SmartCentres construction in limbo

The City of Salmon Arm says they are not at fault for delays to the SmartCentres development.

The City of Salmon Arm is not delaying the SmartCentres development.

Mayor Nancy Cooper issued a statement summing this up last week on behalf of city council so the community gets correct information, not rumours.

“I was hearing from people that they were saying they didn’t understand why the city was holding up SmartCentres. There have been a lot of rumours out there, people are concerned, and I don’t blame them,” she told the Observer.

She said city councillors were experiencing the same complaints.

“They (councillors) wanted us to put it out there. Except for a few small things…, the city has pretty well signed off on everything.”

The mayor’s statement, which has been posted on the city’s website, lists city approvals, which include an official community plan amendment and a zoning amendment that both received final approval on Dec. 20, 2010, and two development permit applications that received approval from council on Oct. 24, 2011.

The website statement points out that the issuance of one development permit by city staff is contingent on SmartCentres fulfilling conditions which include approval from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Sandra Kaiser, vice-president of corporate affairs, told the Observer in an email that SmartCentres expects “to receive MOTI approval in the next few months.”

She added that the company is close to finalizing the last details with the ministry.

A spokesperson for MOTI states in an email regarding the lengthy process: “We have completed a review of the preliminary plans and expect SmartCentres will submit the final detailed plans shortly.”

Asked about MOTI approval, Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the ministry can provide the best information.

“As far as I know, there aren’t any big changes – paving, line marking, signage, electrical. I believe that’s what it is, as well as amounts of security that are required. As far as I know, there aren’t any big-picture things that are at play here.”

Court appeal

The city’s website statement also refers to the Neskonlith band appeal of the BC Supreme Court ruling regarding the hazardous areas development permit for Salmon Arm Shopping Centres approved by the city. The Court of Appeal hearing for the case is set for Aug. 14 and 15 in Vancouver.

The appeal is taking on provincial importance, as the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has notified the city it will be taking on intervener status, a status that will allow it to make a limited amount of argument in the court.

“I’m not sure what that participation is going to look like,” said Cooper, “but the reason they are is they believe the judgment will have an effect on other municipalities, other local governments.”

Cooper said the UBCM is giving the city $10,000 to go towards the city’s legal fees.

Mark Underhill, one of the lawyers representing the Neskonlith band, said he understands that at least one other First Nation is likely to be applying in support of the Neskonlith’s position, and there may be other parties seeking to be interveners given the case’s important implications.

SmartCentres responds

Meanwhile, an email statement sent to the Observer May 31 from SmartCentres refers to the appeal.

“Despite the strong support from the City of Salmon Arm Council, the community, and a positive judicial decision by the BC Supreme Court, the appeal of the court’s decision by the Neskonlith Indian Band is causing some uncertainty as to when we will be able to commence construction,” writes Kaiser. “We understand that many residents continue to express their frustration to city council, as they eagerly look forward to having more shopping choices in Salmon Arm.  However, we trust the residents of Salmon Arm will appreciate the difficulty the Neskonlith’s appeal poses with respect to our ability to readily mobilize our construction start.

“In the meantime, we will continue to finalize our approvals with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and city staff. We remain very committed to the Salmon Arm community and look forward to breaking ground as soon as possible.”

Asked about a rumour that construction might not start at all this year, Kaiser replied: “No definitive decision has been made with regard to the timing of construction. In light of the appeal of the court decision by the Neskonlith Indian Band, the timing of construction is a matter of continued consideration.”