Eco-Park development a saga of deals and delays

·3 min read

Deputy-Mayor Brian Milne declared at the last Southgate council meeting that he was “frankly sick” in delays in closing Eco-Park deals.

With so much interest in land here, he raised the issue about conditional deals which have cycled in front of council several times for one-year extensions.

In fact, he suggested the township could consider adding conditions that no extensions would be provided, to prevent agreements from re-appearing before council for various reasons.

In a later interview, the Deputy-Mayor clarified that he didn’t think the township had to change its rules “as long as council is kept apprised and the reasons are legitimate.”

Some of these reasons have included Health Canada approval for a marijuana facility (recently refused its third extension).

Others include companies finding financing or regulatory review, challenges with access to the site and delays getting surveys.

At the outset of Eco-Park development, delays related to the issues of zoning and widespread concern for potential impact on neighbouring properties from the first businesses.

Coun. Barbara Dobreen said at the council meeting earlier this month that she shared the deputy-mayor’s concern.

“The value of this land is increasing yearly if not monthly,” she said. “We’re losing out on development.”

“When does the clock start ticking?” she asked.

The CAO replied, “the day of closure of property sale.”

That means that each time the township agrees to grant a one-year extension on conditions in the offers, it pushes back the time when the deal’s safe-guarding deadlines kick in.

Once the countdown does start, the sales agreement generally allows two years to start construction and three years to substantial completion.

Deputy-Mayor Milne said in an interview that it’s important that the purchasers do something with the land.

“I’m not interested in speculators,” he said. “I’m interested in people who want to build a business and employ people.”

The Mayor, Deputy-Mayor and the township CAO Dave Milliner all made the point in separate interviews with the Herald that the township is not a land developer.

Its interest is more in jobs, building the tax base, local business synergy and compatibility with the community.

Many municipalities assess proposals on the number of jobs per hectare.

Mayor John Woodbury said in an interview that he sees a strength in having a number of smaller employers rather than a few large ones which can leave, as he remembers from his time on the council for the village of Dundalk.

Deputy-Mayor Milne did say that council needs to be informed of current land values in surrounding municipalities.

That will become even more important with construction starting on the Eco Parkway route to Highway 10, opening up more land for development.

For the Hwy. 10 property (EcoPark Phase II), the township is assessing both the price of the land and how to develop it.

Because there are offers in various stages for all the lands in EcoPark Phase I (Ida Street), CAO Dave Milliner said, the township would not at this point change its closing sale price commitment.

“If any of those offers fall through, our asking price would increase,” he said.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald