Editor's note: the following article was also published in the Aug. 21, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
In a move that has raised eyebrows in some circles, the Clarke's Beach town council voted recently to approve the spending of $40,000 for the purchase of a high-profile piece of land on the waterfront, adjacent to the cenotaph and across the street from the municipal building.
The vote took place during a hastily called meeting on Monday, Aug. 6 - the town's civic holiday.
The town's longtime clerk, Joan Wilcox, was not in attendance to record the minutes. Mayor Betty Moore and Coun. David Moore were also absent, since they were attending civic holiday celebrations organized by the town's recreation commission. Both say they received email notification of the meeting, but didn't attend because of the short notice, and the fact it was a civic holiday.
"They didn't want me there because they knew I didn't support it," Coun. Moore later told The Compass.
The decision was supported at the 40-minute special meeting by Deputy Mayor Kevin Hussey and councillors Roland Andrews, Garry Bendell, Eldon Snow and Winston Vokey, though it came in for some criticism during council's regular public meeting on Aug. 13.
Mayor Moore questioned the price being paid for the land, saying she was "surprised and shocked" by the amount.
"$40,000 is not a small piece of change for this town," she said.
According to the town's assessment role, the land is being taxed based on an assessed value of $5,700.
Mayor Moore was also critical of the timing and urgency of the meeting, and wondered why it was so important to hold the meeting on a civic holiday.
Accepted first offer
It's also been learned that council did not engage a real estate professional to carry out an appraisal of the property, which would have cost approximately $400, and that it accepted the first offer made by the seller.
Mayor Moore also raised concerns about the town's plans for the property. According to the minutes of the special meeting, some members of council see the land - located at 164-168 Conception Bay Highway with some 150 feet of frontage - being used for "tourism and possible recreation purposes."
One of the possibilities include relocating the former train station to the site and converting it into a museum. The station is currently located at the intersection of Main Street and Station Road, and has fallen into disrepair over the years. There's been plenty of debate about what should become of the structure.
Supporters of the purchase say there were two reasons for the expenditure: to explore the possibility of relocating the station to the site, and to have full control over how the land is developed, since it is next to the cenotaph.
But Mayor Moore and Coun. Moore - no relation - both questioned how much such a development would cost, where the money would come from, and whether provincial government authorities would even sanction such a project becuase of the property's proximity to Conception Bay Highway, which is a provincial road.
Coun. Moore described the purchase as a "bad decision."
Coun. Andrews is a leading advocate for the land acquisition. He defended the price, saying it was "good value," since it also includes a large concrete floor left over from the building - known to many as the Gold Gallery - that was destroyed by fire several years ago.
Andrews said the town will explore various funding options to help cover the cost of relocating and renovating the train station.
When asked if such a development might be nixed by the province because of the location, Andrews noted, "that's a probability," though he said there are no restrictions that he's aware of.
And why was it necessary to hold a special meeting? "The owner wanted a reply," Andrews stated.
Andrews said he was not aware that it was a civic holiday on Aug. 6, and apologized to Mayor Moore at the Aug. 13 meeting for the late notification.
"There was nothing underhanded. No preconceived notions," said Andrews.
He said the town is acquiring the property for an "excellent price," and noted it was listed for $25,000 "a couple of years ago."
Andrews emphasized several times the land purchase is "good news" and said many residents are keen to have the town's history and heritage displayed in a more organized, prominent way.
Mayor Moore suggested later that the money might be better spent upgrading the town's family park, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.
Meanwhile, a real estate agent contacted by The Compass expressed surprise the town did not have the land appraised, but is familiar with land values in the area and described $40,000 as a "decent value for the property."
The agent, who asked not to be identified, said the assessed value of the property can be misleading, since the assessment was likely at least four years old, and property values have increased significantly in that time.