That’s on top of $2.5 million in the 2020 budget for deep services such as water, sanitary sewer and storm.
There was some pushback from Mayor Lee Pratt and a few councillors who said they were concerned they haven’t seen a detailed plan of the industrial lands development project.
“We’re looking at a big ticket item here and at no time has council been briefed by staff on a comprehensive plan on what the concept is to start developing this land,” said Councillor Ron Popoff. “We were in for $3 million at the time, thinking, well, the concept is we’ll develop as we bring on investment on the property.
“But since then, some of us have had a chance to walk the property and look at a vision and a bit of a roadmap layout, but we’re talking a big piece of money here and I would really feel way more comfortable having these discussions if I had a staff report beyond what you’re proposing come March, but a full staff report on the business plan.”
According to a Freedom of Information request, there was no economic feasibility study or cost/benefit analysis completed prior to purchasing the property.
However, a municipal Request for Proposal (RFP) closed on Monday, asking for a report on market demand, development and servicing projections, and land disposition and economic analysis.
That report is expected to be delivered by March next year.
Mayor Pratt also told council chambers that a staff report on the Tembec industrial lands is expected next council meeting on Oct. 28th.
While there were some large financial figures thrown around during the discussion, the consensus at the council table was to develop the project in phases in order to potentially reduce big-ticket costs.
“I question this amount of money too,” said Pratt. “First of all, this is not going to be developed in one year so I don’t see why we cannot do this in phases. Right now we have two pieces of property we have big interest in, and why can’t we just develop those two to start?
“…There’s also money out there available that we can apply for, for grants. So I don’t feel comfortable at all of putting $11 million in a budget. I agree with Councillor Popoff. We don’t know the final footprint of that property and that’s the idea of it, we’re going to do it as we go along so why are we talking about $11 million now, when we can talk next year putting the services in for two properties and getting more income?”
Ron Fraser, the Acting Chief Administrative Officer, said the intent has been to look at the entirety of the property and it’s projected development in order to be prepared for any eventuality.
“The plan is, we’re marching ahead on all the design work and the study and analysis,” Fraser said. “We don’t have to pull the trigger on the work until we’re convinced it’s the appropriate thing but we feel it should be in the budget so that we can implement it if that seems to be the most desirable route.”
Derrick Anderson, the Director of Public Works, said his department was asked to estimate the amount for roads and shallow utilities infrastructure through the property, which came in at $8.8 million.
If development was phased in, the priority would be determining where the deep services would need to go, and roads could follow as the properties are developed, Anderson added.
Charlotte Osborne, the Director of Finance, suggested keeping the $2.5 million for deep utilities servicing in the 2020 budget.
“In terms of having something in the budget,” Osborne said, “I would recommend that at the very least, there be at least the $2.5 million in there, as well as some of the ancillary items because when we do go out for grants, many of those granting organizations expect to see something in your budget around your project if you’re going to be making an application for their funds.
“And something like a $2.5 million cost, if council decided to take it out, although I’m hearing leave it in for 2020, we would have to do a budget amendment to bring that back in if we wanted to do it in 2020. So a large item like that, we’d need to amend for, if council decided to pull it.”
Pratt said that 60 jobs have been created since purchasing the land, as businesses have leased properties and set up operations.
The city is also waiting for the results of three contracts that were awarded earlier this year which are studying aspects of the industrial lands. Those three contracts are looking at what a transportation network would look like, an environmental engineering site plan, and a geotechnical and hydrological assessment.
The budget discussions over the last two days are simply that — discussions for consideration ahead of the adoption of the five-year plan later this year. The public is also encouraged to submit written feedback on the budget plans to city hall before the deadline of Oct. 29th at 4 p.m.