Mental health group surprised by council expropriation

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Daniel MacEachern
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City moves to take over property sold by Scouts to Canadian Mental Health Association

The provincial branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is disappointed St. John’s is expropriating property it has a deal to buy.

St. John’s city council voted to expropriate the land and building on Terra Nova Road currently owned by the Boy Scouts of Canada at Monday night’s council meeting. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

City council Monday night voted to expropriate the land and building at 15 Terra Nova Rd., currently owned by the Boy Scouts of Canada, which recently put the property up for sale.

The city made a purchase offer but was outbid by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which is looking for a new home, said executive director George Skinner.

“We’ve been looking for space, a home for CMHA, but also to put a place, a centre in St. John’s that we could develop over time to raise the profile of mental health, particularly mental illness, in the community, which we believe is a central issue for most communities in the province,” said Skinner.

“We thought the Scouts property was an ideal place to do that.”

Skinner said he was surprised to learn Monday morning of the city’s plans to appropriate the land.

The association had reached a deal with the Scouts three weeks ago to buy the property.

“It’s very disappointing,” Skinner  said. “This was not just an office space for us, but it was a chance to profile mental health in the heart of the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador, and to work with other groups, including council, to make the mental health issue what it should be in our community, and be in close proximity to the university, to Health Sciences, St. Clare’s, on a bus route.”

Coun. Art Puddister said the land, sandwiched as it is between city-owned properties — Metrobus depot lands to the east and recreation land west and north — should go back to the city, which sold the land to the Scouts for a dollar in the early ’70s.

“It’s an excellent fit for the taxpayers, and this piece of property, which I consider a valuable piece of property, should stay in public ownership,” he said. “We have many needs here in the city. We could refurbish that building and have one of our stand-alone departments be relocated there.”

The next step is for the city to negotiate compensation with the Scouts for the land. “Our staff will certainly negotiate in terms of what we’d pay for the building and so on, so we’re not just walking in and expropriating a piece of property,” said Coun. Tom Hann. “We will talk to Scouts Canada, staff will, and then we will negotiate a proper sale price for it.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth noted the offer the Scouts had already received for the property establishes fair market value for the property, so the organization isn’t being undercut by the city, and he said the city will help the Canadian Mental Health Association find another suitable property.

“This is not about blocking out any not-for-profits in any way, shape or form,” he said. “This is about us looking at the bigger picture for the City of St. John’s and our requirements for our operations and for the recreation facilities in and around Terra Nova Road.”

Skinner said the association will go back to the drawing board.

“We’ll look at other options we had been considering, but this was our No. 1 option,” he said.

Mackenzie Lambe, the Scouts’ volunteer services co-ordinator in Newfoundland and Labrador, declined to comment, directing inquiries to provincial director Jennifer Neary, who’s out of the province until next week.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have the authority to disclose any information about that,” said Lambe. “That would be Jennifer Neary, and unfortunately she’s out of the province right now.”

 

 

Organizations: Boy Scouts of Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association, Health Sciences

Geographic location: Terra Nova Road, Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Don II
    April 15, 2014 - 09:45

    Expropriation can easily be abused by the Provincial and Municipal Governments in Newfoundland and Labrador for politically motivated reasons. Expropriation can be imposed on private land owners by the Government at the demand of other parties with vested development interests in order to take valuable private property without having to pay the best price that the private property owner would have obtained from a private buyer in the open real estate market! The Expropriation Act in Newfoundland is a draconian piece of legislation which has been amended over the years to encompass the taking of privately owned land for almost any purpose besides road construction or other limited public interest reasons. The Expropriation Act allows the Government to take private property from the rightful owner and then develop the land for purposes other than that for which it was initially expropriated! The Government can take land from the rightful owner and then transfer title or use of the land to other well connected private parties for free if the Cabinet so decides! The Expropriation Act in Newfoundland and Labrador can be used by the Government to enable other parties with vested development interests to acquire privately owned land without having to pay for it! Expropriation can and will be used as a form of legislated theft by the Government. Any private land owner who is subject to expropriation is always injuriously affected and subject to financial and personal loss imposed on them by the Government. The process of expropriation in Newfoundland and Labrador is unfair, unethical, one sided, politically motivated and open to serious abuse or fraud. I recently read a file which showed clearly how expropriation can be abused by the Government. The file contained documents which revealed that the Town of Cupids had sent registered letters to land owners in Cupids claiming that the Town had obtained approval from the Minister of Municipal Affairs to expropriate and based on that purported Ministerial approval the Town of Cupids threatened to expropriate privately owned waterfront lands for the purposes of expanding and improving the Town of Cupids commercial marina. It was discovered as a result of inquiries into the expropriation threat that the Town of Cupids had built a commercial marina without Government approval on Crown land that the Town did not own in an area not zoned for marina operation! In fairness to the Government of Newfoundland, it did eventually serve the Town of Cupids with a Cease, Desist and Vacate Notice which stopped any further construction or expansion of the unapproved commercial marina. However, it appears that the Town of Cupids is now pursuing a lobby effort to persuade the Government to overlook the fact that the Town threatened to expropriate private property to expand an unapproved commercial marina and used tax payers money to build a commercial marina without Government approval on Crown land that the Town did not own! An impartial review of the reasons for expropriation and the practices being used in expropriation should result in the ending of unfair practices and the repeal or amendment of certain sections of the Expropriation Act in Newfoundland and Labrador.

  • John
    April 15, 2014 - 08:27

    I agree with Whaaa? and James R. Malone. the idea of expropriation for this reason is ridiculous and an abuse of councils authority. The idea of expropriation for office space!!! Whats next? Who knows!!!

  • Whaaa?
    April 15, 2014 - 07:58

    Shouldn't expropriation be used for the common good in rare circumstances? i.e. public works projects? Get your priorities right. Where is that young fella Galgay now? Expropriation must be too complicated a word.

  • James R. Malone
    April 15, 2014 - 06:56

    How is a council empowered to seize property just because they think it might make some nifty office space? Doesn't expropriation have to be the last resort? I know it's trendy to pick on the City of St John's these days, but if they keep doing these farcical things, they really bring it on themselves. An embarrassment.

  • Fred
    April 15, 2014 - 06:50

    I hope the city pays the same price to the Scouts that the Mental Health Association was going to pay them. Fair Market Value has been established