City incentives, hot real estate market fueling action at mature fields

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The city’s program, created in 2010 to attract investors to build on contaminated old industrial sites, has been incredibly successful over the past 18 months.

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In the first six years, implementation of the Brownfield Redevelopment Plan was poor, with just four grant approvals to help investigate potential contamination and tax breaks to offset significant cleanup costs. Over the next four years, things sped up with 23 approvals. And since January 2020, interest has skyrocketed with 15 approvals. The heightened interest has been fueled by the attractiveness of incentives and surging demand for housing, says Greg Atkinson, a senior planner for the City of Windsor who has directed the program since its inception.

“When I added the numbers, I was quite impressed,” he said Wednesday, referring to a recent report on the program’s success and suggesting improvements. Typically, such a review is carried out after five years, but the data were insufficient due to the low initial coverage.

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“We’ve got it now,” Atkinson said, referring to 42 general statements – most of which happened in the past few years – to spur new projects in these normally vacant facilities, polluted by years of use as factories, dry cleaners, and fuel. depots, landfills and gas stations.

The city council has so far approved $ 13.2 million in measures to stimulate the renovation of abandoned old homes. The result was private sector investment of $ 182.7 million and an increase in the appraised value of real estate by $ 216.2 million.

“Just by doing a quick calculation, there is about $ 14 in private investment for every government dollar of incentives,” Atkinson said. “So value for money, this community improvement plan (one of several the city has developed in recent years) is really working well.”

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Greg Atkinson, Senior Planner for the City of Windsor, stands outside an empty abandoned lot on Riverside Drive in April 2016.  Since January 2020, 15 applications have been submitted for the Brownfield Community Improvement Plan.
Greg Atkinson, Senior Planner for the City of Windsor, stands outside an empty abandoned lot on Riverside Drive in April 2016. Since January 2020, 15 applications have been submitted for the Brownfield Community Beautification Plan. Photo by Tyler Brownbridge /Windsor star

A 2009 study identified 137 abandoned properties on 559 acres that had not been used for years. “Historically, there has been little interest in rebuilding abandoned sites because of the uncertainty surrounding the extent of the pollution and the potential cost of cleanup,” Atkinson said in the report.

Mayor Drew Dilkens said the CIP was designed to change this.

“Thanks to the combination of the program and the hot real estate market, we are seeing a lot of activity,” he said, explaining that developers everywhere – including these abandoned fields – are looking for places to build.

“Having this program … really helps to see how some of the more difficult lands are activated in an improved way.”

The first application was approved back in 2012 for the renovation of a long-abandoned gas station on Dougall Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. André and Hoda Abouasli used the available grants to help clean up the pollution before constructing an attractive commercial building. Atkinson said the project served as a prime example of what the CIP can do to reduce eye irritation throughout the city.

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Since then, projects have ranged from modest to large. The largest of these was an incentive of up to $ 12.5 million to help clean up GM’s former Lauzon Road plant so Farhi Holdings can continue the massive $ 250 million residential development that is one of the largest in the city’s history. The $ 6.5 million cleanup, which aims to remove contaminated soil and remove foundations and concrete from the former building, has cleared the way for a project that is already under way.

Other major projects recently approved include: $ 3 million in incentives for the 123-unit Graffiti residential / commercial project at 1200 University Avenue West; $ 457,700 for an 81-unit apartment project on Argyle Road, formerly a pharmaceutical plant destroyed in a fire in 2018; and $ 579,185 for a project to build a 24-unit apartment building at 840 Wyandotte St.E., a former commercial building destroyed in a 2016 fire.

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And in June, a council committee approved a CIP application to help with the $ 81,600 cleanup on an 11-acre former industrial site. limited to Walker Road, Edna Street, Saint Luke Road and Richmond Street. The owner, the Sud family, plans to build three five-story towers with 62 apartments each, as well as 90 two-story townhouses. This is a project that Atkinson believes will help connect Walkerville and Ford City, which have been separated by industrial wastelands for decades.

CIP provides grants for 50% of the research cost to see how much it is possible to rehabilitate the abandoned field and to study how much it will cost to clean up. These are checks that the city writes for between $ 7,500 and $ 25,000. CIP can also reduce development costs by 60%. But the biggest incentives to date are real estate tax help for brownfields and a rehabilitation grant.
programs that provide annual grants to offset 70 or 100 percent of the tax increases that occur after an abandoned lot is converted into something more valuable, such as an apartment building. Grants are paid for 10 or 13 years and can ultimately save developers many thousands of dollars after projects are built.

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“The whole premise is that the city does not collect much tax revenue, and in some cases almost nothing, from this property, which negatively affects their neighborhoods,” Atkinson said. “So giving up some of that tax revenue over the 10-year grant period is a low cost for redevelopment, so you can get 50 housing units where you used to have vacant land.”

If all 42 approvals are continued, the result would be 962 new residential buildings on 119.2 acres of abandoned land. According to the 2003 National Roundtable metric, this would prevent the development of 512 acres of green space. according to Atkinson Report. In addition, the spillover effect of $ 182.7 million in private investment is $ 694 million in the economy.

bcross@postmedia.com

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