City spends $15M on land


Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE - J.W. Sch­narr LETH­BRIDGE HER­ALD

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.

Fol­low @JWSch­nar­rHer­ald on Twit­ter

Her­ald photo by Ian Martens

City coun­cil met Tues­day in coun­cil cham­bers at city hall for the last time be­fore next week’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion @IMarten­sHer­ald

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