Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Update on 32 acres of Town-owned Land

Many Pelham residents have asked me about the 32 acres of Town-owned land at the corner of Rice Road and Highway #20.

In May 2008 Council declared the property – except land required for storm water management – as surplus and directed staff to dispose of it. In the meantime, an Interim Report from the Recreation Facilities Committee recently recommended building a “new Recreation and Community Centre in east Fonthill area.”

But, under its current zoning and because of the Secondary Planning process, the property is not (yet) worth the original purchase price and nothing can be done with the property. Let me explain.

In January 2005, the previous Council purchased the 32 acres for nearly $3.53 million – or an average of $110,000 per acre.

This purchase was based on a December 2004 appraisal that stated its valuation was based on “Extraordinary Assumptions.”

For example, the appraisal assumed that the site accessed full water and sewer servicing. Residents of Rice Road will remember that the Region did not officially connect water and sewers until more than two years later in fall 2007.

The appraisal also assumed that the property was severed from a main parcel of 74 acres. The severance occurred at the deal’s close on March 31, 2005.

But, the major “Extraordinary Assumption” appraised the property as if it contained 8.2 acres of commercial land along Highway 20, and 23.4 acres of business park lands. The appraisal pegged the commercial at $195,000 per acre, and the business park at $95,000 per acre.

In reality however, the entire property was – and still is – officially designated “business park.”

Can’t Council just change it, you ask? Well, it’s more complicated than that now.

You see, the previous Council almost changed the property’s designation in April 2006 when it was poised to approve the Town’s East Fonthill Secondary Plan. (The East Fonthill Secondary Plan is a statutory planning area that covers most property east of Station Street from Highway 20 along Rice Road to south of Merritt). Instead they accepted the majority Landowners Group demand, stopped the planning work, and turned that Secondary Plan process over to the Landowner’s Group. Then, in June 2006, the Province locked-in all “business park” lands.

So, how is this Council moving forward? This Council hired an expert to work directly with the Landowner’s Group to complete the Secondary Plan; we anticipate this coming forward before the end of this year.

The Town will also hold an Open House in the early fall to unlock the Province’s “business park” rules by completing a “Municipal Comprehensive Review.”

Finally, Council will determine the requirements for the development of the Town-owned lands during a special workshop in late-August.

These next steps will be critical to help Council decide how best to redesignate, sell, or make use of the lands.