This speech was given by Lisa Matthaus, Chair of the Fernwood NRG Board of Directors, to a meeting of the membership at the Fernwood Community Centre on September 13th, 2013
Published October 2013
Village Vibe Newspaper
As most of you know, Fernwood NRG has played an important role in the revitalization of Fernwood. In the years between our incorporation in 1979 and 2004, Fernwood NRG was known as the Fernwood Community Centre Society and our purpose then was to operate the Fernwood Community Centre (at 1240 Gladstone Avenue) which opened its doors in 1980.
From this building, we run a number of vital programs for the neighbourhood, including:
- providing 45 child care spaces,
- delivering the Canada Pre-Natal Nutrition Program for Victoria,
- hosting a drop-in program for families with young children, and
- providing recreation programs for youth and seniors.
And in the last few years, we have added some additional activities like the Good Food Box Program, a father’s group, and a weekly free family dinner, just to name a few.
However, in the early part of the last decade, Fernwood as a neighbourhood was struggling. What is now the vibrant Cornerstone Building was a boarded up eyesore and the source of a significant amount of criminal activity in the neighbourhood. At that time, Fernwood NRG stepped forward and purchased the building, which was a real turning point for the neighbourhood.
Upstairs, we built four three bedroom units of affordable housing; downstairs, we created space for a number of neighbourhood businesses, including our own Cornerstone Café. In all, we raised over $400,000 for the project, and the neighbourhood contributed an estimated 10,000 hours of sweat equity in the demolition and reconstruction of the building.
In 2006, following the success of the Cornerstone Building project, we changed the name of our organization to reflect this broader role in the neighbourhood: we became Fernwood NRG.
In 2008, we purchased two vacant lots on Yukon Street (just behind Vic High). We successfully obtained the necessary approvals to build a further six units of affordable family housing. We also raised over $1 million to make that project a success.
So we have a successful history of going through the development process including raising substantial funds to be invested into Fernwood. And, we have successfully operated those housing units subsequently, benefiting families that would otherwise be living in substandard housing or at risk of homelessness. Currently, we have close to 40 people living in our housing units.
In 2011, we hosted the Fernwood Neighbourhood Visioning Forum which was attended by 140 residents and representatives from a dozen groups and organizations active in the neighbourhood. The purpose of the day was to discuss neighbourhood priorities that would guide Fernwood NRG’s work for the coming years.
There were three strong messages we heard that day. Fernwood residents wanted more affordable housing, more local businesses in the core of the neighbourhood and greater food security.
Since then, we have undertaken a number of food security activities, including the planting of the community orchard on September 28th.
However, and this is why we are here tonight, in January of this year we learned that four properties in the heart of the neighbourhood were for sale by the Mi’s Kow A Ao Development Society (part of the M’akola Group of Societies). Over the course of several months and at a series of meetings, our Board weighed the merits and the risks of offering to purchase the properties. Of course, we knew if we declined to purchase the properties, they would be most likely be bought by a private developer for redevelopment.
In May, we decided we had enough information to make a conditional offer to the owner for all four properties. In July, our offer was accepted. From that point, we’ve separated the purchase into two pieces; we’re only dealing with the first two properties here tonight, 1310 Gladstone Avenue and 2009 Fernwood Road, as the other two require a longer rezoning process which I’ll address a bit later.
Through July we gathered all of the information we needed to remove all but two of our conditions on the first two properties (for instance, that the title is clean, that the buildings are safe, that the land is free of contamination, and so on). We removed those conditions at the end of July.
To remove the first of the last two conditions, we then negotiated with our banker, Coastal Community Credit Union, to obtain financing to allow us to purchase the first two of the properties. Now, to remove the last condition, we need your support. In order for us to accept the bank’s offer and complete the sale, we need approval from our membership to borrow this money.
Following tonight’s meeting, should we get the approval we’re asking of you, we will be making a proposal to the City to redevelop the properties. This will be a lengthy process with many opportunities for public participation that will take place over the coming year. At this point, our hope is to obtain approval to build mixed use developments on both 1310 Gladstone and 2009 Fernwood Road, incorporating more ground floor retail space we would lease to businesses focused on serving a neighbourhood clientele, possibly some office space for other types of businesses that wish to locate in Fernwood, but primarily to build more affordable housing units in the upstairs.
Earlier I had said “four properties were for sale” but tonight we are discussing only two. To this point, we have been in negotiations to purchase all four but only two are currently at the stage of financing. Our offer on the other two properties at 2013 and 2017 Fernwood Road is conditional on obtaining the necessary development approvals. Although work is still proceeding to move that opportunity toward reality, realistically it will be 2015 before we are ready to come back to the membership for authority to borrow for that purchase.
Personally, it has been very exciting to develop this opportunity to this point over the past eight months. Although we have been eager to share information about it, it would not have been prudent to discuss all of the details in public. After tonight’s meeting, we look forward to sharing this news with the whole neighbourhood via the Village Vibe and engaging residents in conversation about how these projects will build the neighbourhood we all want for the future.
The motion to approve the borrowing passed unanimously, and the sale will close on November 1st. Be sure to watch the Vibe for more information about this exciting project, and watch for upcoming meetings and information sessions.
© Copyright 2013