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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

Potential $9 million incentive to Developer for Clean-up and Develop Brownfield Site in Ottawa

As reported by the CBC, Ottawa city staff are proposing to offer a developer more than $9 million in incentives to build a multi-use building with three residential towers across from the future Bayview Station light rail station, approximately 2 kilometers (one mile) west of Parliament Hill.

TIP Albert GP Inc. owns the property at 900 Albert St. at the corner of Albert and City Centre Avenue, and is proposing a building that would have 1,632 residential units as well as retail and office space.

The site, a one-time rail yard and later a storage yard and snow disposal site, is eligible for the city’s brownfields rehabilitation grant program.  Under the program, developers can apply to have municipal development charges and soil remediation costs reduced, up to about half the expected cost of the cleanup.

City staff are recommending a grant not exceeding $8,255,397 over a maximum of 10 years, according to a report tabled in advance of next week’s finance and economic development committee meeting.

The property is also along the path of city sanitary and storm sewers, and for the development to go forward, the builder will have to move that infrastructure to an adjacent city property.

While the developer would pay for that work to be done, the city would have to release their eight easements on the property.

While normally the city would get market value from a developer for giving up those easements — an estimated $920,000 — city staff are proposing waiving that policy to make the project happen.

Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney, in a comment appended to the report, wrote that while she supported the brownfield grant, she couldn’t support waiving the encroachment fee, calling it “premature.”

“As this application is still under negotiation I believe it would be more prudent to measure the total monetary value to be waived against measurable features of the proposed development in its final form as ultimately presented to committee and council,” she wrote.

McKenney said such features would include affordable housing and contributions to active transportation networks like cycling and walking paths.

The development is not the only project being considered for a grant at next week’s committee meeting.

City staff are also proposing a grant of up to $2,320,420 over a maximum of 10 years to Colonnade Development Inc. to build a hotel near the Department of National Defence headquarters.

That grant, for the property at 300 Moodie Dr., would come from the Bells Corners Community Improvement Plan, which aims to encourage development in the area.

It would provide what would amount to a 75 per cent property tax break after the property is developed. If the development doesn’t happen, no grant would be paid.

Colonnade is proposing a restaurant with a drive-thru and a six-storey, 124-room hotel. Right now, the site is home to a Salvation Army thrift store, an automotive repair garage and auto parts distributor.

The finance and economic development committee will consider both proposals.

One Proposal for Development of 900 Albert Street, Ottawa