TORONTO – Two Ontario municipalities are asking the provincial government to reimburse them for more than $400,000 in costs they incurred while working on the now-reversed Greenbelt land removals in their communities.
Premier Doug Ford admitted last month that his government’s November 2022 decision to remove 15 parcels from the protected Greenbelt for housing development – a move now the subject of an RCMP investigation – was a mistake, and his new housing minister has now started the process to return them.
But Pickering, Ont., the site of the largest parcel of land by far, and Grimsby, Ont., where two other sites had been slated for removal, say they spent a lot of money and staff time working on those plans, and they want to be compensated.
“While we appreciate the province’s reconsideration and commitment to preserving the integrity of the Greenbelt, we cannot overlook the significant amount of resources that have already been expended by our municipality in anticipation of housing development, sometimes at the direction of the province itself,” Pickering Mayor Kevin Ashe wrote in a letter to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Calandra.
City of Pickering staff have tallied up $360,135 in direct and indirect costs that they say Pickering taxpayers are now on the hook for.
About $90,000 of that is due to staff time, while the largest line item in direct costs came in the form of more than $178,000 paid to an economic consulting firm for a financial impact analysis of the proposed Cherrywood development.
The Cherrywood site in the Greenbelt is owned by Silvio De Gasperis’ TACC Group and at 4,262 acres it is nearly two and a half times as big as the next largest of the 15 sites the government wanted to remove.
Pickering also spent $90,000 on outside legal services and $930 in recruiting costs for a new Cherrywood principal planner position.
In Grimsby, the town council unanimously passed a motion recently to call on the province to reimburse their municipality for about $82,000.
Those costs were incurred in spending on legal and consulting services, as well as staff time, “as a direct result of the pressure placed upon the town by the provincial government to reach agreements with developers and make decisions related to changes in the Greenbelt Act,” the town said in its motion.
“This pressure included deadlines set by the Minister of Housing, which, if not met, would have resulted in decisions being made without the municipality’s involvement,” the town said in its motion.
“The Town of Grimsby had initially anticipated that all costs incurred would be offset by fees associated with the developments affected by the changes to the Greenbelt.”
The government did not immediately say how it would respond to the municipalities’ requests.
Calandra has said the province will not be compensating developers for any costs they incurred.
Jeff Paikin, whose company owns one of the Grimsby parcels of land, has said his company has put in a “huge amount of work,” with signed contracts, completed designs and negotiations with the municipality.
Ford announced last month that he was backing away from his plan to develop parts of the Greenbelt, after months of public outcry and after reports from both the auditor general and the integrity commissioner that found the process favoured certain developers.
The auditor general found that more than 90 per cent of the land removed from the Greenbelt was in five sites passed on to the then-housing minister’s chief of staff by two developers he met at an industry event. The property owners stood to see their land value rise by $8.3 billion, the auditor found.
The integrity commissioner said he had no evidence of developers being specifically tipped off that the government was considering Greenbelt removals, though “it is more likely than not” that someone gave one developer a heads-up. Largely, the actions of the housing minister’s chief of staff had the effect of alerting developers that a policy change was afoot, the commissioner found.
The RCMP is now investigating.
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