Monday, March 31, 2014

Lemonade from the Town’s 32 Acres

Council recently approved an agreement to sell 7.8 acres of the 32 acres of Town-owned land at Regional Road 20 and Rice Road. Because we successfully completed the East Fonthill Secondary Plan and worked together with a developer for a new Medical Centre and Retirement Home, we agreed to sell for $375,000 per acre ($2.9 million) plus applicable servicing costs. (Please click here for agreement.)

You may recall that in March 2005, a previous Town Council purchased the 32 acres from Westerra Equities and borrowed $3.6 million ($112,021 per acre) to pay for it.

While this transaction predates my service as Mayor, I understand that the concept was to consolidate most Town services – arena, indoor pool, soccer and baseball fields, Town Hall, Library, and a multi-purpose facility – onto the property.

The purchase was also contentious because many thought that the Town overpaid. For example, the 2004 property appraisal assumed full water and sewer services; in reality, water and sewers weren’t installed for another three years. The appraisal also assumed 8.2 acres of commercial lands (valued at $188,000 per acre) and 23.4 of “business park” ($91,000 per acre); in reality it was all designated “business park” and zoned as agriculture. Finally, similar adjacent lands sold for far less just days ($88,000 per acre) or weeks ($66,000 per acre) before.

After I became Mayor we started paying down the loan’s principal. As of December 31, 2013, the Town has invested $1,984,212 in principal and paid $980,447 in interest with $1.6 million owing on the loan. (For detailed financial information, please click here.)

Some might say that they knew that the property would be worth far more in the future.

In reality, however, nothing was guaranteed.

You see, at the urging of a majority Landowner’s / Developer’s Group, that previous Council deferred approval of a Secondary Plan for East Fonthill in April 2006. When the Province changed all municipal planning in June 2006 – just as had been warned – the Plan needed a total overhaul.

Then, in September 2006, that Council gave control of the overhaul to the Landowner’s Group.

So, how did we fix the mess? In 2007, Council hired an expert to work directly with the Landowner’s Group to complete the required studies and guide their work. When it became clear that the work was stuck in the mire, Council retook control in 2011 and acted quickly, approving the Secondary Plan in April 2012. After the Region approved it in October 2012, it was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Those small issues were settled in October 2013 and the OMB finally approved the Plan on January 30, 2014.

With hard work, vision, and determination we made major progress and turned “lemons” into “lemonade.”

We will continue to ensure more progress regarding this property over the coming months.