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‘Take off the beer goggles’ former Holyrood councillor advises current council

By Mark Squibb | Jan. 14, 2021

Holyrood residents who have spearheaded a petition asking the Town of Holyrood to not sell a portion of the town’s Festival Grounds to accommodate a microbrewery have now filed an appeal with the Eastern Regional Appeal Board following council’s decision to approve the brewery in principle.

“The issue is the sale of the property,” said Mark Lane, representing the Concerned Citizens of Holyrood group. “We want the beer, we just don’t want it there, on the festival grounds… The only opposition we have is the final sale of property to a private business. Because that is final and irreversible.”

Back in September, following the submission of the Beach Head Brewery application, Lane prepared a petition, which he said currently exceeds 500 signatures, requesting that Holyrood not sell the land.

Lane said when he found out council would be voting on the application during a December 22 meeting, he sent a copy of that petition to each member of council. Council granted approval-in-principle to the application following a 4-3 vote. During the meeting, councillors Roger Myette, Kevin Costello, and Mayor Gay Goobie, who voted against the approval, cited several of the same concerns raised by residents — including the as yet unknown costs associated with the development, costs which would not be covered by the brewery owners.

“The taxpayers have to subsidize the purchase of other properties, road upgrades, water and sewer upgrades, and infilling the harbour,” said Lane. “So, we pay for all that, the taxpayers, and the company gets a deal on the most prime piece of real estate in Conception Bay. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Lane, a former councillor, said he felt it necessary for the group to appeal the decision.

“We’re being ignored, so we have no choice but to appeal. It’s an expense that we have to incur ourselves, it’s a time expense, it’s a monetary expense, and it’s something that we shouldn’t have to do. We should not, as residents of the Town of Holyrood, have to fight our government,” said Lane. “No decision on council is easy. I’ve been there. They’re all challenging — some easier than others— but you will never satisfy everybody. I appreciate that. What I was surprised at was, that even though a petition of, at that time 354 individuals, was given to all council members, because I sent it to all councillors the morning of once I heard this vote was happening, and as well as the Marina Park Corporation, who canvassed their members and they recommended not supporting the sale of the marina and the festival grounds, council went ahead and supported it, 4-3. We thought, in all confidence, that it would never have passed the approval in principle.”

Mayor Goobie said he felt the vote should have been held off until the New Year, so that council would have more time to delve into some of the nitty-gritty details.

“Council was very consumed, and council committees were very consumed, in preparing the municipal budget during December,” said Goobie. “I knew there was a lot of discussion that had to take place surrounding this brewery application. So, personally, I felt that because we were so consumed in preparing the town’s budget, time would not allow us to reach that comfort level in bringing that motion on the brewery forward at the December 22 meeting. At the time, I didn’t think that we were ready for that.”

The discussion to hold the vote on December 22 was made in a private meeting of council a week or so prior, said Goobie, noting he couldn’t attend for personal reasons.

“There were two private meetings held with council and a couple of staff. I was unavailable for the two meetings,” said Goobie, explaining he missed one due to a work commitment and the other for a medical appointmnent.

“I spoke to the CAO on that,” Goobie added. “I said, ‘It seems like we’re going to have to put off this vote until the new year. But then I was advised by the CAO that, from that last private meeting that was held with the councillors, that they wanted to vote to proceed on the 22nd, which, I had some issues with. I told the CAO that. I said, ‘There were still a lot of outstanding questions here, and I think we should flush all this out first, before we take this to a vote.’”

The mayor said that since the vote, residents have accused him of not doing enough to prevent the application’s approval.

“There’s one piece that I really want to get out there. Some people think that the mayor has such authority that they can make a decision on behalf of council,” said Goobie. “But I am only one person, amongst seven around that table. I have one vote, the same as every other councillor… I think people have to understand that we follow a democratic process whereby the majority rules. The mayor doesn’t supersede, or override council recommendations based on a majority… people have to understand that I don’t have the authority to make a unilateral decision and override council recommendations. That’s why we have seven people on council. Because if the mayor could make a decision on his or her own, then why do you need a council?”

