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City land sale violated Community Charter rules internal review finds

City-owned property at 4500 Ospika Boulevard sold in 2020 did not have a public notice issued, as required under the Community Charter, due to staff error.

The 2.27ha (nearly six acres) lot at 4500 Ospika Boulevard was sold to The Hub Collective on the legal condition that the developers construct a five to six storey, 256-unit student housing project. Earlier this year, The Hub Collection proposed revising the design covenant attached to the 4500 Ospika Boulevard sale to change the project scope to a 118-unit senior housing complex, but council denied the proposal at its February 6, 2023 meeting. As a result, the covenant for a 256-unit apartment building intended for student housing remains in place.

A staff review of the property’s land sale, prompted by the community group Ginter’s Green Forever raising questions, found the previous administration failed to follow Community Charter regulations. Under the Charter’s Section 26 provisions, municipalities must issue a public notice before disposing public land or improvements.

“City administration and council take this matter very seriously,” said Adam Davey, acting city manager. “At the time of the property sale, taking out an ad in the newspaper was a legislative requirement. Failing to do so makes the process less transparent to our citizens and erodes the public trust. We are taking immediate steps to improve our processes as that trust is extremely important to all of us.”

Upon discovering the mistake, Davey says it took action, including undergoing a restructuring and rebuilding of the city’s real estate division to better support the administration’s public responsibilities under all provincial legislation and its intention to provide fully transparent and accountable processes.

Council directed staff at a closed meeting to provide a report in a public meeting setting with recommendations on strengthening the policies and procedures regarding land sales.

According to BC Assessment, the property’s assessment in 2020 was $682,200. The developer bought the land from the City for $500,000, which the previous administration considered to be at-then current market value based on similar development lands of its size in Prince George.

The property is now assessed at $3.547 million.

Factors that are considered in a property’s valuation include, but are not limited to, the existing zoning, topography, geotechnical qualities, and access to municipal services. The property at 4500 Ospika Boulevard is not serviced and has a 1.09 ha “no-build” area.

Public access to listings of land owned by the City of Prince George is available on the City website through its PGMap platform.

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