Nova Scotia

Developer threatens lawsuit over St. Pat's-Alexandra

A developer who wants to buy the former St. Patrick's-Alexandra school site in Halifax warned that taxpayers will be facing a 'mammoth' lawsuit if the city does not sell to him.

Jono Developments planning $120-million project

Ron Pink represents the community groups in the St. Patrick's-Alexandra dispute. (N.S. Department of Justice)

A developer who wants to buy the former St. Patrick's-Alexandra school site in Halifax warned that taxpayers will be facing a 'mammoth' lawsuit if the city does not sell to him.

It will be months before that's decided by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge.

Justice Michael Wood heard arguments Thursday whether to grant an injunction against the Halifax Regional Municipality and Jono Developments Ltd. over the plan to sell the school site.

"This agreement of purchase and sale, everything that led up to it, is just as certain that there will be a huge, mammoth lawsuit if indeed this transaction does not close," said Mick Ryan, the lawyer representing the developer.

Jono Developments Ltd. wants to turn the school site into condos. It will be a mixed residential and commercial project valued between $100 million and $120 million, Ryan said in court.

Three community groups, including the North End Community Health Association, asked the court to stop the sale in their fight to use the space themselves.

Halifax regional council initially agreed to sell the property, but later reversed itself under pressure from the community. Council then changed its mind again and voted in favour of the sale with Jono Developments Ltd.

The sale price for the former school site was revealed for the first time on Thursday by Ron Pink, the lawyer representing the community groups.

He said Jono Developments Ltd. offered the Halifax Regional Municipality $3 million for the site, which is assessed at $4.3 million.

"This is the council who does nothing right," Pink told the hearing, suggesting the city broke its own charter in accepting an offer below market value.

That claim was challenged by Jocelyn Campbell, the lawyer representing the Halifax Regional Municipality. She said Pink was confusing market value with assessed value.

Policy breach

Council members voted to repeal the policy on the disposal of public buildings that calls for community groups to be given the first crack to take over surplus municipal properties.

Pink argued the fundamental question that needs answering is whether  the Halifax Regional Municipality breached its own policy in the process of selling the former school site.

"The policy provided for … an exclusive opportunity for community groups to have first dibs at the school before the market," he said.

"If Jono acquired the property because of a breach of the law, then they're not entitled to the property. That's the fundamental question."

The city says it was not bound by that policy. Its lawyers said community groups lost out fair and square in a competition with the developer.

Wood told the city to produce the record relating to decisions on the school site within the next couple of weeks.

If any parties wish to file supplementary affidavits, they must do so by April 16. The parties are to present their written arguments by May 14.

Pink told the hearing that both his clients and Jono Developments Ltd. had a reason to be upset with the Halifax Regional Municipality.

"Jono got involved in this process and they, too, were equally misled by HRM," Pink said.

"They shouldn't have had to put the money down for the deposit or any of that sort of thing. So they, too, have suffered. There's no question."

Jane Moloney filed the affidavit that halted the city's sale of the former St. Patrick's-Alexandra school site.

Jane Moloney, the executive director of the North End Community Health Association, said she expected there would be a judicial review into how the Halifax Regional Municipality handled the sale of St. Patrick's-Alexandra.

"We know that the law courts are not the very best place to address what is, essentially, a moral issue," she said Wednesday.

"Sometimes if legal avenues are the only ones left to use, then that's the only one that you can use."

Earlier this month, Justice Patrick Duncan issued a stay that temporarily blocked the sale of the former school.

Joe Metlege, owner of Jono Developments Ltd. had no comment Thursday.

Final arguments will be heard on June 12 and 13.