Tracking brownfield redevelopment outcomes using Ontario’s RSCs

By David Nguyen, staff writer, Hazmat Management Magazine

GeoEnviroPro’s latest webinar event featured Dr. Christopher De Sousa, a professor and director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University.  He spoke about his research using record of site conditions (RSCs) to track brownfield developments in Ontario.

Christopher De Sousa.BA, MScPL, PhD (Associate Professor, Ryerson University)

A RSC is typically filed on the Environmental Site Registry with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) after property has undergone a Phase I, and often a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) and the property is undergoing a zoning change to a more sensitive land use (i.e., industrial to residential).  A record of site condition summarizes the environmental condition of a property, based on the completion of ESAs.

De Sousa’s research focussed on the effects of the RCS legislation since its introduction in 2004, focussing on the scale and value of projects using RSCs from 2004 to 2015 (noting the revisions to the RSC legislation in 2011).  Property Assessments and Tax information was used to determine the nature of the developments that have occurred on brownfields.  Private sector stakeholders were interviewed to determine the factors that influence private sectors to develop on brownfields.

The research showed that from 2004 – 2015, 31% of RSCs were filed for Toronto properties.  However, the cities with the greatest total area redeveloped (based on RSC filings) were Brampton and Vaughn, with Toronto having the third largest total area redeveloped. With the exception of Ottawa, projects requiring RSCs occurred primarily in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area.

Of the RSCs filed from 2004 – 2015, 24% consisted of only Phase I environmental site assessments (ESA), 69% consisted of a generic Phase I and II ESAs, and 7% used a Phase I and II ESA combined with a site specific risk assessment.

With land use changes, the most common previous land use was commercial (36.8%) followed by industrial (22.3%) and the most common intended land use was residential (67.5%) followed by commercial (14.9%).

Toronto’s development focussed on residential projects located near major transit and roadways (85.6% of which being condos).  Smaller municipalities like Waterloo and Kingston also primarily developed residential properties (31% and 58%, respectively).  De Sousa notes that provincial growth plans and community improvement plans can help municipalities be more proactive in housing and economic development goals.

From a private sector perspective, the main motivations for brownfield developments are based on real estate factors (profit, market, locations), with barriers being costs, liabilities, and time (in project reviews and approvals).

Facilitation strategies that governments can utilize involve financial and regulatory changes, particularly in more effective and efficient processes and tools in high priority areas, with perhaps more government intervening regulations in secondary/ weaker markets to encourage development of brownfields vs. greenfields.

Toronto’s Port Lands feature numerous brownfields sites, image by Marcus Mitanis

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