The appeal, which was received by the board on January 5, makes four claims. It says council breached the Holyrood Municipal Plan which provides for protection of greenspace and scenic shorelines, and sound financial management; alleges potential conflicts of interest; contends town office employees overreached their authority; and that the ultimate cost to taxpeyers is undisclosed, citing the future purchase of private land to accommodate Holyrood Marina Park, road upgrades, water and sewer upgrades, and infilling of the harbour, which could potentially exceed $2 million.

Lane said selling a portion of the festival grounds to a brewery flies in the face of thousands of dollars in government funding that were spent on improvements to the festival grounds and boardwalk. In total, the Town received $77,408 from the provincial government and $112,511 in federal funding to improve the area.

“At that time, the plan was beautiful,” said Lane. “We all loved it. Because, the festival grounds do need some TLC and it’s underutilized for sure. But, it’s the crown jewel of the Town of Holyrood… Now the plan is to sell the property, reduce the festival grounds down to only a fraction of what it was, displace a part of the marina, and the taxpayers are on the hook to purchase property, do land infilling, etcetera.”

Lane said there has been a lack of transparency and key questions have yet to be answered.

“What is the sale price of that property? What is the valued assessment of that property? What are the associated costs with the water and sewer upgrades?” said Lane, noting the town has been plagued with water woes for a decade.

Goobie acknowledged the appeal process will affect the development.

 “There has been an appeal registered with the regional appeal board, which means, legally, everything comes to a standstill,” said the mayor. “The town and the developer are not permitted to do or say anything else. Everything is at a standstill until that appeal is heard… and these appeals can take quite some time before the board gets to hear, and render a decision; And I expect now that, because of COVID, I would venture to guess that there’s quite a backup in files waiting to be heard. So how long it’s going to take, I don’t know, but I would safely say that it’s going to be several months before any decision is rendered.”

The mandate of the appeal board, said Goobie, is not to determine whether or not the appeal board feels that the brewery should go in that location, but to determine whether council adhered was compliant in following its development regulations and the proper process.

“That’s their mandate,” said Goobie. “So, if there was something technical that was overlooked, and wasn’t done, or something done that shouldn’t have been done, then they can rule on that.”

Goobie said that if the appeal is won, it means the application is essentially back to square one.

“I voted against it for several reasons,” he said. “But the fact is now that council has approved that approval-in principle. So, collectively, council has made that decision… If the appeal is won, council will continue their discussion of the terms and conditions within the approval in principal.”

The terms and conditions, said Goobie, include the sale of land, which includes applying for ministerial approval, an agreement amongst council as to its fair market value, and an environmental assessment.

“If the Town wins the appeal, then we’ll continue on where we left on in terms of dealing with the conditions set forth in the approval-in-principle,” he added. “There’s still a lot of discussion that is going to have to take place between council. There have to be more votes… approving that approval-in-principle is just one step. There are many more steps that are going to follow from that. But again, nothing can be done, absolutely nothing, until that appeal is heard.”

As to the unproven accusations raised in the appeal of potential conflicts of interest, Goobie said council is taking the matter very seriously.

“When we reconvene, I will be asking the question, as to whether council feels a need to explore possible perceived conflict of interests in an official manner to get a definitive answer, and that answer will come through legal channels,” said Goobie. “As mayor, if such information is brought to my attention, I have a responsibility, I am duty bound, in accordance with the Municipalities Act, to ensure that it’s investigated appropriately and that council is provided with all the relevant information pertaining to allegations or any perceived conflicts. And then it’s up to council to decide if they’re satisfied with the explanations that they’re given and that they feel there’s no basis or foundation for such allegations, or, if it can’t be ruled out unequivocally, we have to take it to another level in which we have to seek legal advice from Municipal Affairs and from a lawyer.”

Meanwhile, Lane said that many residents felt put out by a Town brochure delivered on December 23 announcing council’s decision and highlighting some of the potential solutions to the repercussions of selling part of the festival grounds.

“The very next morning after the vote, there was in everybody’s mailbox, almost the equivalent of a marketing brochure for the company as an update from the Town of Holyrood,” said Lane.

