George came back to Gibsons council Tuesday night, with critics of the waterfront hotel and condo project putting Mayor Wayne Rowe on the hot seat.
Dorothy Riddle, a certified management consultant who sits on the Town's economic development committee, confronted Rowe during the first enquiry session at the Feb. 4 meeting, accusing him of trying to suppress an economic impact analysis of the project that she had prepared pro bono and submitted on her corporate letterhead.
Criticizing Rowe for referring to the report in an email as "a submission from a resident," Riddle cited her 27 years of experience and asked why the report was "apparently being viewed as unprofessional."
The report argues that the George, at the scale proposed, "could be a liability to taxpayers," as it would likely have a negative profit margin that "could result in the developer asking council for a tax holiday on the municipal portion of property assessment."
In contrast to profitable hotels, Riddle said, the George's staff-to-room ratio is 215 per cent higher than industry average, the conference space is 237 per cent larger, the spa facility is 225 per cent larger and "the staffing pattern is top-heavy with an unsustainable wage scale."
The report concludes the project would be viable at about half the proposed size.
Responding to Riddle's presentation, Rowe said her report had been circulated to all members of council.
"I intend to follow proper process," he told her. "The next steps will be determined by council following subsequent staff reports."
Coun. Dan Bouman, however, thanked Riddle for her paper, predicting it would be a "best seller" in the community.
Earlier in the meeting, council had passed a motion by Bouman, and amended by Rowe, directing staff to arrange a future committee meeting to consider the economic impact and viability of the George. A similar motion had been defeated at the Jan. 21 council meeting.
Despite that concession, George critics from the gallery kept up a steady fire during enquiries.
Suzanne Senger, president of the Gibsons Alliance of Business and Community, asked if people could access Riddle's report as a public document. Rowe told her to ask Riddle for it. "I'm sure she'd be happy to share it with you," he said.
When Roger Swickis asked how council members could support the project's economic impact without expert analysis, Rowe said council had simply taken the first step to start the process. "You're getting way ahead of yourself," he told Swickis, "so cool your jets."
When Senger, during a second enquiry session, tried to pin Rowe down on a timeline for the rezoning process, and reminded him that his campaign pledge was "consensus over conflict," Rowe supporter Brian Sadler fired back: "How dare she, as a non-resident, remind you of what your campaign pledge was two years ago."
Later in the meeting, Judith Hammill also reminded Rowe of the campaign slogan and asked what he was planning to do about "the schism" that had developed in the community over the George.
"I'm very aware of the conflict," Rowe said. "People that hold legitimate opinions are being challenged and intimidated in the community, and to my mind that's where the problem is."
When questioned by Hammill on Riddle's report, Coun. Gerry Tretick said it "sort of comes across as against the development, I'm not sure why."
Tretick said he relied on staff to provide advice on matters such as taxation and development cost charges.
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