In­cen­tives prompt re­de­vel­op­ment of city’s for­mer in­dus­trial lands

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - BRIAN CROSS bcross@post­media.com

A pack­age of City of Wind­sor in­cen­tives ap­proved seven years ago to spur cleanup and re­de­vel­op­ment of 558 acres of po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated, for­mer in­dus­trial prop­er­ties has been lit­tle used, un­til now.

In the last sev­eral months, ap­pli­ca­tions to the Brown­field Re­de­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity Im­prove­ment Plan have been steadily stream­ing in — seek­ing grants to help fund fea­si­bil­ity and soil stud­ies, and then even more money to help pay for the pricey cleanup.

If they be­come re­al­i­ties, these de­vel­op­ments could add up to hun­dreds of new res­i­dences on: the for­mer GM Trim site on Lau­zon Road; a col­lec­tion of for­mer in­dus­trial prop­er­ties be­tween Walk­erville and Ford City; and most re­cently a large prop­erty near Te­cum­seh Road and Howard Av­enue that for 50 years was the home of Auto Spe­cial­ties, a man­u­fac­turer of mal­leable cast­ings and au­to­mo­tive jacks for the auto in­dus­try.

Greg Atkin­son, a se­nior plan­ner with the city who co-or­di­nates the Brown­fields CIP pro­gram, said it’s “awe­some news” that in­vestors are fi­nally tak­ing ad­van­tage of this “great in­cen­tive pack­age.” The rea­son they’re jump­ing aboard now, he said, is that Wind­sor’s land prices have risen and res­i­den­tial va­cancy rates have de­clined to the point where de­vel­op­ing these cheaper brown­field prop­er­ties now make fi­nan­cial sense.

“But with­out the in­cen­tives I don’t think they would be re­de­vel­oped,” Atkin­son said. “With them, they’re pushed into that realm of vi­a­bil­ity, and that’s what we’re start­ing to see.”

Al­most 140 sites across the city have been iden­ti­fied as brown­field prop­er­ties, cov­er­ing 558 acres.

“His­tor­i­cally, there has been lit­tle in­ter­est in re­de­vel­op­ing brown­field sites due to the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the ex­tent of con­tam­i­na­tion and the po­ten­tial cost of cleanup,” says a city re­port that goes to the city’s plan­ning, her­itage and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment stand­ing com­mit­tee Mon­day. It says one re­de­vel­oped brown­field acre saves 4.5 acres of farm­land on a city’s out­skirts from be­ing de­vel­oped, and that for ev­ery dol­lar in­vested in brown­field re­de­vel­op­ment, $3.80 is in­vested in the com­mu­nity.

“It’s great to see own­ers and de­vel­op­ers com­ing for­ward and say­ing, ‘We’d like to tap into this fund be­cause we’re in­ter­ested in re­de­vel­op­ing this site,’” Mayor Drew Dilkens said of the re­cent flow of ap­pli­ca­tions. “The more of these 140 prop­er­ties we can ac­ti­vate, the bet­ter it will be for all of us in the city of Wind­sor be­cause it pro­vides more taxes and low­ers ev­ery­one’s share.”

The most re­cent ap­pli­ca­tion is from THMC Wind­sor, for a $7,000 grant to pay half the cost of a fea­si­bil­ity study on the vi­a­bil­ity of re­de­vel­op­ing part of the mas­sive park­ing lot behind the med­i­cal build­ings at Howard and Te­cum­seh into a res­i­den­tial project. Auto Spe­cial­ties op­er­ated on the 12-acre site from the 1920s to the 1970s.

The next grant THMC could ap­ply for pro­vides up to $15,000 to cover half the cost of soil and ground­wa­ter test­ing for pos­si­ble con­tam­i­na­tion. Then if the owner decides to go ahead with cleanup, the Brown­field Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Pro­gram com­pen­sates for the cleanup costs by ef­fec­tively freez­ing taxes where they are (ver­sus what they would rise to when the site’s re­de­vel­oped) for the first 10 years. There’s even a big break on de­vel­op­ment fees.

“It re­ally does cover a lot of costs,” Atkin­son said of the pro­gram.

Of the 15 ap­pli­ca­tions to the pro­gram since 2010, 13 have come in the last 22 months. Grants have to­talled $1.9 mil­lion, lev­er­ag­ing $16.9 mil­lion in pri­vate-sec­tor in­vest­ment, ac­cord­ing to the city.

The ear­li­est and most prom­i­nent suc­cess hap­pened at a for­mer gas sta­tion prop­erty at Dougall Av­enue and West Grand Boule­vard, which was turned into a small com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment with the help of $67,000 in city grants. The for­mer Wickes bumper plant — now run as a big UHaul oper­a­tion, also was re­ju­ve­nated thanks to $1.5 mil­lion worth of grants. A for­mer gas sta­tion at River­side Drive and Mar­entette Av­enue has been cleaned up and read­ied for re­de­vel­op­ment. And ear­lier this year, the Sood fam­ily re­ceived study grants to re­de­velop the for­mer Sea­grave fire truck plant prop­erty on Walker Road into about 12 town­houses and turn 17 acres of largely va­cant in­dus­trial land south of Edna Street, west of St. Luke Road and north of Rich­mond Street into be­tween 200 and 250 res­i­den­tial units.

On Mon­day night, coun­cil ap­proved grants to­talling $32,000 to help pay for three fea­si­bil­ity and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies cost­ing $97,000 for the 59-acre for­mer GM Trim site. The cur­rent owner Farhi Hold­ings has plans to re­de­velop the site into a com­mer­cial­res­i­den­tial project with about 240 res­i­den­tial units.

Dilkens said there’s clearly a de­mand for res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment in the east side of the city where Farhi’s land is lo­cated, and re­plac­ing the derelict site with a new hous­ing project would ben­e­fit the en­tire area.

But Atkin­son cau­tioned that not all these projects end up be­ing de­vel­oped.

“Some­times, they’ll de­ter­mine it’s not fea­si­ble, there’s no de­mand for what they’re think­ing of, or they might do the sam­pling and find out it costs too much to clean up.”

DAN JANISSE

A large park­ing lot behind the Howard Av­enue med­i­cal build­ing at Te­cum­seh Road is among the can­di­dates for the Brown­field Re­de­vel­op­ment Com­mu­nity Im­prove­ment Plan. The plan is de­signed to turn for­mer in­dus­trial sites into res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

UNIVER­SITY OF WIND­SOR LEDDY LI­BRARY

A trade pub­li­ca­tion/man­ual shows the Auto Spe­cial­ties Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pany (Canada) in 1940.

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