The Town of Alberton will send letters to Premier Robert Ghiz, Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Robert Vessey and Alberton-Roseville MLA Pat Murphy advising them the town is supportive of the old manor being developed if someone is interested in doing so.
That was the end result of a public scolding councillor Natasha Dunn dished out at Mayor Michael Murphy during Monday’s monthly council meeting for letters he sent to provincial politicians last month, encouraging them to tear down the vacant building and turn the area into green space.
“These letters came as a surprise to all of us councillors here,” Dunn said, but she subsequently admitted that was her understanding from the councillors she had spoken with on the issue.
Councilor Krystyna Pottier acknowledged she had spoken with the mayor about having the manor property turned into green space.
Mayor Murphy actually got Monday’s discussion started by pointing to a memo he had sent to councillors. The meno, he said, “was to clarify any confusion over the sale or possible sale of the Maplewood Manor. The attached letters were sent to get clarification on what the government was planning to do with the disposal of the old manor. It is not to be a deterrent to a sale or possible sale. Through conversations with councils past and present, I felt the intent was to have the old manor turned into a green space.”
Dunn was not buying it. “But the first letter was sent August 9, and our meeting was held August 12, and it didn’t even make our agenda,” she protested.
“Are there any minutes, any resolutions passed stating that’s what the town’s stance was, to demolish the manor and turn it into a green space?” she asked.
When the mayor responded that his intent was to inquire what the Province intended to do with the property, Dunn read directly from one of the letters: “’We urge you to take the necessary steps to have this building demolished before winter.’ That is a stance, Mr. Mayor.”
Dunn continued, “Your memo states that the letters were sent to get clarification. There’s no question in either one of these letters. It’s not asking for clarification. The first one said, (paraphrasing) ‘we would love to see the old manor torn down.’”
Councilor David Campbell entered the discussion and indicated he couldn’t remember the last time the manor property was discussed at council and he later suggested Monday’s session was the most it has ever been discussed.
“Mostly, when letters are sent off, it’s approved by council – any letter that’s sent off to government requesting things,” said Campbell, “and, as far as I can recall, this was never discussed before I saw this tonight.” He admitted he had heard prior to the monthly council meeting that letters were sent.
When town administrator Susan Wallace-Flynn interjected that Mayors have written letters in the past without clearing them first with council, Dunn insisted, “This isn’t just an average letter. This is a huge undertaking.”
“It’s going to be a $250,000, minimum cost, to taxpayers to demolish the manor,” said Dunn, suggesting it would make more sense to develop the property.
“The business would be attracting customers to town who would be buying gas, groceries; going to our restaurant,” she insisted. “A green space doesn’t make money. It looks pretty; it really does, but it does not make money for the town. This means tax dollars could go towards paying for something like a rec director.”
“Do you have someone there who is willing to buy it?” Murphy inquired, “because we certainly won’t stand in the way.”
“But if you send letters like this, it makes it look like this is what the town wanted,” she argued and Murphy admitted it was his impression green space was what the town wanted to happen to the property.
On further questioning by councillor David Cahill, Dunn acknowledged she is aware of an individual who has expressed interest in developing the old manor property and proposed council give development a chance.
“If we decide tonight to vote it through and if it goes through, this is what we want to see, and if there is a developer out there who wants to develop that property, which will gain tax dollars for the town, attract more business, attract customers to the town, develop it, then I think we should let the government know that’s where we stand, if that’s the case; if we decide that as council,” she rambled.
Pottier said she couldn’t imagine government turning aside an offer if a developer expressed an interest. She said she would be fine with the property being developed “if it meets the requirements of the municipality and if it ends up being a business we would want located in the municipality.” But she added, if a developer doesn’t come forward, she would want to see the building demolished.
Councilor Cahill asked for a time line to be included in the motion and Dunn proposed a year.
“At most, I would think,” said Pottier. ”If a sale cannot be concluded within a year or develop, I think we should re-state our support for converting it to green space for use by residents of the current manor and the rest of the town. “
Council voted unanimously in favour of Dunn’s motion to advise government of its support for developing the property.