Monday, June 22, 2009
No need to take over properties, owners say Posted By MICHAEL-ALLAN MARION
The city says its bid to expropriate the south side of downtown Colborne Street is a "reasonably necessary" move to end three decades of inaction by the private sector.
But some of the aff ected property owners say the municipality has yet to demonstrate a need to take over their land.
Those were the main competing themes at city hall during Thursday's hearing of necessity under the Expropriation Act. Three property owners and one tenant are objecting to council's decision in February to expropriate 41 properties on the south side of Colborne to clear the way for redevelopment.
Hearing chairman Victor Freidin is expected to deliver his report this summer.
Testimony and evidence Thursday reveal an interesting glimpse of the politics and business dealings swirling around the stretch of disputed properties.
Chris Tsekas of Weir Foulds, the law firm representing Brantford, said the city's downtown revitalization program has had "some traction." But the south side of Colborne with its increasingly decrepit and often vacant buildings has not had a "spark" that would spur the private sector in the past three decades, he said.
"It is an area that is affected by blight and it is an area that needs redevelopment," he said. "The city is tired of waiting for the private sector. All you have to do is walk by all those storefronts to realize that something is wrong."
He and associate Constance Lantaigne led a succession of senior city officials through evidence and testimony on the history of the downtown's decline, and the city's efforts to revitalize it in the past decade with a community improvement plan approved by the provincial government, a grants program and other policies.
It culminated in a detailed examination of a downtown master plan approved by council late last year to carry the goal to its conclusion, with the south side of Colborne as the No. 1 priority.
Coun. Mark Littell is chairman of the South Side of Colborne Task Force, which was formed last year to act as a political facilitator between property owners and Laurier Brantford, Nipissing University, Mohawk College and the YMCA.
He said the task force turned to expropriation after it became clear that one developer, Jack Lechcier-Kimel of Torontobased Summit Glen, was unable to assemble land he had optioned from businessman Steve Kun and other owners and meet deadlines to get proposals moving.
One project being watching closely, said Littell, is a $40-million joint athletic and recreation complex proposed for the south side of Colborne by Laurier and the Y.
Steve Kun, who owns 20 properties in the stretch, remained an objector to expropriation, and did not withdraw as was reported Thurdsay in The Expositor.
Some city officials misinterpreted a letter from Kun's lawyer that he had withdrawn. In fact, the letter merely declared that the lawyer himself had been instructed to withdraw from the hearing. Kun intended to represent himself.
In his testimony, Kun said he is not opposed to the city's redevelopment drive on south Colborne, only to council's method.
He said that his business goal was to purchase downtown properties to facilitate big projects.
He said he has sold blocks, when requested. For example, a group of eight properties on north Colborne were sold to the city, and later became part of the Harmony Square development. Another group of properties was turned into Laurier Brantford's Heritage Block project.
He also participated in a series of failed proposals to give the YMCA a new permanent home.
But he is adamant that the city did not talk seriously with him about the south side of Colborne. And he was never officially asked to attend any meetings of the task force, which met with other property owners.
In testimony, Kun recounted that city manager John Brown had asked him to a meeting last Jan. 8 to talk about south Colborne and the properties he had optioned to Lechcier- Kimel.
Kun said he told Brown that the options had been extended to the end of February because Lechcier-Kimel was having trouble with financing to close the major purchase. If it didn't work out, Kun said the city could buy his properties on the same deal given to Lechcier-Kimel.
He said Brown told him "the city is definitely not interested in any purchase of properties on the south side of Colborne."
The next month, council approved expropriation, a move that made it impossible for Lechcier-Kimel to get the necessary financing to buy the properties, said Kun.
"In all fairness to the developer (Lechchier-Kimel), the city did not give him the cooperation he needed," said Kun, accusing city officials of "duplicity" in their dealings.
"The city has not acted in good faith. I don't think it's fair, I don't think it's sound and I don't think it's necessary to expropriate in this way. There are willing sellers and willing buyers."
Dick Waterous, principal in Tutela Properties Ltd., argued the city could not demonstrate it needs to expropriate a vacant property his company owns at the western end of Colborne, near Icomm Drive.
He pointed out sections in the downtown master plan, which identify the property as a "gateway," but did not recommend immediate action because more technical information was needed about its condition.
"What do you think of the prudence of purchasing land without that information?" he asked Ross Burnett, a consultant who helped write the downtown master plan.
Paul Scargall, a lawyer for Donald Fines, whose company of the same name owns a large building at 35-39 Colborne, also argued the city has no compelling case to take over his client's property.
He pointed out that the building is occupied and has heritage significance, which would suggest it be left alone.
Waterous and Scargall both kept pressing the message that the city is trying to expropriate a large section of properties with no immediate purpose to show, other than the Laurier-Y project, which needs only a portion of the area.
Tzekas countered that it may be an "unusual expropriation" but the city has the power under Section 28 of the Expropriations Act to acquire land for provincially approved community improvement programs, which could have wider purposes.
"Cities can do that," he said.
Do not do it without the real facts or a real plan -an expropriation caution to taxpayers - Haste makes for potential waste - TAXPAYER Comment
Expropriation is a Property rights game. If this was a legitimate game -win or lose on the merits -the city lost the game big time in the Necessity hearings and proceedings Listening to the testimony of the " city staff experts and witnesses" only re-enforced why the City should not be in the development business partiularly with " with free" taxpayer money and the bully power(Section 28 of the Expropriations Act ) to do it . Having a real plan- not a warm good feel fuzzy dream driven by political expediency, with real information about the properties and the remediation costs certainly would have helped save the day .
Which 200 stakeholders did they consult to justify this potential next Eaton ICOMM type unsinkable titanic clone project? Which Stakeholders did they consult? The stakeholder definition given by the embattled consultant was people with an economic interest or stake in the program- specifically a list of approved names given to him by the City. It is most unfortunate that the property owners, or Taxpayers for that matter, where not deemed worthy stakeholders entitled to provide input. In this case the property owner input was compelling and should be heard.
Everyone in Brant, should worry what this dream will cost Brantford and the precedent it sets for the future. The pleasant dream of dynamic ,academic growth,prosperity and a new tax base could turn into a expensive gateway nightmare if not properly planned and executed on the real facts or economic merits. S. HOLLE