By Gerry Barker
March 11, 2019
First, some history: Shortly following her re-election in 2010, Mayor Farbridge launched her plan to convince the province to give the city almost 25 per cent of the 1,070 acres of the Guelph reformatory lands plus the former Turf Institute land.
The former mayor and her council majority, along with city staff were involved in planning the project. It would reflect the land use values advocated by such urban planners as Richard Florida. It was proposed to be an environmental project that excluded most vehicles, was self-contained with shopping, parks, businesses, where there would be jobs for the inhabitants in short, a development for tomorrow.
It was given the misleading title of the Guelph Innovation District (GID) lands. One to be developed over eight years at public expense before the city owned the peoperty and it still doesn’t.
Did they consider how winter weather would affect the planned mobility of resident’s facing a foot of snow?
Think about it. A fossil fuel free environment modeled on residents being able to work within the community, shop on a bicycle and walk to where ever they choose.
Was it the crown jewel of the Farbridge administration in 2010?
It was another social engineering vision thing, that the design would create a new modern city where people could walk to shop and work. It would be spacious and contain a portion of affordable housing. There would be business sited in the design along with police and fire stations and possibly elementary schools.
The cost of services such as water, sewers, electricity, telephone, and cable to the city systems will be very expensive due to the upgrades needed by the city to provide those necessary services to the site.
It could be Guelph’s Tomorrow Land. Insread it was just another village as part of the city.
But the Wynne government didn’t bite at giving away provincial property. The planning process went on with the blind assumption that the Ontario government would change its mind.
Last December 17, the majority of council voted to negotiate with the new Ford government with a cockamamie proposal to buy the lands using two unrelated reserve funds totaling $10 million as deposits.
Council approved the motion, initiated by Councillors James Gordon and Leanne Piper.
“To me the risk is to the city in this process,” Coun. Christine Billings stated. “We’re playing middle man, and so I see that we have some risk as the stages are set.”
In my opinion, the citizens have all the risk. By Guelph standards, this is a huge undertaking to develop raw land and to flip it to private developers to complete the city’s planned development. In eight years, this proposal has already cost citizens millions, with city staff doing the design, planning and engineering studies.
Considering the elements of risk in this staff proposal, who should have known better, includes the following:
Doesn’t the Province, the seller, employing third party real estate professionals, want to determine the value of the lands in question?
If agreement is reached with potential developers, will the price of purchasing the lands, using public funds, be too high for developers?
Already the city administration has set the ground rules notifying any potential developers that the design must adhere to the city plan.
How long will it take the city investment to be recovered and reserves replenished?
What is the financial status of any developer to guarantee completion of the project?
How long will it take before the city receives income from property taxes, user fees and services income?
Really, the city staff recommended this?
This city has no business engaging in this property flopping scheme. It is another hangover from the former administration to force-feed their proposals, and projects without public input or consideration.
Here are some remembrances of your taxes being squandered:
* The Civic museum – $10 million;
* Bike lanes – $5 million to date and an ongoing expense of $300,000 annually;
* The organic waste processing facility – $34 million and the compost is not available to residents who financed it;
* Capital cost of the bin collection system – $1.55 million;
* Cost over-run of the Urbacon Buildings Group city hall – $23 million;
the GMHI fiasco -$63 million and counting;
* Trafic congestions caused by lane removal to allow bike lanes – cost is unknown and an unintended consequence;
* Downtown parking revenue lost – $77 million over 12 years;
* Affordable housing – nothing;
* Over 12 years annual increase in property taxes and user fees– for now, incalculable.
* The Baker Street renovation by a Public Private Partnership (3P) estimated to cost $350 million and shovels don’t go in before 2022.
* A staff estimate of repairing and replacing infrastructure throughout the city – $450 million over the next 30 years.
These are real numbers not percentages in pie charts
Are you concerned that our city is going into the real-estate investor business, using public funds, is wise and will benefit all citizens?
In my opinion, I do not believe the city has the money, or the expertise to engage in this scheme that is highly speculative. Coun. Billings is right as we are the man in the middle, being financially responsible for completion of this proposed flip from start to finish.
The province will love selling it to a municipal corporation that cannot go bankrupt under provincial law.
The province gets paid in full before the city can resell the property to a third party developer who is now in control of the project. The developer client can demand that his company decides if the plan, demanded by the city, is acceptable.
That presents a large problem that could take years to materialize.
Remember, it took six years to settle the Urbacon lawsuit that the city administration was fully responsible for, spending an additional $23 million to complete the project originally budgeted for $42 million.
To me, the present council is dominated by so-called progressives determined to continue the Farbridge vision of making Guelph a paragon of political correctness and environmentally superior.
How’s that working for you?