Russell Precious addresses recent criticisms of Nelson Commons
Q. You have expressed frustration with some of the misconceptions that have turned up in several letters to the editor recently.
A. Well yes, as we all know the rumour mill never sleeps and it is always curious how people equate rumours with reality before probing more thoroughly.
Q. Several weeks back there was a letter from Kevin LePape questioning a number of funding issues regarding the project.
A. Let me speak to that: Citizens Bank is the real estate wing of Vancity Credit Union and has been our primary funder from the get-go. They never threatened to pull out as was suggested and no, we didn’t struggle for two years to reach our pre-sale requirement.
Early into our second year of sales, Citizens realized they had not included the co-op space as a pre-sale — the equivalent of about 12 units. That plus the 36 residential units that had been sold satisfied their requirements. There was no rescue by Nelson and District Credit Union injecting $5 million as was also reported.
With Vancity/Citizens firmly on board and three ancillary Vancity partners, both Nelson and District Credit Union at $900,000 and Kootenay Savings at $750,000 came on board as equity investors. And to set the record straight — the original September 2013 projected cost was $26 million. Actual contracted January 2015 cost was $27.3 million. Built in contingencies covered these increases.
Q. What is the current status of sales?
A. Presently sales are 70 per cent for residential and 73 per cent for commercial, with a prime commercial sale pending. Now that the building is under construction and we are entering prime selling season we are gaining renewed interest. Real estate sales in the area are actually off to a strong start this year as any local realtor will attest. Interest rates remain low with no immediate change in sight and the BC economy is leading Canada in performance.
Q. Last week’s hot issue at council was the affordable housing agreement you made with the city.
A. The Kootenay Co-op initially offered the city $1,000 per unit towards the affordable housing fund in order to raise the bar from the previous contribution of $250 per door from Amber and Silver Bay making a total contribution of $54,000.
Our primary funder, Vancity Credit Union, suggested it would be more meaningful to actually get some people housed and offered $120,000 if the co-op would match their contribution. Out of this we identified three units that would be discounted 25 per cent and made available to qualified buyers through a selection process based on need and financial ability — the latter determined by Nelson and District Credit Union.
This is referred to as a restricted resale whereby if the unit is sold in the future, the savings are passed on to the new purchaser who has to meet the same criteria. All in all the co-op increased its deal from $54,000 to $120,000 while bringing an additional $120,000 to the table.
Q. Another letter by Bob Abrahams referred to “the capitalist developer.”
A. The Kootenay Co-op is the Nelson Commons developer. Co-ops are recognized as the original social enterprise. As defined in Wikipedia: “A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders.”
Capitalism, on the other hand, in its more aggressive modalities, represents the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many and is widely recognized as a major threat to civil society throughout the world.
Not only does the co-op serve 13,000 members throughout the West Kootenay with quality food (much of it grown locally) but generously contributes to all manner of community endeavours and always has. Recently, the co-op committed $15,000 to Nelson Cares for their Ward St. affordable housing project.
Q. What’s your background?
A. After a degree in Asian studies at UBC I studied organic agriculture at Mylora Farm in Richmond with organic pioneer John Harrison. After partnering to run the Naam restaurant in Vancouver a small group of friends and myself purchased land in Argenta in 1972. Subsequently we moved to Quadra Island where we created a land co-op and helped initiate a Waldorf School.
We acquired the local island supermarket and subsequently used that experience to start Capers markets in Vancouver. At the same time our family resettled back in Nelson in 1987 and except for a working stint in Colorado creating a prototype for an “integrative pharmacy,” the Kootenays have been home. For the past 18 years I have lived in Sunshine Bay where I enjoy the full range of homesteading activities — particularly growing food.
Q. Are you the big time developer some folks have accused you of being?
A. Hardly. The only significant development I have tackled is myself — and that is still in the demolition phase.
Q. Any last thoughts?
A. I would close by asking that If people have questions or would like more information about our Nelson Commons project please come and talk to us at our sales office at the corner on Hall and Vernon. As a cooperative, we really don’t keep secrets like private corporations. And by all means have a look at our webcam that you can access through our website nelsoncommons.ca and watch the construction progress.
Russell Precious is the project manager of Kootenay Commons.
(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column incorrectly implied that a letter referring to a “capitalist developer” was written by Kevin LePape.)