City spends $15M on land
LAND TO CONTINUE TO BE FARMED UNTIL NEEDED FOR FUTURE DEVELOPMENT
Lethbridge City Council spent nearly $15 million on westside land bank purchases during its final council meeting on Tuesday.
In two different motions, council voted to pay College Farms Ltd. $14.8 million for two land packages.
The first motion included a $5.2million purchase of 80 acres south of Métis Trail along 25 Street West at $65,000 per acre. The purchase will be made with a lump-sum payment to be made on Nov. 15.
The second motion included a $9.6-million purchase of 160 acres west of Coalbanks Blvd. West at $60,000 per acre. The land will be paid off in four instalments of $2.4 million every January 31 until 2021.
In both instances, the land will be leased back to the previous owner for one dollar annually in order to continue farming operations until the property is needed for development.
The purchases were made with the intention of allowing the City to continue growth without issue in the future. The intended development is residential.
“It’s a large sum of money that hops to us, and it’s a little bit of a shock, but it’s obviously so the community doesn’t run out of land,” said Coun. Blaine Hyggen. “For residential land, we don’t want to become landlocked. So we are thinking ahead and being proactive in acquiring land for future development.”
Coun. Bridget Mearns asked the city manager why the land was being purchased during the last meeting of the sitting council, citing the optics of the purchase as a concern.
“Is there any discussion or contemplation over the timing of this?” she asked.
Administration told council negotiations had been ongoing for months, calling the timing “coincidental.”
Coun. Joe Mauro said he was surprised by the decision to go ahead with the purchases.
He noted the City has been questioned on its role in competing with private sector when it comes to land development, and while he understood the City had purchased land for westside development decades before that development took place, he wanted more time for discussion on these purchases.
“Are we in the game of developing residential, and purchasing land so we can expand?” he asked.
He said the City was creating a monopoly on development because only “a select few builders” would be able to make use of the land.
“It means we’re eliminating a whole pile of other builders who won’t even be able to get into this land,” he said. “I’m just struggling with the whole thinking of all this.
“We’re hearing loud and clear that maybe this isn’t the game we want to be on. I’m kind of torn. I’m seeing both sides of it.”
He also said the purchase would lock the City into westside development in the future without considering the importance of developing in other areas.
“I feel we are really leading our administration and our community into saying we are going to build and expand in west Lethbridge only, because we own the land,” he said.
“I have a problem with that. I’m not supporting this.”
Coun. Liz Iwaskiw said discussions had been ongoing for months during closed-session meetings, citing a July 17 decision made by council for administration to move ahead with the purchase process.
“This did not come out of nowhere,” she said.
Coun. Rob Miyashiro noted the City no longer has land available in development on the north side of the city, and southeast developments are underway.
Following discussion, both motions passed with Coun. Jeff Coffman and Mauro voting against.
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City council met Tuesday in council chambers at city hall for the last time before next week’s municipal election @IMartensHerald