Blackfalds resident Emily Hillis says she has no poker face.
It was the concern on her face after a public meeting regarding the Town’s Multi-plex expansion that gave her away, after she heard that several properties — including the one she owns and lives in with her partner Justin Smith and their two kids — will be torn down for the facility’s’s new parking lot.
“I got directed to Mr. (Myron) Thompson (Blackfalds CAO). When talking to him about the community rooms, I asked him about the parking because there was no design. That is when he pointed to the homes across the road and said they would no longer be there,” she said.
That is where a long process between the Town and Hillis and her family began.
“I came home to Justin and told him, ‘Our home is not going to be here’,” Hillis said.
After that initial interaction with the Town in April 2019, Hillis and Smith weren’t contacted until August 2019, when the land agency contracted through the Town contacted them.
“We didn’t think it would take four months to hear from them,” Hillis said.
Smith said it was strange at that time that the land agent did not have a financial offer from the Town but they were given options of either a financial agreement to purchase another home or the option to physically move their current home.
Smith left that meeting with the impression their would be a financial offer from the Town would come soon. The next time Hillis and Smith heard about the Multi-plex expansion was the announcement of a public unveiling of the designs in September 2019.
“I phoned the land acquisition company and asked how are they going in front of the town showing our house as a parking lot without giving us any sort of offer. I wasn’t too happy about that,” Smith said.
Smith still believed at that time the town would move their home or compensate them but he was upset about the process.
“The people who are having their homes torn down should be the first people the town is approaching to get things going,” Smith said.
The Town, according to Smith, offered to have a meeting with them before the public unveiling but Smith opted to attend the unveiling and voice his concerns there.
“I went to the meeting, spoke with Myron and half a dozen other people. They said we would be fairly compensated,” he said.
Following that, the Town appraised the home and offered them an initial offer of $316,000 according to Smith. Smith and Hillis bought the four bedroom, four bathroom home for $320,000 in July 2016 and Smith said they have put in $30,000 to $40,000 of improvements into the home. The Town moved their offer to $350,000 after the initial offer.
Smith and Hillis said they then shopped the real estate market in Blackfalds, Lacombe and Red Deer finding 21 comparable homes.
“We found comparable homes had nine per cent less square footage, 19 per cent smaller lots and 41 per cent smaller garages. The average price of those homes was $75,000 more than what the Town was offering us,” he said.
Hillis and Smith said they then looked at homes at the $350,000 price.
“We were sent six houses by the agents. The averages of those homes were 29 per cent smaller square footage, 23 per cent smaller lots and 52 per cent smaller garages. They (the Town) are asking us to give up a third of our home with their generous offer,” he said.
Smith said they would prefer to stay in a community they love in Blackfalds and are in favour of the Multi-plex expansion, which they believe will help the community which needs added community space and more ice time. He said they would be happy if the Town moved their home or was willing to offer them enough to move into a comparable home.
“Our concern with that is that under the legal exappropriation act, which we and our lawyer feels is the route the Town should take, guarantees them the land and us fair compensation. It states in the act that after the market value is set and a board can decide they will allow extra money to get into an equivalent home,” Smith said.
Smith said real estate agents informed them that building a similiar home to there’s would cost $467,000 and their research into moving their current home equalled to a cost of $425,000 to $450,000.
“It is a 65 foot wide property and most lots are 30 to 45 feet. That means it would mean we would need to buy two lots to fit our home in,” Smith said.
Smith said the difference between $350,000, which the town is offering, and the costs needed to move their home or find a comparable home is too wide to even begin a negotiation.
He added they feel threatened that the Town will simply build the parking lot of three sides of their home — cratering their house value in the process.
“Basically they are saying accept 75 per cent of your home or we will build a parking lot around your home and destroy it’s value or chance at resale,” Smith said.
Address to council
Smith and Hillis presented their case to Blackfalds Council on Jan. 28, 2020. Three days before they were required to accept or decline the Town’s offer of $350,000. That deadline has since been lifted by the Town. He added the Town offered to pay their legal fees, but their offer only includes conveyance fees and not what they have accumulated to this point.
Smith doesn’t feel negotiations with Town will get better even after their presentation to council.
“I think they are going to go ahead and build a parking lot around us or contine to try to force us out,” he said.
Smith reinterated they would be happy to have their current house, which the love, moved and are not seeking a payday out of this arrangement.
“They have said we have the option to move our home, but if the costs come in $75,000 to $100,000 more than what we offering — we are on the hook for that,” he said.
Hillis said this has been stressful for their family and their young children.
“Our children don’t know. They have caught wind of things but the minute you mention it, they get upset,” she said.
She added they love the community, want to stay and they support the Multi-plex expansion but living in Blackfalds under the current adminstration would be hard.
Town of Blackfalds response
Myron Thompson, CAO for the Town of Blackfalds, said the Town’s position for the Multi-plex expansion and reallignment of the roadways is tied to other factors.
“In relation to the Multi-plex expansion, there are some major infrastructure changes and there are a number of properties there. One of the properties are duplexes the Town purchased and the other three properties we have been working on through a land agent to facilitate the construction of the parking lot,” he said.
Thompson said the Town appraised all four properties and purchased two of them 10 per cent above appraised value which they believe is fair. They are looking to apply that same principle to Smith and Hillis’ property.
“We would welcome the opportunity move their house to a different site, but unfortunately we don’t have alot of infill lots that fit. That house is quite wide. I said last night (at the Council meeting) we would take another look at that,” he said.
Thompson said he and Town empathize with Hillis and Smith’s concerns, but said finding the exact measurments of their current home in a new home could be difficult.
“You give up some things and you get some things,” he said.
Thompson feels both parties will need to compromise on this issue but did say they are dealing with public finds and need to be consistent with how they dealt with the other property owners.
“Communication is key and I think we will having one-on-one discussions to find a solution for them,” he said
Thompson said the Town did not want this to be stressful on Hillis and Smith’s family.
“We will do what we can to bring this to some sort of resolution and hopefully that resolution meets their expectations,” he said.