Bobbi Johnson’s list of things to do includes asking city council what they want and what they were thinking when they voted down a request by the school district to rezone the former J.L. Jackson school site for commercial use.
Johnson, school board chair, was available to answer questions Monday night during a public hearing on the school district request to rezone the site from P3 Institutional to C2 Town Centre Commercial. But there were none, which added to her astonishment when, at the end of the evening, Couns. Debbie Cannon, Chad Eliason and Denise Reimer’s majority vote led to the request’s defeat. (Mayor Nancy Cooper and Coun. Marg Kentel were in favour; Couns. Alan Harrison and Ken Jamieson did not participate due to a conflict of interest as employees of the school district.)
“I think I was past surprised, I was shocked,” said Johnson. “I think that we have done everything that council asked us. There’s a plan in place for that piece of property if it gets developed that the community worked on. We had a community committee that worked on all the guidelines for that property, so that’s all done. We’ve done everything that we thought we had to do.”
The school district has applied to subdivide the property from two lots to four, and plans to construct a new school district office on one of the lots. Johnson says the C2 designation would have supported a wide variety of development opportunities, including stores and/or a college campus.
Monday night, after the hearing, Eliason recalled the well-attended public hearing in 2006 when rezoning was sought for three-quarters of the property to accommodate a new grocery store. He said person after person commented on how it was too important a piece of taxpayers’ property for the public not to have input on how it’s developed. He went on to say the school district doesn’t need to rezone the entire property – that doing so would go against what the community asked for back in 2006.
“I think we can work together with the school district to create variances and create a financially suitable way for them to build a new school district office to make that happen,” said Eliason.
Cannon said she wanted to see a developer and a plan come to council and take things from there.
None of this makes sense to Johnson, who reiterated what was written by city staff in a memorandum supporting the rezoning.
“Chad wanted another community meeting on it – well, that’s more time and effort and money…,” she said. “We’ve done it once, got lots of input from the whole community. We thought we covered that one.
“The other fact that came out was this is taxpayers’ money that got the property, when actually it was donated to the school district.”
As for Cannon’s comments, Johnson says the school district is not into property development, adding it is council who holds all the cards on what gets developed.
“Whoever gets this property has to go to council with a development plan,” said Johnson.
“So when they present that to council, council has the option to say no, we don’t like this.”
Johnson said the school board will now look at their options, noting it is another six months, by municipal regulation, before they can provide an alternative to city council.
Asked if she is concerned the province might step in to liquidate the property, she said no, that they are aware of its importance to the school district.
She added, however, that the deadline to dispose of the unneeded lots is early 2014, and that the school board may seek an extension.
“We’ll see what they say when we go back to them,” said Johnson.