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Did the City of Hamilton overpay for a Brownfield Site

As reported by the CBC, the City of Hamilton recently paid $1.75 million for a brownfield site that once sold for $2.  The property, located at 350 Wenworth Street North, sold for $2 a decade ago and then for $266,000 two years ago.

In the property was purchased in 2013 for $266,000, hundreds of barrels of toxic waste were discovered behind a fake wall.  The barrels contained coal tar byproducts and industrial solvents, and roof tar.  The new owner arranged for the proper disposal of the barrels.  The Ontario Environment Ministry confirmed  in  an e-mail to CBC that the waste had been from the building and it was decontaminated by the fall of 2017.  It also confirmed that the clean-up included the removal of approximately 200,000 litres of liquid waste.

The cleanup of the toxic property has been going on intermittently since 2010 (Photo Credit: Hamilton Spectator) photo

It is not known how much the clean-up of the 800 barrels of toxic waste cost, but the Hamilton Spectator quoted the owner  in 2017 that the clean-up would cost $650,000.

Property records for the building stretch all the way back to 1988, when Currie Products Limited spent a million dollars for 350 Wentworth. Currie ran a tar facility that went out of business there in the late 1990s, and was considered by many to be the company that originally polluted the site. Owner John Currie died in 2013.

Through the years, the building has changed hands multiple times for a wide swath of prices, ranging from that original million dollars, to $610,000 in 2007, to $2 in 2008, to the tax sale in 2016 and now, for $1.75 million. Over that time, building owners fought with each other and the province over who was actually responsible for cleaning up the site, in some cases heading to court in search of a resolution. For each sale, the price of the property reflected what buyers knew about the site at the time.

The city’s purchase of the property is all part of a reshuffling of buildings in the area to create a transit hub for the lower city like the Mountain Transit Centre at 2200 Upper James.

While it appears the city could have saved money by taking over the property when it was up for tax sale, that’s not really the case, officials say. The city does sometimes take carriage of properties after a failed tax sale, but woudn’t do so on a property like this one with environmental issues, Hamilton City Councillor Matthew Green told the CBC.  He added, “The city won’t take on the liability by policy.  The liability is way too big, because you don’t know what you’re buying … you have no idea what could be found or buried.”

The city bought 350 Wentworth St. N., which has required much cleanup over the years. Most recently, 200,000 litres of liquid waste was removed from the site in 2017 (Credit: The Hamilton Spectator)