Nina Bifolchi

NEWS – Beachfront Purchase and Redevelopment

–Tuesday May 17, 2022

I have heard a lot of positive comments from the development community this term of council, whose interest in Wasaga Beach has been fantastic. This is reflective of the building boom we have been experiencing. They are however, concerned and asking why there is a small handful of people posting negative comments and attacks against council and the development community. Attacks against those who have followed a proper process in an above board manner to redevelop our beachfront. 

Attacking people’s reputation is noticed by the entire development community and beyond and has consequences. My hope is that the effects of this undesirable behaviour are not felt by the community as a whole. This term of council has followed an above board process to work in the best interests of the residents and taxpayers. As I have said before this council will not sell out its residents. Our community owns many of the beachfront properties and we need to be financially responsible and find solutions all while protecting the taxpayers of Wasaga Beach.

There has been quite a bit of misinformation shared by some with regard to the purchase and redevelopment of Beach Area 1. I hope this synopsis of the history helps to clarify the situation. 

December 2014 a new council was sworn into office with Brian Smith as Mayor, Nina Bifolchi as Deputy Mayor and Councillors Bray, Stockwell, Anderson, Smith and Ego. 

In January 2015 the former mayor (Smith) without council approval or direction approached the owners of several beachfront properties and asked if they would sell their holdings.
 
March 10, 2015, March 18, 2015, April 3rd 2015, April 7, 2015 in camera meetings were held by council.

Friday April 10, 2015 later afternoon, the former mayor conducted a phone poll of council members in order to gain support for him to sign a purchasing agreement for the beachfront properties which he advised he would be signing within an hour of the phone call I received. Apparently it had to be done that night.

I reiterated to the former mayor as I had previously made it clear, that I did not support the purchase. Municipalities are in the business of providing services to its residents, not to be in business and direct competition with our local business owners or developers.
 
The former mayor was heard many times saying “you can’t control what you don’t own.” What he failed to understand was the costs that would be put upon the taxpayers for the town to make this purchase. This was an uneducated risk taken on behalf of the residents by the former mayor who had no previous council experience. This is a prime example as to why experience at the municipal council table is important and why jumping to the top spot without a few years of learning first, can harm a community.

April 28th 2015, just 5 months after being sworn in, the majority of council by a vote of 5-2 (with then Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi and then Councillor Sylvia Bray opposed) supported the purchase of the beachfront properties. Since then, the taxpayers have continued to subsidize this purchase.

NOTE: Prior to this purchase, a thorough due diligence was not completed, there was no strategic vision for the beachfront’s future, there was no business plan, no idea of what the taxpayers would be expected to fund over and above the purchase price, no report from our staff experts with pros and cons for council’s consideration and the purchase of the beachfront was not on any candidate’s platform during the 2014 election. There was no public consultation as to whether the taxpayers wanted to become landlords of the derelict properties at Beach Area 1 of which they continue to subsidize. 

After its purchase, the town put out a request for expression of interest (RFEOI). In development, this would normally be a first step prior to moving to a formal request for proposal process however, the former mayor and majority of council chose to single source their preferred developer and skip the most important step of going to a formal request for proposal. Essentially they put all their eggs (or yours as the taxpayer) into one basket based on little to no appropriate due diligence.

NOTE: A Request For Expression of Interest serves to invite economic operators to put themselves forward as potential candidates in advance of a formal request for proposal (RFP). An RFEOI forms the first part of a two stage exercise with the RFP being the second stage.
 
Following the purchase, unrealistic and misleading promises continued to be made to the taxpayer about timing for shovels to be in the ground. These promises were made without any of the required studies (such as an environmental assessment) being completed or without knowing what the taxpayers financial share would be in the redevelopment for town spaces and infrastructure. The public was mislead about the realistic timelines to redevelop at the beachfront. 

The story goes on but I will let you do your own research by visiting the town’s website.
https://www.wasagabeach.com/en/business-and-development/build-wasaga-portal.aspx

As you read through you will see that the former mayor and council did a side step and instead focused their energies on attempting to develop Beach Area 2. This is a town owned piece of  property (parking lot, natural area and sand) that the town has owned for many years and was not part of the 2015 beachfront purchase.  

The majority of the previous council chose to abandon the redevelopment of the newly purchased beachfront properties (Beach Area 1) and instead looked to develop condos on Beach Area 2 with their single sourced developer. I did not support this switch as it was not in the best interests of the community, residents and taxpayers. It was not in my opinion open or transparent actions for the town council to be doing.

Before I get into correcting misinformation that is being spread by self appointed advocates and associations I want to direct you to a staff report from January 31, 2019 which was brought forward during the current 2018-2022 term of council. It is important that when you hear stories on the street or in the whisper campaigns, that you are armed with the facts. This staff report makes it very clear what the former mayor and staff was looking to do at the beachfront based on a draft agreement I was made aware of following my success in the 2018 election and becoming Mayor of the Town of Wasaga Beach. Please read it.

NOTE: as per the map included in the report, you will notice that Beach Area 1 appears to be proposed as all residential (perhaps condos like they were hoping to build on Beach Area 2), a parking garage funded by you the taxpayer so that the casino users could park for free as well as a casino located on town owned land that would be leased cheaply from the town not purchased. You will read about all the financial commitments (there were many unknown too) being made on your behalf with nothing in return but debt for the taxpayers, and you the taxpayers having no knowledge of it. 

This is the link to the agenda. Please scroll down to item 5a New Business – CAO’s report dated January 31, 2019 RE: Beach Area 1 Casino Site
https://wasagabeach.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=270

Let’s clear up some lies and misinformation now.

