Friday, 11 November 2011

"Put Real Estate Interests First" Coalition, part one: Brendan Moher joins in the fun

At the May 26 Board meeting, Don Blair presented the contradictory ARC report. But before he could, Trustees had to sit and listen to a steady stream of irate citizens, including some members of the ARC itself, who complained to the Board of the farce that the ARC had been made into.

Just four weeks later, on June 23, Rusty Hick, ignoring the only significant recommendation made by the ARC, which was to close a school as a last resort, and ignoring also the legitimate concerns expressed by many members of the ARC, who had refused to support a recommendation which would simply gave Hick carte blanche, came back to the Board with his preliminary decision to close TASSS and commission a $27,000 study to examine the possibilities of moving the KPR offices to the TASSS site.

This set up a summer of suspense for the people of Peterborough as they waited to see what would develop prior to the Board meeting in September, at which time a final decision was expected to be made.

It also set in motion a group disingenuously called the “Put Students First Coalition.”

“I don't think anybody was expecting” the decision to close TASSS,  said Brendan Moher, the driving force behind “Put Students First,” as reported in this Examiner article. “It came out of the blue.” 

In fact, many Peterborough citizens close to the process knew that TASSS had the fastest-declining enrolment, greatest costs to operate, and most inaccessible location of any of the four secondary schools, and had deduced that if KPR was intent on closing a school, despite the fact that nobody in the community wanted one closed, TASSS would be the logical choice.

What most citizens didn’t know, however, was that the proposal to close TASSS may not have been entirely genuine. They didn’t know that the “feasibility study” around moving the Board offices to the TASSS location appears to have been intended to show that it wouldn’t be feasible.

And they didn’t know that Brendan Moher himself owned $2 million worth of rental and business property within a stone’s throw of TASSS.

The same Examiner article indicates that KPR administrators had already “suggested an alternative plan of closing PCVS and moving that school's integrated arts program to TASSS,” dovetailing exactly with the vision Moher would spend the summer promoting.

As later observed by one community member in a letter to Peterborough this Week, the organization was not a broad-based coalition but actually a small group acting in its own interests. The group appears to have been largely driven by Moher himself, a TASSS alumnus, real estate lawyer and neighbourhood land-owner. Although ARC member Tammy Salem was ostensibly the group’s chair, Moher and former TASSS principal John Ringereide were its primary spokesmen.

On its website, press releases, and letters to the editor, the group never failed to put the word “grassroots, community-based” behind its name, giving the impression that the group was much more broad-based than it actually was. Moher and Ringereide led the public-relations campaign to promote a new “vision” of a “merger” of TASSS and PCVS student communities at a newly-renamed “Peterborough Academy of Arts, Science and Technology” using the existing TASSS facilities, as documented here.
The group’s website states that “we owe it to current and future students to ensure their interests are the most important consideration in any decisions that affect them.”

The degree of hypocrisy in this statement can only be fully appreciated when one considers just how much civic and historical continuity would be eliminated, including not only the 180 years of PCVS history but also the recognition of Thomas Stewart himself as an important historical personage, partly in order to justify the protection and enhancement of the $2 million dollars worth of rental property in the immediate vicinity of TASSS.

Moher's real-estate law office is located in a small commercial plaza at 880 Armour Road, just a few minutes walk south of TASSS on the other side of the street. It is one of the only commercial properties in the area, which is dominated by condominiums and the Peterborough Golf and Country Club. The Auburn Mills Plaza, as the property is known, was assessed by MPAC for 2011 at a value of $800,751, and is owned by Moher Development. In addition to the ground-floor businesses, there are evidently several residential units upstairs.

Just up the road at 898 Armour, almost immediately across from the Auburn Bible Chapel, is another of Moher’s properties, held in his own name. Apparently a single-family home, it has no residential listing but is linked to Moher Development on several real estate websites. The property is assessed at $317,750.

And just around the corner, tucked away where Vinette St. meets the Rotary Trail, a company called “Moher Celtic,” owns a large residential multiplex at 721 Vinette. That property is assessed at $759,500.

The Moher family have been landowners on the northeast of Peterborough for a long time, stemming from early settlement in the area of Douro. It has been reported that much of the condominium development along the west side of Armour Rd. occurred on what had been Moher property, and that the building currently housing the CMHA offices at 724 Paddock Wood was once a Moher family home. Some Mohers still live in the neighborhood.

Despite the relatively recent residential developments just off Armour Rd. around Frances Stewart and Scollard Drive, now virtually complete, it’s easy to see that the neighborhood is not economically “booming.” “For Sale signs are clustered around the entrances to the condominium developments. Most of the area’s residents are retired, and the most popular spot is the Rotary trail itself. TASSS is by far the most significant institution in the neighborhood. Were TASSS to be shut down, there is little doubt that more “for sale” signs would accumulate and property values fall as property-owners tried in vain to sell residences without a school in the neighborhood.

One cannot blame Moher for trying to protect his $2 million in real estate assets and the considerable monthly rental income his many units bring in.

But is it not hypocritical to hide these business interests behind a facade of “putting students first,” and to use that facade to promote the closing of PCVS, an event which would negatively impact thousands of other residents, property owners and business owners in central Peterborough?

Moher’s failure to be up front with the public regarding his real estate interests in the TASSS neighbourhood undermines any credibility the “Put Students First” vision may have possessed. 

Moher and Ringereide vigourously promoted the idea of relocating the entire PCVS community to TASSS, promising that the “vision” they would unveil late in the summer to the Board would “create a buzz of excitement in the community.”

They failed to note that none of the PCVS feeder schools (Highland Heights, Prince of Wales, Queen Mary, Westmount) could or would be redirected to TASSS, thereby dispersing the PCVS community entirely. It appears that all they wanted was the Arts program, and they were ready to sacrifice the living being of PCVS itself to get it, and then throw the rest of the institution away. They seem to have tried to sell their idea to the public with double-speak, suggesting that “no school would have to close.”

Yet, obviously PCVS would be no more, and a 180-year-old institution, which had been the cornerstone of the city for as long as the city has existed, would simply vanish, partly swallowed by the drive to protect property investments.

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