*Story updated to include comments from Port Alberni City Manger Ken Watson
A constant criticism in the city’s leasing Lots A and B to the Port Alberni Port Authority is the lack of public consultation over the issue.
Three of 10 speakers at council’s June 9 meeting raised the issue of lack of public consultation.
Mayor John Douglas, who voted against the city’s decision to sign the lease, says more public buy-in is required.
“My chief concern was getting more public engagement on this so that people’s voices could be heard on the issue,” Douglas said. “But it was the will of council to proceed.”
According to city clerk Davina Hartwell, the issue has been in the public eye.
The city advertised a request for proposals last year to solicit interest in the properties.
Only two expressions of interest were submitted, neither of which sparked the interest of the city.
In the spring, PAPA officials broached the idea of a Canadian Alberni Engineering expansion with the city. Council then directed staff to enter into lease discussions with PAPA.
The discussions had to do with land so the negotiations took place in-camera.
On May 22 PAPA’s Twitter account announced that “…PAPA responded RFP for #PlywoodLotsAB issued by @CPAecdev last fall. Direction from @cityportalberni was 2 return w/ better biz opp 1/2.”
Lease negotiations concluded in May and council went public with the plan at their May 26 meeting. But the issue was already circulating publicly and rumours were rampant on social media.
Negotiations about a lease with PAPA were held in-camera therefore there was no opportunity to call for more public discussion, Douglas said.
“I wasn’t at the May 26 meeting where the plan was discussed. I was traveling,” Douglas said about not raising the issue of public consultation then.
The homeless shelter and new high school as issues where consultation measures have been used over and above being legally required, Douglas said.
The issue of Lot A, B and C has been public long before the negotiations with PAPA, city manager Ken Watson said. “The city has been up front about its intentions with the properties for many years now.”
Council previously publicly discussed and debated the zoning bylaws that resulted in the area being designated for industrial and recreational use.
The 2007 Uptown and Waterfront Redevelopment Study recommended that the site be developed for a mix of industrial and recreational use.
At a July 2012 city council meeting, Economic Development Manager Pat Deakin said two businesses expressed interest in buying property at the site — one of them a marine business for marine commercial/industrial purposes.
In November 2012, council developed and adopted its ‘City of Port Alberni Corporate Strategic Plan‘. The plan states under ‘Objective 3.1: To ensure the development of the waterfront’ “Develop Plywood Site for combination of Industrial and public access use.”
“To say that the issue hasn’t been public is very shortsighted,” Watson said. “There’s been a lot of public discussion about this for a long period of time.”