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Parkland bought without public process

NANAIMO – City council made decision to purchase parkland for Linley Valley in a closed meeting.

With $9 million on the line, one Nanaimo city councillor believes the purchase of parkland should have gone to referendum.

Nanaimo city council announced last week it had inked a series of option agreements to acquire 89 hectares of parkland in Linley Valley. The move was made in-camera and will see the city spend an estimated $9 million to acquire and develop five properties, including two that will cost four times the assessed land value. The money is expected to come from reserves.

It’s a “big chunk” out of the city savings, according to Coun. Bill McKay, who says he would have liked to see the public weigh in on the decision in the upcoming election. He also wonders why people aren’t more upset politicians chose to spend millions of dollars without community involvement.

“At the council level we are constantly talking about transparency. At the public level they are constantly talking about involving them more in decision-making in the community and yet we just spent $9 million behind closed doors and … very few people are saying a word,” he said, adding he finds it odd.

“Everyone talks about participatory democracy and if that had been a public works building up on Labieux Road, this community would be going absolutely crazy right now like they did with the annex.”

The decision to sign option agreements passed by a wide margin at a closed meeting in early May, according to Mayor John Ruttan, who said McKay was the only person to vote against the move.

“I don’t know if we had the luxury of making a commitment and then waiting for a referendum,” he said, adding the city had been warned that land was being sold quickly.

The community also hired politicians to make some of these decisions, he said.

Nanaimo city officials are scheduled to move forward on the acquisition of land in upcoming council meetings and amend the financial plan to cover the cost of the properties, the majority of which are above the assessed values. Hillside Avenue, a 47-hectare spread, has a $3.5-million price tag, which is more than four times the $792,000 the land was valued at this year.