The BC ombudsperson’s office has agreed to look into at least two complaints about how the City of Castlegar rezoned and sold park land for a mixed-use development.
“The complaint is about how I felt I was wronged as a taxpayer and citizen,” says Brian Pinter, who received confirmation last week that ombudsperson Jay Chalke will investigate.
Pinter said he feels the city “cherry picked procedures and protocols” from the Official Community Plan and Municipal Act while “blatantly disregarding” other regulations to ensure the deal was done “quicker, faster, and easier.”
Mayor Kirk Duff declined comment while the BC ombudsperson’s office said it does not confirm or deny whether investigations are underway. Public reporting on their files is at Chalke’s discretion, they added.
In April, council voted 6-1 in favour of the rezoning to clear the way for a three storey, 54-unit residential-commercial building, partly on the site of Bob Brandson Park. While a park will remain on the site, it will be about one-third smaller than the old one.
At a four-hour public hearing in March, more than 35 residents spoke to council, with most of them urging council not to approve the rezoning.
While the city already owned Brandson Park at 2404 6th Ave., last year it acquired the adjacent corner lot at 2405 Columbia Ave., identifying it as a potential housing site.
Nexus Developments will construct the building dubbed The Park Place in partnership with the Sutherland Group, a company whose holdings include Sutco Transportation. Sutherland said they have been struggling to attract and retain employees for lack of housing. Up to 15 units in the new building will be set aside for them, while the rest will be placed on the general market.
Pinter said he specifically takes issue with the formula the city used to calculate the value of the park property, which he feels was sold for less than it was worth.
He further feels a traffic study was inadequate, that the property should have been offered at public tender, and questioned whether some councillors based their decision on information received after the deadline for public feedback.
He said while opponents presented a petition with over 1,000 names along with letters, emails, and affidavits, councillors who cited support for the project “didn’t have anything to show for it. It was all hearsay. It was that silent minority they claim swayed them to vote in favor of the project.”
The project site has since been fenced and cleared of trees.
“I understand we’ll never get the park back the way it was,” Pinter says. “It’s disappointing, but that will never happen. But what I would like is if there was wrongdoing here, to bring that to the public’s attention so it might not happen again.”
Pinter says the ombudsperson’s office told him that it could be November or December before a report is issued, meaning the findings will only come after October’s municipal election, but he hopes the land sale will be an election issue.
He said he filed his complaint when representatives from the ombudsperson’s office toured the West Kootenay over the summer. He added that he was told it is not too late for others to file additional grievances in the matter.
Pinter said his complaint is similar but not identical to another one on the same topic.
According to a June 22 email to the other complainant obtained by Vista Radio, the ombudsperson’s office confirmed its investigation would focus on whether the city followed a reasonable process, including the sale/purchase price and the public consultation.
However, they added: “Because the project is currently wading through the development permitting process, it would be premature for our office to be involved at the moment.”