It’s probably safe to say there’ll be no Valentines sent between Jono Developments and HRM this year. The municipality’s been dealing since 2011 with the legal fallout from trying to sell St. Patrick’s-Alexandra elementary school to the Joe Metlege-owned company.
After in camera discussions at the last Regional Council meeting before the Christmas holidays, a motion was unanimously passed (save absent councillors Darren Fisher and Brad Johns) to approach both the north end community groups vying for the school and Jono Developments with an offer of formal mediation.
But that invitation was turned down. This week Halifax spokesperson Brendan Elliott confirms the city approached Jono with mediation, and the company’s representatives weren’t interested.
Jono’s legal counsel Mick Ryan claims prior to the mediation motion the company had already spent “an enormous amount of time and effort to meet with the groups in order to try and work out a resolution.”
“Unfortunately, it became apparent from the position and demands being put forward there was no possibility of being able to reach an agreement,” the Stewart McKelvey partner says.
Because previous informal discussions went nowhere, the company didn’t believe formal mediation would prove fruitful. But the developer may have also had the most to lose from sitting down to negotiate. Jono was coming off a pretty big win: In October the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled in its favour that the city acted properly in its initial sale of the elementary school.
Halifax declared St. Pat’s-Alexandra surplus in 2008, and closed it in 2011. The city tried selling it to Jono thereafter for $3 million. But a local coalition known as the North Central Community Council Association pointed to a never-used 2000 policy which stated the city had to first offer surplus schools to community groups.
Two of the CCCA’s community groups—the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre and the Richard Preston Centre for Excellence—are appealing the NS Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. They should know by summer whether the country’s highest court will consider their case. With the recent mediation plan going nowhere, the city will wait for the Court's outcome before making its next move.
“At this point, we expect to return to Council with more options once the Supreme Court makes a decision on their appeal,” Brendan Elliott says.
Mick Ryan says if the Supreme Court appeal gets shot down, the city should complete the sale to Jono Developments under the original terms.
“If they’re not prepared, Jono has a massive lawsuit which will go forward against the city.”
Ryan also threatens that discussions with Jono about any future use of the St. Pat’s-Alexandra space by the community groups could now be off the table.
“There certainly was a willingness to work with the groups prior to the launch of the appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. As to whether or not that will continue remains to be seen.”
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