Weeks after the province announced a review of B.C. Transit, new details about the sale of its former warehouse have come to light, raising more questions whether the transit agency is serving the public’s best interest.
Back in 2005, B.C. Transit sold its warehouse at 650 Garbally Rd. to Gordy Dodd, who owns a furniture store nearby, for $3 million.
The warehouse, however, was never listed or advertised as being for sale, contrary to B.C. Transit’s own policy.
Neither was it reported to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, said Frank Leonard, mayor of Saanich and member of the commission.
Leonard has led the charge against B.C. Transit, in part due to its policy of not including the commission in decisions to buy or sell land within the Capital Region.
“It’s another private sector company that’s out of control,” he said.
The private sale of a public asset, such as the warehouse on Garbally, is totally inappropriate,” Leonard said.
“The public needs to have confidence that they got the highest and best price. A proper tendering ensures that.”
While B.C. Transit did get four appraisals on the building, before selling it to Dodd for a slightly higher price, it appears the Crown agency likely didn’t get the best price possible.
Jim Smith of Scotia Automotive on Douglas Street, adjacent to the warehouse, said he also made inquiries about buying the warehouse in mid 2004.
“I was prepared to pay $3.5 million,” Smith said.
Smith used to work for B.C. Transit and later opposed the agency’s plans for light-rail transit in 2008.
In late 2004, Smith’s real estate agent, Dave Philps with DHF, also inquired on his behalf, but without revealing his client’s name.
Philps said he clearly recalls making the call and being told the building wasn’t for sale. He asked to be notified “if that changes.”
He was never notified.
Yet, in January 2005, B.C. Transit’s board of directors “authorized staff to continue negotiating the sale or lease of 650 Garbally Rd.,” according to documents made public through the Freedom of Information Act.
Reports to the board from that time reveal the City of Victoria made an offer on the property, with the intention of using the land to build housing for the homeless. B.C. Transit made a counter-offer, and the city withdrew.
Then-mayor Alan Lowe recalls price being the deciding factor behind the city’s withdrawal.
B.C. Transit then entertained an offer from Dodd, and they agreed on a price of $3 million. The offer was accepted that April and the deal closed in August 2005.
This summer, Leonard raised similar concerns about B.C. Transit’s purchase of land in the Royal Oak industrial park, known as the Glanford property.
“I got really upset this year when I heard on the street that they were buying land in Saanich,” Leonard said.
Joanna Linsangan, B.C. Transit’s manager of public relations disputes this claim.
The decision to purchase the property was discussed at the commission’s in-camera meeting in November 2010, five months before it was finalized, she said. Leonard was present at the meeting, she added.
“We don’t have an obligation to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission for board purchases, but we do consider them and we do inform them,” she said. The Glanford property will be used as a provincial re-fit facility and not for use by the Victoria Regional Transit system, she said.
As for the warehouse on Garbally, Linsangan said B.C. Transit had advertised the facility for lease for three years.
“During that time, nobody had approached us for the lease portion, but at one point we were offered a couple of options to purchase the site so we felt that we would move forward with that.”
B.C. Transit’s policy regarding property disposal requires that the property “be offered for sale by public offering by advertising in the media.”
This was not done, Linsangan confirmed. “The administration felt the offer (from Dodd) represented good value,” she explained.
For his part, Dodd said he first inquired about renting the warehouse. Upon learning it was for sale, he purchased the building unaware of B.C. Transit’s policies.