Taxpayers shouldn’t pay to clean up Zibi land feds owned, Centretown councillor says
MAY 31 OTTAWA CITIZEN
Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for paying to clean up portions of industrial lands on the Ottawa River once owned by the federal government and now slated for an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment, Centretown Coun. Catherine McKenney said Thursday.
The Somerset rep was responding to news Windmill Developments has filed the largest ever grant application to the city to help finance the cleanup costs of contaminated industrial lands where the company plans to build its flagship Zibi community.
Windmill is asking for more than $60 million in brownfields rehabilitation grant and development charge credits to clean up the 6.5 hectares of land it owns at 3 and 4 Booth St., on Chaudière and Albert islands.
The total grants approved by the city since 2007 total $67.8 million.
According to McKenney, about 20 per cent of the site was previously owned or managed by the federal government.
“I don’t support City of Ottawa taxpayers picking up a tab to clean up land that was owned by the federal government. They either should have cleaned it up themselves before selling it or ensure that the purchaser of that land, the developer in this case, was made aware what land wasn’t in the private market,” McKenney said.
But, according to the city’s manager of infrastructure approvals Richard Buchanan, the portions of previously owned federal properties were not contaminated by federal facilities.
The city’s brownfields program, which caps all grants, tax breaks and development charge reductions at 50 per cent of the eligible costs to scrub the property, is designed to kickstart development at key lands, fuelling economic development and building the property tax base. More than 30 brownfields grant applications have been approved since 2007.
McKenney says the next term of council should re-examine the initiative, which she says was created at a time when there wasn’t a lot of development in the downtown core and city officials wanted to kickstart it. “But that’s not the case anymore,” she said. “It’s time to do a refresh and consider is this something taxpayers should be picking up when a developer purchases land. That needs to be built into price of the property.”
Sites such as the Ottawa River islands and 900 Albert St., where a developer also secured a brownfields grant, are highly valuable because of their close proximity to light-rail transit lines. They would be developed anyway, the councillor says.
“I’ve never seen anything that would convince me that development wouldn’t happen anyway,” McKenney said.
Mayor Jim Watson said in a statement that each brownfields application must be assessed based on the current owner of the land — in this case, Windmill Dream Ontario Holdings.
The project will generate direct economic benefits for the city and, in 12 years, the estimated additional property taxes will surpass the city’s initial contribution, the statement said.
Looking ahead to the future redevelopment of LeBreton Flats, McKenney says she would be “very uncomfortable with the city paying for that clean up.”
“That’s not our land. It’s NCC land and it’s up to the NCC and the developer to ensure that land is cleaned,” she said.
The cost of cleaning up a district that used to have scrap yards, rail yards and other heavy industry mixed in with working-class homes is estimated at $170 million, a bank-breaking number for a program that usually deals in single-digit millions, at most.
Watson has also said publicly he’s opposed to the city taking on any federal liabilities related to brownfields remediation at LeBreton Flats.
That echoes the city’s official position, as outlined in a staff report last fall.
“Given the historic decision of the federal government to acquire and demolish the LeBreton Flats community in the early 1960s, it is the city’s position that the federal government should be solely responsible for remediating its property prior to development,” the report said.