By Gerry Barker
April 8, 2019
A staff report recommended council should bid on the sale of the Guelph Innovation District (GID) lands, owned by the Provincial government. Council unanimously approved bidding on 245 acres to create its green satellite community.
The desired lands are part of the former Reformatory and Turf Institute properties, totaling 1,074 acres. The decision was made despite the absence of important details that are in the public interest.
Details such as how is the bidding to be conducted; who can bid; financial details of the transaction; the public’s risk in such a transaction; is the process going to be transparent and made public and who pays the land transfer tax and development fees if the bid is won?
Apparently, a new plan concerning the Provincial properties, will be sold through Infrastructure Ontario, an arms length provincial agency, and CBRE Canada, the agency’s real estate broker.
The city wants to bid on 245 acres to develop its planned green satellite community that has been on city staff planners drafting boards for six years, at public expense.
CBRE, a Los Angeles-based real estate firm, oparates more than 450 offices worldwide, including Waterloo Region.
According to reports, Infrastructure Ontario employs CBRE as its real-estate broker. It would appear that CBRE directs the disposal the firm does not report to any Legislature committee to ensure that oversight and accountability is part of the process. Remember, Infrastructure Ontario is an arms-length provincial agency.
The province has announced it will start the process of disposing the surplus lands starting in 60 days. And should be completed when the new owner is successful by March 2020.
According to CBRE spokesman, Michael Cztsochowski, Executive Vice President of CBRE, the land services group, revealed the land would not have a set price. He describes a “modified auction.” He estimated that the market, once the disposal marketing materials are offered the pro[erty wuld be on the market for about two months. The bids would be treviewed and select the approved bidders, including the City of Guelph.
He outlined that because CBRE is a global company, purchasers will include developers, investors, and potential bidders thoughout the CBRE global network.
Sounds exciting, right?
But here’s the problem. The Ontario Municipal Act allows real estate transactions by municipalities to be conducted in closed-session. However, the public interest is deflected as the sale of this publicly owned property is being conducted by a third partyin closed-session.
In my opinion that’s only the start of these proposal’s problems.
We just went through a similar situation with the merger of Guelph Hydro with Alectra Utilities. The public was denied access to the details of the merger that, to me, was a giveaway of a city-owned successful power distribution system with a book value of $168 million, plus cash of $18.5 million cash reserves.
What did Guelph get in exchange besides a $18.5 million return of Guelph Hydro’s customer’s money? What did the city do with that gift from Hydro?
Alectra got former Guelph Hydro chair, Jane Armstrong, as the city representative of the Alectra Utilities board. Her salary is $25,000 per year plus travel expenses per diem for each meeting. All this resulted in a minuscule share of 4.86 per cent but only 60 per cent of Alectra Utilities profit. This whole takeover was conducted in closed-sessions. This occurred except for one council meeting in which council ignored the protests of 22 citizens who respectfully asked council to study and review the Alectra proposdal. Instead, council voted 10 to 3 to approve the merger.
That was the night that transparency and accountibility took a beating.
Some Guelph residents, who opposed this terrible deal, were later denied making their case before the Ontario Energy Board that approved the deal.
Strike three against public participation and the right to express public concern and interests.
Is GID about to cost the city millions more to fulfill the ambition of a small group of supporters of the environmental disasters of the past 14 years?
Is this about to happen to us again?
Who pays for the provincial mandated environmental study on the lands if the city plan contains wetlands?
Will CBRE explain in detail what CBRE means by a “modified auction?”
How is CBRE being compensated orchestrating the sale of the property?
Who pays for the extended city services links such as power and gas mains, water, sewer, police, fire, EMS, medical and hospital services, cable and telephone hook-up and Guelph Transit?
If the city wins the bid, does it absorb the development fees for the project?
As GS pointed out in a recent column, the administration was hoping for a sweetheart deal from the province that would allow the city to flipping the property to a developer. Thereby, avoiding costs of obtaining the property.
This could be shaping up to a simultaneous closing between the province, city and an unknown third party developer. Having been through one of those in my life, anything can go wrong if one of the parties questions or reneges.
When can residents learn how much the property is worth?
Can anyone tell us how the city plans to pay for this in the next 12 months, if it is the winner of the “modified auction?
Now the staging of this party is just beginning
Outsiders with major league credentials that impress our administration despite once again, influence council with pitches that leaves us in the minor leagues.
We are being told that this proposal is in our best interest.
In my opinion, no, not true. It’s in the council’s best interest to avoid becoming a third rate community while the rest of southern Ontario prospers.
Can anyone explain why or how this proposal is in the public’s best interest? Especially when there remain hundreds of acres of vacant land in the city that can developed.
Why have two successive city administrations speny our money attempting to build Green-oriented showcases for the world to decide we are a world-class city?
Adding it up for 12 years, estimates come to more than $250 million in capital wasted building monuments, driven by social engineering.
This project is just another exercise to spend money to prove we are something we aren’t.
Two councillors pushing the city to declare a climate change emergency
Coun. Phil Allt and James Gordon seem to forget why they were elected. It may come as a surprise to them that most people in the city understand the risk of climate change to their planet.
They also understand that the climate change problem is global and Guelph’s footprint in solving the problem is miniscule considering the magnitude of the problem.
I see their job as serving their constituents to fix the pot holes, plan a city that moves efficiently and safely without catering to the chattering, demanding alternative transport advocates, aka the bicyclists.
The best thing that can occur is that the city is outbid for the GID lands and our attention returns to common sense and fixing what’s broken.
There is no shortage of projects to be managed by our elected representatives.
One potential problem facing Guelph General Hospital and the entire medical community is the growing inability to handle the surging population of the city. We have lived in Guelph for 16 years and the current StatsCanada population’s figure shows an increase of some 35,000 new permanent residents in that time frame.
Today, there are 131,000 folks living in Guelph and the nimbers are projected to grow at each StatCan survey conducted every five years.
Further, this does not include the 22,000 University students that arrive in September and leave, for the most part, in April.
It’s something to think about.