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Spat highlights divide between legion, command

 

The president of the North Burnaby Royal Canadian Legion is glad Beedie Development Group is coming to the rescue. However, Dave Taylor is unhappy with how the new development deal came about and is worried for Branch 148’s long-term future.

Epta Properties agreed in 2012 to build a new legion within a five-storey, mixed-use development with 26 condo suites at 4356 Hastings Street by summer 2015. A series of delays, owing to the company’s financial problems, led to an October 23 special general meeting to vote on one of three options: carry on with Epta, sue them or have Beedie take over.

A partial transcript from the meeting said there was “heated discussion” previous to the vote taking place between the branch’s executive committee and two staff members of the legion’s B.C./Yukon Command: treasurer Jim Diack and branch operations adviser Darryn Langstaff. The executive committee wanted more discussion on the Beedie option, but “Jim told us that we, the executive, agree to [the Beedie option] or he would pull our charter.”

“Darryn felt that we had a defeatist attitude, but executive members replied that we were being realistic and that the club would not survive with only 2,500 square feet, no other source of income and being part of the building strata,” the transcript said.

After the discussion, 43 of 45 branch members voted for the Beedie option.

“Eighty years ago, our branch was founded by guys that went off to war to fight dictatorships. Now we’re being dictated to by our own organization,” Taylor said. “What do you do?”

Sandy Reiser, the B.C./Yukon Command’s executive director, said in an email: “We take this development matter very seriously, which is why the voting membership came together to make this critical and important decision to ensure the future of their legion. Our commitment is first and foremost to serve veterans in our communities.”

Documents Taylor showed BIV said Epta agreed in November 2012 to complete the project. It provided the legion with $50,000 cash, which was spent on legal fees, and an exchange agreement for $4.75 million in return for title to the land. It also paid the branch’s $144,835 two-year tax bill up to December 2014. The legion hall was demolished in the first quarter of 2014 and Epta took out a $3.1 million loan. Epta claims it racked up almost $2.82 million in costs, including a $700,000 development management fee that Taylor disputes.

“We were told [we’d] have that branch up and running by the summer of 2015. Epta people told me we would get $140,000 a year renting out the top two floors for offices and the bottom floor for retail,” he said. “We would’ve had the four floors in our section. We’re owed that since 2015.”

Originally chartered in 1936, the branch bought three lots in the 4300-block of Hastings Street in 1949 after six members pooled $9,000. As the years passed, more adjacent land was acquired and the hall expanded, including a two-storey addition in 1983.

Like other legions, it has struggled of late with an aging and declining membership, rising property taxes and competition with other establishments benefiting from liberalized liquor laws. Epta approached the legion with a solution: to build Centro. Today it is a vacant lot behind blue fencing.

Epta’s associated company, Apollo Holdings, applied to reorganize in July 2015 under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Court filings show that Apollo’s Barnston Island cranberry farming operation advanced $6 million to related parties, mostly to Epta. Epta is also facing a September 30-filed BC Supreme Court lawsuit by Beta Properties and SMB Holdings Ltd., which allege breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. The court filings in that case allege there were unauthorized loans made to various Epta-related developments.

Epta vice-president Angelo Tsakumis declined comment.

“Beedie is in it, because they own that first mortgage, [which] is ticking away at 16%,” Taylor said. “I’m happy to work with the Beedies if they are interested. But I want what we were promised.”

Since 2013, the branch has held its meetings at North Burnaby Lawn Bowling Club and Remembrance Day receptions at a North Burnaby seniors centre. Its 80 years of memorabilia and even a century-old pool table are in storage. The liquor licence is in limbo.

Taylor said he is ultimately worried the new legion won’t have a canteen to act as both the social gathering place for members and a revenue generator for branch operations.

“If command gets away with what they want to do under this deal, we won’t even have our branch. We’re going to have … a coffee shop,” Taylor said. “That’s a new-age legion according to them: lattes and Wi-Fi.” 

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