The town’s negotiating team made up of the CAO, Director of Public Works, Director of Planning, A third party fairness monitor, lawyer and consultant are currently (as of today May 17/22) continuing negotiations with regard to redevelopment of the town owned beachfront properties.

The Wasaga Beach Ratepayers Association continues to attempt to influence residents regarding the beachfront redevelopment. There is also a small handful who continue to post threatening and defamatory comments on social media about the preferred developer that the town is currently negotiating with. Mrs. Ego, the President of this Association is the wife of a former Councillor who was not successful in the 2018 election.

On numerous occasions the association’s lies and misleading information required the town to put out a truth corner article to correct them. Misleading residents is not acceptable.

If you read through the very first link I provided in this article, it clearly shows that the town has already conducted extensive public consultation on the creation of the policies and zoning provisions that will guide the development of the beachfront properties. This took place during the creation of the Downtown Master Plan and the amendments to the Official Plan and Zoning By-law. This is the regular process that is used to gain public input on land development. If negotiations between the preferred developer and the town are successful, the developer will be required to follow those plans.   

I find it ironic that Mrs. Ego, President of the WBRA doesn’t understand how this works. Ego, seems to have had no concerns about when her husband sat as a councillor with the former mayor and purchased the beachfront for $13.8 million dollars, all behind closed doors.

The WBRA has conducted a survey to gain public input with regard to the town’s negotiations with the preferred developer. Negotiations continue between the town and developer regarding the Beach Area 1 properties as per the approved and legislatively supported process. The association continues to squabble that they should know what is going on in negotiations and that there should be public meetings.

It is again ironic that Ego believes that the town should take their survey results as an indication of the majority of the public’s wishes. Many people understand the basics regarding processes during negotiations, the need for confidentiality, as well as planning matters but it seems this group doesn’t understand it regardless of how many times it is explained. Or do they understand and it just doesn’t fit their agenda?

The town does not know the parameters that were used to conduct the survey. The town is aware that the ratepayer’s association, in promoting the survey, circulated misinformation and therefore I definitely have reservations about the validity of any data collected. If the association cannot share accurate information with its survey, how can anyone take its so-called findings seriously? Was every survey participant given the background history that I have provided here, including that the public has already had input as per legislation and policy at the appropriate stage of this? Without this information and knowledge those responding to a survey are doing so blindly. 

During a recent “coffee with council” event held at the Rec Plex, flyers were left on vehicle windshields by the WBRA. They claim the following: FACT: After the failure of negotiations with Slate Management, WBRA sponsored an online survey to ask residents specifically if they thought the town should hold public meetings before selling the beachfront properties to Bayloc Developments, the fifth-rated RFP respondent. Wrong and misleading information shared once again by the WBRA. 

Through the Request for Expression of Interest process, Bayloc finished 5th of 9 and was part of a group of 6 proponents recommended for shortlist of those to be invited to submit a proposal in response to the Request for Proposal. Please note as per the description I shared earlier that the RFEOI process is only step one of such an important development. The RFP stage provides much more information, details and a level of confidence that the developer is capable of doing the project. Anyone can put forward an expression of interest with pretty pictures and a convincing presentation but it does not require the level of detail that an RFP does. I will remind you that the previous council, eliminated the needed RFP process when they looked to develop the beachfront last term of council.

They were not 5th in the RFP process. In the end, after a proper RFP process, Slate came in first and Bayloc second. The town is now negotiating with the second preferred developer.

Self proclaimed advocate Mammoliti continues to post and speak that there should be no condos on the beachfront. What he fails to understand is that due to the decision made last term of council, the taxpayers go further in debt yearly owning these derelict buildings. Should we continue with the taxpayers subsidizing the properties? Should we just run the buildings further into the ground until they fall over all while leaving our beachfront looking derelict hoping someone doesn’t get hurt in these buildings in the meantime? Should we sink more taxpayers’ money into fixing these derelict buildings? As I have said many times, without a residential component we will not see a redevelopment that includes commercial on the main floor and outdoor spaces and amenities. The beachfront will continue to look as it does today.

I will also point out that while Ego claims her ratepayers association has hundreds of members, they refuse to provide proof of that, keeping their membership anonymous, which leaves one wondering if they for the most part are representing the 5 or 6 directors listed on their website or perhaps the 30 people who join their rallies outside of the Rec Plex. There is no way of knowing but one thing for sure is they do not represent the 25,000 people in our community. If I’m going to join a ratepayers’ association because I truly believe in a cause of some sort, I’m not going to hide my membership to that group. or as we have seen during these rallies, some hiding their face with their sign.

One of the key focuses of a ratepayers’ association is to look for greater transparency, accountability and efficiency in the delivery of local government services. It’s ironic that Ego can’t see the difference from the last term of council to this term. Please read about it in the 2018-2022 update provided to your postal mail box or read on line by following this link.

https://www.wasagabeach.com/en/town-and-government/goals-and-objectives.aspx

The scope of a ratepayers’ association should defend the interests of all local taxpayer categories, residential, business and industrial. While defending the interests of all local taxpayers, an RPA should only claim to represent those who wish to be represented by it. Yet I hear from people daily “the Wasaga Beach Ratepayers’ Association doesn’t represent or speak for me.”

Professionalism is a must for a ratepayers’ association yet this one has had to be truth cornered for spreading of misinformation several times.

A lot has happened over the past few years. I’ve tried to provide an easy to follow background  of the situation, as well as links to the town’s reports. As always, I encourage everyone to do your own due diligence.