The mailout highlighted main concerns and workable solutions, including additional green space through the redesigning of the Festival Grounds area through the Beach Boardwalk Project (estimated to be completed, in phases, by 2024) which also allows for a splash pad area, beach area, and new stage, the use of space on the second floor for community groups, and the ongoing discussions between the Town and boaters to resolve boat storage space. The mailout out assured residents the proponents have spent a significant amount of time researching and speaking with Public Works staff regarding town infrastructure and water availability.

The mailout did not indicate that three of seven members of council had voted against the approval-in-principle.

Goobie also has issues with the mailout.

“The Town, and I will leave it at that, it wasn’t council, it was the Town, drafted up a brochure… in the eyes of many, that went beyond an update,” said Goobie.

The mayor acknowledged that council, during one of the private meetings he missed, had requested that residents be given an update once the vote had been taken.

But Goobie said the mailout brochure far outshot the original intention of council.

“There should have been an update put out by the Town, that sticks to the facts as it is, and there should have been another one put out by the brewery, promoting their proposal and trying to garner support,” said Goobie. “I wouldn’t have an issue with that. Instead, the two of them were rolled together. Which means staff got too entrenched in promoting this, which caused a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration, and people don’t know what to make of it.”

Goobie said production of the brochure was both flawed and untimely.

 “Unbeknownst to anyone of us, at one o’ clock in the afternoon, the day of the vote, we received an email, in which the pamphlet was enclosed,” said Goobie. “We were asked to look at it and get back to the staff by 2:30 at the latest, because it had to go to print. Now, we hadn’t even voted on this yet, and we were asked to, more or less give the green light on this brochure. Now at one o’clock in the afternoon, how many people, if they’re out and about and doing things, are checking their email? I took exception to some of the stuff that was in this. Because it said, ‘The Holyrood Town Council believes that by working collaboratively and finding solutions that this Approval in Principle will have a positive affect on our Town’s ability to move with confidence into the future,’… the concern I have with this is that they use the word ‘council.’ They didn’t make reference to say that ‘the majority of council feels,’ and they never made any reference to how the vote went or anything else. Maybe this was well intentioned. But I’m suspicious. I should have been given an advance copy of this days in advance, along with the rest of council, to go through and pick apart, and say, ‘Okay, this is what we want,’ and then send it out, so everyone is on the same page. But it left everyone shaking their head and it’s caused a lot of confusion in the community.”

Goobie said he has other issues with the flyer that he will address in the council chambers at the appropriate time.

“I’m going to call this into question; how this was done, why it was done the way it was, why council weren’t provided ample opportunity to actually review it and suggest anything be added or deleted or changed or modified,” said the mayor. “It was done and ready to go. This seems very problematic. Because obviously there was a lot of time put into producing this brochure. This wasn’t slapped together overnight, this was carefully, carefully crafted. No question about it… it has the Town of Holyrood logo on it, but it wasn’t signed off by the mayor.

 “I really want it out there that this wasn’t done by the council; this was done by staff and it went out in an untimely manner, and inappropriately. And it unfortunately caused some confusion because it was worded in a way that all of council was supporting this. And it barely got passed. Obviously the public got confused. This wasn’t the intent, or what council wanted. They wanted a simple update for the residents. They weren’t expecting this.”

So far as Goobie figures, no one on council reviewed the brochure by the print deadline.

As for Lane, whatever the appeal board decides, he said, the residents of Holyrood will have a say too come next election.

“What I want is for the Town of Holyrood to immediately cease any consideration to sell that property, and to begin to work with the developer to put it in an alternate location in Holyrood, and people would welcome that, end of story,” said Lane. “What I think is going to happen is that we’re going to have to go through the entire appeals process, and the end state, well, there’s a municipal election in the fall and if people are happy, or not happy with the decision council has made, that will be decided there. Let’s protect the greenspace that we have. Let’s develop it with money that has already been approved. And let’s work with the developer to put it in an alternative location. My advice to council is to sit back, take off the beer goggles, and reconsider.”

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