How Quality Foods misled the public, helped derail Bus Garage deal

It seems so long ago now, but it was at the beginning of this year, January 17, 2020, that the Town announced that they had tentatively accepted an offer from Naked Naturals Whole Foods Ltd. to purchase the ‘Bus Garage’ portion of the undeveloped Town-owned land at Fern and Memorial for the purpose of a “new grocery store, 32 units of rental housing and onsite parking” for $2.5 million.

That deal quickly vaporized in a hail of disinformation spread by others who, as it turned out, coveted the land for themselves and for which they recently submitted a development proposal.

Kelland Ventures sign on Memorial Avenue, Qualicum Beach. November 26, 2020

This is the beginning of the story of how the Naked Naturals proposal, tentatively agreed to by the Town, was derailed, and how the future of this valuable parcel of Town-owned land may soon be delivered into the hands of Ken Schley, John Briuolo and associates (aka Kelland Ventures), previous owners of Quality Foods (QF), and current owners of the building occupied by Qualicum* Foods, as well as the adjacent Anderson lot on Fern Road, and most of the land to be ‘developed’ in the East Village area of downtown Qualicum Beach. [* The local QF grocery store is known by its original name, Qualicum Foods.]

The Town’s year of disinformation begins

One sunny Saturday afternoon in late January, I happened to drop into Qualicum Foods in QB to pick up a few items. As I went through the checkout, the cashier picked up a flyer from a stack near the till and handed it to me, saying it was about the Bus Garage property. The cashier said that they were against the proposed development by Naked Naturals because it would eliminate parking for Qualicum Foods. I glanced up along the row of cashiers and saw that every till had a thick stack of these flyers, and that they were being handed to customers, along with cashier commentary, as the waiting line-ups of customers swelled.

This was no shabby homemade pamphlet but a four-page glossy folded brochure with colour photos and graphics, and each page bearing the red and white logo of Quality Foods. The flyer was brashly entitled What’s the Plan? and was about the “proposed sale of land in the centre to build a grocery story and rental housing.” The flyer’s cover page “invited” residents “to share your thoughts on the potential sale by calling the town.”

Inside the flyer was a page entitled, “What people said”, claiming to list the results of public input into the town’s Official Community Plan priorities. The next page was devoted to Quality Foods concerns about parking. “The thought of making parking worse for our customers and the retailers in the Memorial Drive [sic] Shopping District is concerning. … We are concerned about our operating a business in a small town with no place to park. It’s make [sic] us wonder, are we creating more convenience for Qualicum customers and visitors; or will we be shooting ourself in the foot?” The last page of the brochure was an invitation for residents to attend a “QF Employee Workshop,” one of two that were being offered at the Qualicum Beach Inn, also owned by Schley, Briuolo and co.

PQB News kicks in to help Quality Foods

On January 23, 2020, PQB News published an article entitled “Proposal questioned — feedback on proposed $2.5M sale taken until Jan 29.” The story was about “questions and criticism from Ken Schley and John Biuolo [sic], landlords of the nearby Quality Foods property in Qualicum Beach.” Schley is quoted claiming “we were surprised that the town didn’t consult us.” The story also quotes QB Mayor Brian Wiese who said that Council had “ultimately reached an agreement [with Naked Naturals]. … The town is only looking at the land sale at this time — there will be further public consultation in the future when Naked Naturals submits a development proposal. … The proposal from Naked Naturals is in line with the OCP and would also help meet the town’s need for affordable housing.”

Oddly, the PQB News story does not contain any quotes or comments from Kris Baker or Jordan Batey, owners of Naked Naturals, nor were they contacted by PQB News, says Batey.

Town criticizes QF misinformation

On January 27, 2020 the Town of Qualicum Beach issued a news release criticizing misinformation contained in the Quality Foods brochure. “The Town is concerned that residents will make decisions or form opinions on the basis of information that may be confusing in the flyer from Quality Foods. … The QF flyer references a public consultation summary for the entire block, including the Qualicum Commons. A single table from that summary report was cited out of context, without acknowledging that the same summary report also includes ‘2-3 storey mixed-use commercial/residential building’ as one of the design outcomes. Once again, a full read of that same document shows that a grocery store with residential above is consistent with public feedback.”

However, the Town news release, after calling out Quality Foods for misrepresenting information from the Official Community Plan, goes on to state that “any competing offers to purchase will also be considered by Council.”

PQB News did not — at any time — publish the fact that Quality Foods had misled the public. That is a remarkable omission given the flurry of detailed stories they published. Nor did Quality Foods make any announcement about, or issue an apology for, misleading the public.

Town does a 180

It is remarkable how much can be changed in a small town by influential people in a single week. On January 30, 2020 the Town of Qualicum Beach issued a media release stating that the Town will not complete any land sales at the Bus Garage property until “a Request for Proposals and/or tendering process has been completed by Council.” Mayor Wiese stated “We have been through a complicated process in pursuit of the multiple benefits for the community, and it is now a priority for Council that our residents and stakeholders are fully consulted in the upcoming months.”

On February 2, PQB News posted a story entitled “Proposed $2.5M sale of bus garage property in Qualicum Beach postponed.”  Once again, only Ken Schley and Mayor Wiese were quoted in this story, but not the owners of Naked Naturals. “I think it’s such a potential landmark in Qualicum Beach and deserves the attention of the neighbours, businesses and residents to maintain the integrity of the town’s already established entryway. … I think it will take a great deal of time and consideration to put the right project in place…” said Schley. Mayor Wiese was quoted saying, “I think it’s best that we all take a step back.”

It seems Mayor Wiese’s effusive public comments in support of Naked Naturals in the Town’s initial news release were at odds with his actions behind the scenes, supporting the efforts of Mr. Schley to oppose the Naked Naturals deal.

Quality Foods evasive; PQB News ignores key information

On January 27, 2020 I sent a letter to the owner of Quality Foods, Jimmy Pattison of The Jim Pattison Group, decrying the conduct of the local Quality Foods store. My letter was directed back to the current president of Quality Foods, Noel Hayward, a former co-owner of Quality Foods before its sale to the Pattison Group. In his response, Mr. Hayward claimed that Qualicum Foods “cashiers were in no way instructed to take a position, campaign, or argue with customers at the till,” and that “both customers and business people were very positive” about the actions taken by Quality Foods. Hayward did not acknowledge the fact that the Town issued a statement to correct his flyer’s misrepresentation of facts, nor did he explain why Quality Foods published misleading information, given that it wasn’t just a simple error or typo.

Mount Arrowsmith seen from the corner of Memorial and Fern, overlooking the site of the former Bus Garage site, Qualicum Beach, BC — Sue Morgan photo

Despite their flurry of stories about the “tentatively agreed to” sale of the Bus Garage land to the owners of Naked Naturals, PQB News did not — at any time — publish the fact that Quality Foods had misled the public. That is a remarkable and irresponsible omission. Nor did Quality Foods make any announcement about, or issue an apology for, misleading the public.  

It should be noted that Ken Schley and his family were financial backers of Mayor Wiese’s election campaign, and that Quality Foods is a major advertising customer and revenue source for PQB News.

Now, a few months later, the Town has put this town-owned property up for sale. Responses to Requests for Proposal were to be submitted to the Town by October 19, 2020. It is widely expected that Council will complete the sale of the Bus Garage property to Ken Schley and his associates.

Whether QB needs to or should sell this Town-owned land at this point in time to erect more commercial space and enterprises is another question entirely. At a minimum, care should be taken to ensure, whatever is built on this public land, and by whomever, that the view of Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Cokely from this prominent vantage point, cherished by many residents and visitors, will not be obscured.