On the eve of one of the most important development decisions Chilliwack’s downtown has ever seen, one city councillor says the issue was too significant to sit out.
Coun. Sam Waddington had to initially refrain from participating in council decision-making on the redevelopment of 21 building lots at Five Corners, because he lived in one of the affected buildings.
But in late May, he moved out of his loft apartment on Yale Road to remove any conflict of interest, and get back in the conversation.
Waddington described move-out day as “bittersweet” in a tweet.
“This outcome was not of my choosing however I made the decision to move here to be a part of the revitalization of downtown Chilliwack, and that is the reason I am leaving as well,” Waddington’s public post said a couple of weeks ago.
All his belongings had been packed up and moved into storage as he flew east to Nova Scotia to attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. Even though the city councillor had no pecuniary interest or financial gain living as he did as a tenant in the historic building, the opinion from City of Chilliwack’s legal counsel was that just living there meant he could not be unbiased about the project.
The City of Chilliwack through Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) issued a request for proposals (RFP) with the deadline of Jan. 17 to redevelop the entire block east of Five Corners. The results of the RFP or the shortlist have not been made public in order to combat speculation, but a proponent who will build the project is expected to be revealed in the coming weeks.
This past winter, Coun. Waddington was living in one of the subject buildings, and over time, he opted to set his personal interests aside. He gave his formal notice to move out in order to vote on the proposal, in part “to help shape the community through my involvement,” he said.
Waddington calls the as-yet unreleased plans for the major redevelopment “exciting,” but having to move out was a “bittersweet moment” since it was his home, and he was fond of the unique space.
“No other decision for me has been so profound,” he told The Progress.
The respective visions of the proposals received were different enough from each other that he felt compelled to have a say.
“This will be a sea change for Chilliwack,” Waddington said.
He decided the development was to be so monumental and pivotal in scope that it would be worth moving out for.
So why does he think this project will be so “monumental” for downtown?
“It’s going to be one of the most prescriptive developments that we’ve ever had as a city, and that is because we own the land,” Waddington commented.
“We’re truly just choosing a builder and a designer, and it is our collective vision that is going to get implemented and that it’s so different than anything we’ve ever done.”
It’s taken years for city officials to assemble the various properties, and the city will partner with the proponent through CEPCO to realize their chosen vision.
Coun. Waddington explained he first moved into the heart of downtown Chilliwack purposefully four years ago.
“When I moved in, I wanted to understand the downtown. I wanted to live and breathe it every day,” Waddington said. “Talk is cheap. It’s easy to say ‘I want to see revitalization of the downtown.’ But I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to bring my money, my skillset, my presence into the downtown.”
He set up his residence near Five Corners, until that part of his personal life suddenly ran counter to his professional life as a city councillor.
Before he gave his three-month notice to his landlord for June 1, he continued to receive information and be privy to council discussion on the project. When he saw which direction the various proponents were heading in, he decided to wade back into the council conversation, by officially notifying city officials in March that he was moving out June 1, in order to become eligible to vote on which development team would become the lead proponent.
“I just wanted people to know that I felt my joining the conversation was essential so I knew I had been involved in what I thought was one of the most important decisions of my elected mandate,” Waddington concluded.
The land is a consolidated block of 21 building lots in downtown Chilliwack on just under four acres and it’s all up for redevelopment. As joint land owners, City of Chilliwack and CEPCO issued the RFP last September, seeking a development team to take on the role as project proponents.
Stay tuned. This month or next council is expected to announce a builder.