The Bizarre Marketing of our The Old Library
by Hubert Hogle
Last updated to July 13, 2020
Our Town has a number of surplus buildings that are not needed operations including 4 Township Halls that are mostly vacant. (One would be sufficient for operations.)
Other surplus buildings are 301 John, (train station) 11 Market (rented to MY FM), 13 Market (old fire hall) and 37 Dundas W (Old Library). These properties generate little rent, no taxes and operate at a loss. Selling them might generate $2-million which would be a good start on paying for a modern efficient admin building for our staff to work.
On April 23, 2019, council finally declared the Old Library surplus, a necessary step to selling it. On June 25, 2019, council directed staff to list it for $229,000 with Rogers & Trainor. The resolution contained a clause delegating authority to staff.
As it turned out, staff dithered for over a year before listing it. For some reason, staff initiated a rezoning from CF (Community Facility) to C3 (General Commercial), likely to accommodate a purchaser that they were negotiating with.
On May 19, 2020, staff, proposed leasing it for a year. Council balked and at a late night session on June 9, directed staff once again to list it for sale through Rogers & Trainor.
The property was finally listed for sale a month later. But it was a short listing with a cut-off date of August 11, 2020, special conditions and a provision allowing staff to request additional info and negotiate with all bidders after the cut-of date. Bidders are muzzled from disclosing these negotiations and have no guarantee that the Town will accept the highest bid. Remembering what happened with Oke Road, there’s every reason to be suspicious. This process is unlikely to attract the highest bid.
With both council and bidders muzzled, the only thing the public may learn is what we’re told in a carefully worded press release issued after closing.
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37 Dundas W is a beautiful old brick heritage building at the edge of downtown. It was built as a library in 1902. It operated as the Napanee Branch in the County Library system until 2001. It operates at a loss. The main floor has been vacant since 2016. The upper floor is leased to Interval House as office space but the rest of the building has been vacant since 2018. The annual operating deficit was $4,000.
The upper floor is not handicap accessible and it has no parking. Staff eventually admitted that they considered that it has little functional value as a municipal office.
An excellent use would be transition housing for either vulnerable people trying to escape homelessness or abusive relationships. (The Loaf & Ale building is owned by Interval House and the upper floors are used for transition housing.)
On April 23, 2019, council declared it surplus, a necessary step in selling it.
Mayor Isbester declared a conflict of interest giving as a reason that it “may involve a future land transaction with a family member”, left the chair while this was dealt with and took no part in the decision of council.
On June 25, 2019, council receive a report regarding 37 Dundas W and directed staff, via the Rogers & Trainor pilot project, to list it for $229,000. Mayor Isbester did NOT declare a conflict of interest on this or on subsequent dealings with the Old Library. Seemingly, her family had lost interest in the building.
The report suggested, for the first time that the property be rezoned from CF (Community Facility) to C3 (General Commercial). This seemed strange since either CF or C3 zoning would be compatible with surrounding uses. To me, it sounded like staff was zoning the property to suit a particular buyer who had already been picked.
The staff report stated that there was a valuation dated June 14, 2019 but did not provide a copy.
The resolution to list the property for sale with Rogers & Trainor contained the following highly suspicious clause:
And further that the General Manager – Community & Corporate Services be authorized to act on behalf of the Town of Greater Napanee during the sales process; And further that the final sales agreement(s) be approved by Council.
To me, this sounded like an abdication of council’s duty of oversight and it carried risks. That staff would request this unusual authority created suspicions in my mind of their intentions. I’m not even sure it was legal for council to do this without a change in the Sale of Land By-Law.
As it turned out it took staff over a year to do what council had told it to do – list it with Rogers & Trainor.
The rezoning was not completed until March 10, 2020.
On May 19, 2020, staff did another stall. Eleven months after having been directed by council in very clear terms to list the property for sale, staff proposed to lease it for a year, possibly to their pick for buyer (they never said).
Council finally balked and decided to deal with this later in closed session later.
The closed session took place on June 9, 2020 which continued until almost midnight. Council looked exhausted when they came out. The following resolution was passed:
RESOLUTION #297/20: Richardson & Pinnell That Council direct staff to list the property at 37 Dundas Street West for sale through Rogers & Trainor Commercial Realty Inc. CARRIED.
I am told by reliable sources (yes, people are leaking stuff to me) that the property was shown by a realtor to a potential purchaser months earlier. I am not sure if any of this was communicated to council.
To me this process doesn’t sound like it’s designed to get the highest price for the benefit of the taxpayers, in a fair, open and transparent process. I believe there’s every reason to be suspicious.
The listing has a cut-off date of August 11, 2020. All offers must be submitted by that date. The Town’s form must be used which has a lot of special conditions, not shown on the Rogers & Trainor website. After the bids are in staff may request additional info and negotiate with the various bidders. There’s no guarantee they will accept the highest bid.
My view is that this type of listing deters serious bidders since it is seen as being rigged.
The staff recommendation on a buyer will, no doubt, be presented to council in a secret session which muzzles all councillors. Council may or may not be told about the other bids. We’ll never know. Councillors are prohibited by Town by-law from telling us.
The bidders are muzzled too.
Staff cleverly inserted this clause in the offer form.
All people making offers must sign a confidentiality agreement as follows:
If this transaction is not completed for any reason, the Buyer shall promptly deliver to the Seller all Closing Documents, information and materials relating to the Lands delivered to the Buyer by or on behalf of the Seller and all reports and information prepared by or for the Buyer in regard to the Lands, including but not limited to, any environmental reports and soil tests commissioned by the Buyer, and shall keep in confidence all such information and all discussions between the Seller and the Buyer with respect to the Lands in connection with the review by the Buyer of the Lands.
We may never know if the successful purchaser received any inducements such as waivers of development charges or impost fees. The only thing we will find out is what we learn from a carefully worded press release issued after closing.
This page will be updated as events unfold.