Tuesday, March 03, 2009

River Landing Village: City denies access to Lake Placid correspondence; signed development agreement different from what city council adopted

It’s been approximately 18 months since developer Lake Placid Investments Inc. submitted its River Landing Parcel Y Request for Proposal and ground still hasn’t been broken on the project.

On Jan. 19, the StarPhoenix reported that the developer (Lake Placid River Landing Inc.) missed a deadline to purchase the site. Lake Placid had until Jan. 18 ‘to pay the $4.55 million outstanding for the city-owned site south of 19th Street, across from Persephone Theatre. Lake Placid made two down payments totalling $250,000 late last year.

‘The sale agreement between the city and Lake Placid allows for the developer to delay the purchase as long as it pays interest,” the article said.

Lake Placid has agreed to do just that, said Chris Dekker, the city’s manager of special projects.

‘The delay is due to over-consolidating five separate land titles for the property, said Richard Lobsinger, vice-president of sales for Lake Placid. Once the company has the consolidated title, it can close its purchase of the land, he said.’ [Lake Placid misses purchase deadline (StarPhoenix, Jan. 20, 2009)]

The city is also refusing to disclose any written communications with Lake Placid.

An access to information request was submitted to the city in early February for copies of any correspondence, paper or electronic, between the city and Lake Placid from Nov. 1, 2008, to Feb. 2, 2009. The city’s Feb. 19 response advised that correspondence between the city solicitor’s office and Lake Placid and/or their lawyer regarding the preparation of the sale agreement and development agreement and other legal matters would not be released in accordance with clauses 21(b) and (c) of The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This section of the Act pertains to solicitor-client privilege and is a discretionary exemption.

It appears the city did not apply Section 8 of the Act pertaining to severability which is mandatory and states: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.”

The development agreement referred to in the city’s letter went into effect last fall.

At its Sept. 15, 2008, meeting city council adopted the following recommendation of the city’s municipal planning commission: “that the City of Saskatoon enter into a Development Agreement pursuant to Section 65 of The Planning and Development Act, 2007 which provides for public access to the plaza by way of the elevators at all times when the plaza is in use.”

The signed agreement, however, says something completely different.

Section 3(1) of the agreement states: “Access to the central plaza by way of two elevators must be provided at all times during which the central plaza is open to the public.”

Although the wording is similar to what is contained in the body of the administrative report that council received it is not what was ultimately recommended and adopted, which is that the elevators be available to the public “at all times when the plaza is in use.” The signed agreement does not reflect that.

The development agreement also contains provisions that are not listed among the recommendations adopted by city council at its Sept. 15, 2008, meeting.

Section 2(2) states: “The hours of public access may be determined by the owner or manager of the Development, but, in no event, shall be less than from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily.”

According to the city’s website all city parks “are open from 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, with the exception of riverbank parks which are open 24 hours daily.” So the minimum hours of public access to the plaza expected by the city will be less than that of city owned parks.

At city council’s Sept. 15, 2008, meeting the developer “stopped short of promising the plaza will be open 24/7.” [Council backs Urban Village plan (StarPhoenix, Sept. 16, 2008)]

Well, after reading the agreement you can now see why.

Section 2(4) of the development agreement states: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraphs (1) and (2), access to the central plaza may be restricted for a reasonable number of special events per year.” The document fails to define ‘reasonable’.

Is city council aware of these things? Aside from the mayor, who signed the agreement, the answer is likely no.

In an email on Feb. 2 city administration explained how the process works: city council approves entering into an agreement and what should be in the agreement, and authorizes the mayor and the city clerk to sign it. It is then up to the administration and the city solicitor to prepare the agreement.

According to administration, though, city councillors did not review the wording of the agreement and were not provided a copy of the signed agreement, although they certainly would have received a copy if they had asked for one. The question becomes, did any councillors ever request one? The smart money says no. The same goes for the public. How many citizens out there do you think have read the agreement?

Lake Placid says that its development is still going ahead and will start in spring. Some lingering doubts remain, however. Consider the following:

– The Jan. 20 StarPhoenix article noted that the city’s manager of building standards, Bob Baran, has estimated digging up the site will take four to six months. The deadline to complete this is June 30, 2009. Even if the developer were to begin immediately a four month minimum would make it the first week of July at the earliest that the work would be done.

– The same article reported that Lake Placid has sold out the first phase of condo sales and will begin selling this spring its higher-priced penthouses and larger suites facing the river, but the developer couldn’t say how many deposits it has taken on its condos. The article doesn’t explain why.

–Lobsinger was quoted in the Jan. 20 article saying that tenant announcements for other aspects of the project will happen shortly. That was 44 days ago and counting.

– As of Jan. 20 financing for the project was not officially in place. There has been no word on that since.

– The developer’s Sept. 2007 RFP stated that the cost of the project was $125 million. On Jan. 13, 2009, the StarPhoenix pegged the cost at $200-million-plus. There’s no reason to think it’s gone down since then.

– On May 17, 2008, the StarPhoenix reported Lake Placid CEO Michael Lobsinger saying that he was talking with three major flag hotels about River Landing and is “fairly close” to choosing one. In the StarPhoenix on Oct. 17, 2008, the CEO’s son, Richard Lobsinger, said an agreement is “very close” with a hotel chain to build a 12-storey inn. That was four and a half months ago and there’s still been no announcement.

– In the StarPhoenix on June 24, 2008, Lake Placid CEO Michael Lobsinger said he’s spent $1 million on plans so far. On Oct. 17, 2008, the StarPhoenix reported Lobsinger saying he’s “spent $3 million to $4 million already just on plans and getting as far as I have.” Exactly what plans Lobsinger was referring to remain unclear.

Until the city or developer make some announcements and get the dirt moving on the site whatever is said in the meantime should be taken with a grain of salt.

This latest twist just adds insult to injury. In Sept. 2008, it was learned that people with wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, bicycles and strollers won’t be able to access the raised plaza unless they use an elevator. The public was told that ramps were impractical and would be too long. This is despite the fact that it was the developer’s choice to go with that particular design. No one forced them into it. What’s worse is that a consultant the city hired had recommended ramps, but the city buried the report.

Still unresolved is the long standing concern that Lake Placid’s proposal does not appear to comply with the city’s May 2007 expressions of interest for Parcel Y. That document required a “destination attraction” in the form a cultural facility. The developer’s current proposal does not seem to include that. Furthermore, the Lake Placid proposal does not appear to comply with the Direct Control District 1 Guidelines for the area either. The proposed skating rink/reflecting pool and waterfall are not listed as permitted uses. The city has never adequately explained these discrepancies.

According to the article Saskatoon’s downtown a hidden gem (StarPhoenix, Feb. 5, 2009) the price of Lake Placid’s condos are “starting at $299,000, with live/work townhouses at $789,000 and going up to $1.195 million.”

With that information it becomes a lot clearer who the target audience is and perhaps explain why the so-called public plaza will be raised. It is to keep certain elements out. The one thing that the River Landing Village design is not, is inclusive.


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