Saas Fee, Valemount, glacier destination, VGD, valemount casion, valemount condo, robson valley, bridge financing, Shirley Sander
Saas Fee’s Shirley Sander at the May 14th 2013 Council meeting

A bridge loan may help to save Shirley Sander’s proposed condo-casino project in Valemount, but as of press time May 21st she did not know whether she had secured it.

Edmonton-based Sander bought her properties six years ago under her company Saas Fee Land Developments and has been seeking funds to build a 200,000 sq ft complex on 5th Ave. It is the site of the former Valemount Secondary School, and is currently a grassy chain-linked field spanning six acres. She says the global downturn of 2008 made investors reluctant, and stalled “Valemount Village Resort and Spa” known locally as the “Saas Fee” project.

But the following five years have been equally unfruitful, and Sander says she has searched high and low for financers.

During the public comment period of last week’s regular council meeting, Sander explained to the packed room of residents and mayor and council her struggle to build Saas Fee.

“In order to get financing for this project it’s been almost impossible. I’ve been to every lender in all of Canada and the States, and overseas. But I have not forsaken or left this town. I’m not one of those developers. I could have walked away a long time ago and just given up. But I have not because I love this town, I love the mountains and I love the people and I’m dedicated and devoted and determined to get this built so many people can enjoy it.”

Sander was in town last week asking Valemount Council for a signed Development Agreement which she could take to the bridge financer to help acquire the loan. She said she was not leaving town until she had the signed agreement in her hands.

“The clock is ticking now. And it’s imperative. Once that agreement is signed, then it goes to the lender.”

The Development Agreement would not give her permission to build, but would help her secure a short-term loan to pay off debts and keep the project afloat. Sander is again delinquent on her property taxes. She owns eight properties in Valemount, owing approx. $56,000 to the Village, according to municipal records.

Village CAO Anne Yanciw says the Village has been working on first a letter of support and then a draft development agreement since the fall. Recently the Village sent a request to a prominent municipal affairs lawyer to obtain his opinion on the agreement. It was not until the day of the regular council meeting that they received his response. The lawyer recommended the village not sign a development agreement as requested by Sander, but rather provide three other statements that she could use instead: that the village affirms it has adopted the CD1 Zoning for the Saas Fee lands; that council approves the proposed Saas Fee subdivision and development servicing agreement in principle; and a letter confirming these and other details. DCO Braden Hutchins said the lawyer advised a Development Agreement is not statutory in BC, and another municipality was sued by a developer because of it.

Council called a special meeting on Wednesday, May 15, to consider the lawyer’s recommendations and to allow council to review the new information. At that meeting, council voted unanimously to follow the lawyer’s advice and not to sign the Development Agreement.

Counc. Dallas Bullock said she doesn’t doubt everyone wants to see Saas Fee built and be beautiful, but that’s not the issue at hand.

“Unfortunately this whole process has sent red flags since December,” Bullock addressed the public at the May 15th council meeting. “We sent an invitation to meet with the developer in January and it never happened. The lack of communication and collaboration with the Village is interesting.”

She says she has not appreciated receiving phone calls at home pressing for special meetings.

“It negates the democratic process we were elected to uphold here. I haven’t appreciated the downtown rallying of our business owners, which further creates an us-against-them mentality.”

“We could have and can still work close together. Our village doors are open 5 days a week and I know our staff do more than required after-hours.”

Counc. Hollie Blanchette said, “I think we all want this to go forward, but not at the expense of our town.”

Sander told mayor and council that the funding expires within a week of the meeting, May 21.

We contacted Sander Monday, May 20, to request an interview. Sander said she did not have time to speak to us and said she would give a statement when she found out about the bridge financing. She said she did not yet know whether the documents given to her by the Village would be sufficient for the lender. She said it would be “disastrous” if she cannot secure the funds.

When asked about the bridge financing, Sander said she would give a full explanation of what it means when she finds out whether or not she has received it, which would not be before May 23.

Financing for the final preparations and construction of the project is still an unknown. Bridge financing is often used to bridge the gap while awaiting full financing on a project or a new purchase. The interest rate is usually significantly higher than ordinary loans due to the higher risk and is often backed up by some form of collateral such as real estate. In addition, the lender often obtains a substantial equity position in the project.

Sander said the lender was based in Ontario, but provided no further details.

If Sander is able to secure the bridge financing, pay her outstanding property taxes and acquire full investment in the project, she says construction will last 2-3 years, will provide a tax base for the village, create jobs and attract new residents.

“It’s designed to be the heart of the town. It’ll attract so many more people, so much business.”

In her 20-page business plan submitted to the Village dated March 2013, Sander says she is proposing 12-14 commercial spaces spanning 40,000 sq. ft and 181 condo units spanning 184,000 sq ft. She says the target of the condos will be visiting snowmobilers. When they are not using the condos, condo owners will have the option of using a rental pool to rent out their condo temporarily.

The business plan does not mention whether the casino is still on the table. Sander’s initial 2008 proposal included a 20,000 sq ft boutique casino.

Sander is pitching the proposed development in three stages: the first would focus on 26 condos units and three commercial units. The second phase would see 64 condo units with 10 commercial spaces. The last phase mentioned would include the remaining 91 units and commercial space.

A new development permit is needed to start the construction phase. A permit was issued in 2008, but has since expired.

Valemount Community Television Videos of the Council meetings May 2013

Shirley Sander addresses Valemount Mayor and Council and residents at the May 14th Council meeting: (Clip is approx. 10 mins long)

Mayor Andru McCracken addresses residents at the May 14th Council meeting: (Clip is approx 10 mins long)

Public Comments re: Saas Fee at the May 14th Council meeting: (Clip is approx 20 mins long)

More clips:

Council considers Saas Fee at the May 14th Council meeting: (Clip is approx 30 mins)

Council considers Saas Fee at the May 15th Special Council meeting (Clip is approx. 12 mins long)