Tension surrounding the possible donation of the former Vankleek Hill Day Care building to the Vankleek Hill Senior Citizens Manor expansion project surfaced at Champlain Township’s most recent council meeting.
At a previous meeting, Gary Barton, a former mayor of Champlain Township, put forward the possibility of the township selling the now-vacant day care building to the not-for-profit Vankleek Senior Citizens Manor for one dollar — so that it could be converted to a seniors community centre as part of a project to build a 30-unit seniors residence on land adjacent to the existing Vankleek Senior Citizens Manor at 71 Derby Avenue in Vankleek Hill.
Barton has told council that there are currently 141 applicants on a waiting list for Vankleek Senior Citizens Manor at 71 Derby Avenue.
Since addressing council a few months ago, a delegation in favour of the project attended the October council meeting, but at the top of the meeting, the item was removed from the meeting agenda and the delegation left that meeting.
At its November 14 meeting, Champlain Township council approved a request for a letter of support for the 30-unit project; that resolution included no mention of the vacant day care building.
But when the motion to support the 30-unit building came up on the agenda, the discussion soon turned to the future of the vacant day care building.
Vankleek Hill ward councillor Troy Carkner said that he agreed with supporting the project. “This is a known and established non-profit association,” he said, calling it (the new housing) an investment in our community.
Vankleek Hill ward councillor Peter Barton echoed Carkner’s sentiments.
But he mentioned other challenges that the township is facing.
“I don’t think we can sell you the building right now, but we can give you access for development,” said Peter Barton, adding that for now, the township needs to retain the property.
The motion for support was amended to add construction access through the property.
Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel had comments on the future of the day care building.
“I think it is not necessarily the right thing to give away township assets,” said Riopel.
“There could be things happening on that lot. There is a shortage of building properties (in Vankleek Hill),” Riopel added.
West Hawkesbury ward councillor Gerry Miner pointed out that the resolution under discussion did not include giving the building to the not-for-profit corporation.
“We always encounter different obstacles . . . there are only two or three lots available (building lots). We are not growing, we are slowing down. Every time we want something, we have to go in our pockets,” said Riopel, referring to the township needing more property tax revenue.
“In Clarence-Rockland, there were 200 new homes built last year. Here in Champlain, we had 17. If you think of $2,000 (in revenue) per home, that’s $400,000 for the (Clarence-Rockland) township,” Riopel continued, explaining that 17 new homes add up to about $34,000 in new revenues.
“The OPP (Ontario Province Police) costs go up and we go in your pockets. Don’t ask us if you’re ready to give up your assets. Ask council instead to give you money in free permit fees,” said Riopel, adding that he had checked and the fees might add up to $130,000.
Maybe the township could provide $50,000 in credit for permit fees, Riopel said.
“That is just my opinion. We need to grow and not give our assets away,” he ended.
Peter Barton interjected that the township give them (the not-for-profit group) everything it needs to make the project a success, short of giving the building, but reiterated entering into an agreement to allow them to use the building as a construction office while the project was underway.
“We are looking at $2 million to develop the industrial park, $2 million in renovations for the (L’Orignal) marina and $2 million in repairs for Stephens and St. Denis Streets, said Riopel. “There is a possibility of revenues from that property.”
Riopel held up papers saying that he had received a plan for a 24-unit condo on that property (the day care property).
“I have a plan right here,” he said.
“I haven’t seen that, but I think we need to look at the greater good of a project. It is not necessarily about the money,” said West Hawkesbury ward councillor Sarah Bigelow.
Gary Barton replied to Riopel that there were several subdivisions in the works in Vankleek Hill.
“There were recently six duplexes built on one street in Vankleek Hill. You can’t compare Clarence-Rockland with Champlain Township,” said Gary Barton.
Barton challenged the notion of a 24-unit condo project on the day care property.
“There is less than one acre there. You need a road in and parking. I would question if council has even seen that document. When push comes to shove, look: we can work with you. We have enough land for the building. But if we could have access through the day care property — I doubt residents on Fournier and Barton Streets would want equipment on those streets. This project will bring you $40,000 to $50,000 in taxes — we are paying $60,000 right now,” Barton said.
“I know that the arena ice surface is an issue. It was built in 1976 and need to be replaced. You probably have issues we don’t know about. As for Fournier and St. Denis Streets — they were built in a swamp and that was how it was done back then. But we need access to our (the land owned by the not-for-profit Vankleek Senior Citizens Manor) from Derby Avenue. Once it (the 30-unit building) is done . . . even if you sell it (the day care building) to us for a dollar, you can put a clause in there that if we don’t use it for our purpose …” said Gary Barton, adding that making the building available to seniors groups was the intended use of the building.
“You never came to see me,” said Riopel.
Barton replied in the same vein. “We made a request two months ago,” he said.
“We are here today. We did not hide,” Riopel said.
Barton challenged Riopel on the condo plan, but Riopel said he had just received it that day.
“I expressed what we need and I understand you have challenges. We need access. We would love to have access (through the property),” said Barton, who said that the group had just received word that it had been granted $240,000 in SEED funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for pre-construction and an architect’s design. That program encourages the construction of new, affordable housing.
“I’m not against it,” Riopel said, referring to the project.
Gerry Miner asked to comment.
“I want to speak on the resolution because I am aware of other needs that are not public right now. The value of the land would still be there in a period of time . . . there are other things that we might need that for. I would say we make it available to them and revisit it after their project, unless we need to revisit it before,” Miner said.
“I will support the resolution,” said Miner.
L’Orignal councillor André Roy asked, “Compared to the initial resolution, what is the major difference?”
Peter Barton replied that this resolution was to do whatever was needed to facilitate the building.
“I am 100% on your side. And would like to add that we assist with the permit fees,” said Riopel.
Longueuil councillor Michel Lalonde asked if the project could be built without the township giving the day care building to the group.
“We believe we have plenty of land, but we do need to look at parking,” Barton said.
Further discussion took place about parking, including the possibility of needing some of the day care land for parking.
Gary Barton said it would be looked at by the township’s new planner but acknowledged that a shortage of parking spaces happens all the time.
“It could be rectified with a minor variance,” Riopel added.
A recorded vote took place on the resolution with all voting in favour of supporting the project by permitting access through the day care property during construction and allowing the group access to the 79 Derby Avenue building during the construction process.