Netook developers raise spectre of court action
Mountain View County could face legal action if council does not allow the previously approved plans for Netook Crossing to go ahead, developers for the Highway 2/27 project warned at council’s policies and priorities committee meeting last Wednesday.
“I don’t like to be threatening, but I think we have a very strong legal right to do what we do and the county has to perform its legal obligations, and we are exploring what to do if that doesn’t happen,” Terry Johnston, the representative for Prodev Limited Partnership, told councillors during the meeting.
Prodev owns lands on the south side of Highway 27, including the 31-lot Netook Crossing Business Park near the intersection of Highway 2, and Johnston said developers would never have invested in the project had the concept not been advanced in county planning documents, or if there had been any question of piped water and sewer coming to the area.
Div. 6 Coun. Paddy Munro, in comments directed later to Neuroese Properties representative Herb Styles, described Johnston’s remarks as “a very aggressive threat” to council.
“Mr. Johnston made a very aggressive threat that if we didn’t change the MDP to suit your needs, then you’ll take legal action,” Munro said.
“Is that your position, Herb?”
Styles answered that it wasn’t a matter of “suiting our needs” but of the county following through on its obligations.
“I’m not here to make threats today,” Styles said from the podium, but added: “It’s my suggestion that if you’re getting legal advice that what you’re doing is OK, I would suggest you get a second opinion.”
Styles said he sympathized with Prodev, which has developed its business park and sold lots based on existing county policies.
“This is not right, gentlemen,” he told councillors.
While the developers would still like to work with the county “with a velvet glove if we can,” Styles added, “I will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our investment. Nothing is off the table.”
During his own presentation, Styles outlined the developers’ key objections to the current draft MDP and urged council to delay first reading of the bylaw until those issues have been settled.
“We feel so certain that putting the draft MDP to first reading is premature at this point,” he said.
First among the concerns is the proposed 60-lot-per-quarter maximum for serviced residential lots within the Highway 2/27 ASP Special Policy Area.
That low density, Styles said, is “not consistent with the ASP or approved concept plan” for the Neuroese lands north of Highway 27, which identifies 240 fully serviced residential lots as the maximum per quarter.
“It certainly limits our ability as developers to bring in piped services,” he said.
Also “glaring in its absence” was mapping of the area in the draft document, as well as stakeholder consultation on the critical changes proposed for the MDP.
“We were optimistic when council said they would hold a without-prejudice meeting with us … Then we heard through administration that council felt the meeting wasn’t necessary. I’d like you to reconsider that. It is necessary,” he said.
“We invested heavily with full confidence that this local government could be trusted to live up to its obligations. On good faith in the ASP we spent millions … to provide you with a plan that was exactly consistent with what the county told us we had to.”
The initial fears expressed by council were put to rest by the developers’ fiscal impact analysis, Styles added.
“The $17-million (net benefit to the county) figure over 20 years is a conservative projection. After that it would bring in annual tax revenue of $2 million. The waterline is already 90 per cent funded and it’s coming right to our door,” while piped sewer services are also “right on our doorstep,” he said.
“Passing first reading is entirely premature. I hope council will engage in more consultation rather than plunge ahead without regard to commitments already made … You have the opportunity with a stroke of the pen to kill the goose that could lay the golden egg.”
Representing the developers, planner Nathan Petherick of Greg Brown and Associates Planning Group opened the Netook presentation with an outline of the project, explaining that the rationale for smaller-lot, nodal development was farmland preservation through more effective land use.
Petherick, the county’s former manager of planning, said the developers’ combined capital investment to date has reached about $30 million in land purchases, planning, engineering, roads, stormwater facilities, utilities, and water and sewer services.
To address concerns about servicing costs, he said, the developers have come up with a three-staged approach to move to piped services, with the mix of land uses an essential part of creating the cash flow needed to pay for the services.
At a total cost of $6.9 million, the three-stage model “demonstrated piped services could be done in a fiscally responsible manner,” Petherick said.
In response, Reeve Bruce Beattie noted a significant change in the developers’ threshold for moving from hauling sewage to a piped system – from 100 to 150 cubic metres – and said that kind of “flexibility” with the numbers raises issues of trust on council’s side as well.
Concurring with Beattie, Div. 2 Coun. Patricia McKean said she is still struggling with some aspects of the fiscal impact analysis. Petherick, however, pointed out that council had made no formal request for clarification on any points in the study.
On the paramount issue of density, if a 60-lot maximum is not sufficient, Beattie asked, “what number is sufficient?”
“Our position is we want to keep the density reflected in the existing approvals in place,” Petherick replied.
In a more general response to the presentation, Beattie was unapologetic about council’s handling of the Netook issue.
“It’s disingenuous to suggest we haven’t taken this seriously, after 12 to 14 months of consultation. I’ll remind you that governments change and when they come in they change things,” Beattie said, using the long gun registry as an example.
“I recognize you did extensive consultation,” Styles said. “However, public engagement must be coupled with factual evaluation to make decisions. That’s the missing piece.”
When council does give first reading to the bylaw amending the MDP, Beattie reminded the delegation, they will get an opportunity to make their case before second reading is considered.
“Public hearings are yet to be held specific to the bylaw,” Beattie said.