Victory at council for Mount Forest church group – despite some doubts

Well­ington North council has pass­ed a bylaw for a lease agreement between Mount Forest Victory Church and the town­ship.

In exchange for building repairs, the church will get the building for 10 years, excluding costs for utilities, taxes, and main­taining the leased space for public use. The township will remain responsible for grading the parking area and snow removal for fire access routes.

Under the agreement, any work to the arena will require written approval from the municipality.

Although the building may be accessed for certain community events, such as the Mount Forest agricultural society, the church will also be allowed to sublet the building with the limiting rule of no alcoholic bev­erages.

A councillor will be ap­pointed to act as a liaison on the church property committee

The church has agreed to be solely responsible and answerable in damages for all acts or omissions due to or caused by its members or those it has rented to.

The church will also be required to hold $10-million liability policy.

The church will be allowed to install personal property, fixtures and equipment of a temporary nature, which can be removed at the time the lease expires. At the end of the 10-year period, the church has the option to renew for a further five years for $500 per month.

If the township chooses to end the lease early, it will be billed the full monetary costs for work stages completed. Those include:

– stage 1 (2009), rehabi­li­tation of change rooms and repair and installation of steel roof over change rooms, $18,000;

– stage 2 (2009), replace lower flat roof, $15,000;

– stage 3 (2012), replace upper flat roof, $32,000; and

– stage 4 (2019), replace main roof with steel, $70,000.

Mayor Mike Broomhead thanked paster Harry Engel and others for the work put into this agreement. He also recognized the dozen or so members of the Vic­tory congregation at the meeting to hear the outcome.

“It’s maybe been a long drawn out process,” said Broom­head.

He said there were two public meetings to consider what could be done with the old arena and community centre. There were five requests that came from those meetings.

He felt there was ample opportunity over the past couple of years for people to come forward with suggestions.

“One of the things which caught my eye early on, in the Victory Church proposal is that they wanted to make this the Victory Community Church. “They wanted it big and bold on the front of the building.”

He believed what they were trying to accomplish was not only good for the church, but for the community as well.

Councillor Bob Mason,  chairman of the property committee, said, “We looked at a lot of different things, and this is the best agreement we could come up with.”

He said the municipality has the choice to  repair it, tear it down, or lease it to a group willing to do those repairs for the good of the community.

Mason stressed that it will be a non-alcoholic facility. He also did not believe there to affect rentals of the new Sportsplex.

Councillor Ross Chaulk still has concerns with the agreement. He said that at the end of 10 years, the church has the right to renew the agreement for an additional five years, for $500 a month.

“Well, ten years from now, to lease that place for $500 per month … current office space on the main street of Mount Forest goes for more than that. This is a very good deal. For that kind of money, they’re in there for a minimum of 15 years.”

He believes the agriculture society could have been ac­commodated without entering into a 10-year lease.

“I think tying us up for that length of time is plain ludicrous.”

He cited the Baptist Church in Mount Forest, which bought a building to expand. “We didn’t help them.”

Mayor Mike Broomhead does not believe that is a fair comparison. He said if a roof leaks in a rented building, the landlord fixes it, not the tenant.

Broomhead said in this case Victory Church will be maintaining the building. He added that the church will also be paying the utilities.

Broomhead said it has been costing the township quite a bit  of money, even with the building sitting empty.

Mason said council needs to consider the church will be putting $130,000 worth of work into the building (over half will be in the final years of the lease).

He said the township will still own the building.

Councillor Dan Yake is concerned with the exit clause of providing a minimum of 90 days notice and the township being required to provide monetary compensation if it wants to leave the agreement early.

“Will we be on the hook?”

Broomhead said, “Only if we ask them to vacate.”

He added if the church chooses to leave, that stipulation does not apply.”

Yake asked why council would be approving the agreement before discussing its solicitor’s review of it.

Broomhead said the agreement had been sent to the solicitor, but the response had not come back to council yet.

Clerk Lori Heinbuch pointed out the bylaw was worded so the agreement would only be approved substantially, pen­d­ing the solicitor’s report.

Even if there were no major changes, Yake said that in most cases, council gets that information before passing a bylaw.

 “I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, but if we are already paying for our lawyer to review this, whether there is anything wrong or not, we should have the ability to look at this beforehand … as we have in the past.”

Broomhead said the main thing is the issue has been back and forth so many times, and the church members would like to get work started. The lease on their current building runs out by the end of the year.

Broomhead said the township lawyer has looked at previous drafts and given council advice. However, with the sum­mer meeting schedule, it would be three weeks before council met again.

He assured councillors the legal opinion would be read be­fore the final agreement would be signed.

Yake said so many times it has been stressed to get things right. He realizes the amount of work done so far, “But I just want to make sure it is done right.”

Yake said comments one way or the other should come to council. He said the only way he would agree to the bylaw is if council saw the legal comments before final signing of the agreement.

Broomhead said it would require special meeting of council.

But in a recorded vote, councillor Chaulk was only councillor  to vote against it. Following the vote, Chaulk described it as “sweetheart deal”.

He said for the first 10 years, the municipality doesn’t get a penny in rent.

With the cost of the repairs factored in, the church would be paying the equivalent of $13,000 a year in rent, he said.

“We would have never walk­ed away from the agricultural society. We would have opened the building to let them use it. I don’t think we had to tie the building up for 10 to 15 years to do it.”

He said rent on that amount of space for that amount of time would be a lot more.

“It took Avila to come in from out of town to do something with the Murphy property.” He was comparing that company to the church group, which was the only bidder on the arena.

All along, Wellington North has asked residents what to do with the property, but no one had deep enough pockets.

Chaulk maintained that the decision regarding the old arena should have been dealt with at the same time as the new arena.

“We should never have looked at them as two separate issues.”

He said he had believed that when the new arena was built, the old one “would be disposed of to knock down the debt. I thought that’s what would have happened, but it didn’t.”