Council attaches conditions to tax break

This is an artist’s conception of a proposed 35-store plaza set to go in on the Queensway West in Simcoe in the area of Cedar Street. South. Land Development of Toronto estimates the project will cost about $12 million to build. SLand Development image

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A Toronto developing firm will have to modify its advertising regarding a shovel-ready retail complex on the Queensway West.

Two weeks ago, S. Land Development Corporation received Norfolk council approval for a tax break under the county’s Community Improvement Plan.

Immediately afterwards, the 5.2-acre property was advertised for sale for $2 million. The advertisement includes a county commitment to provide tax breaks over the next five years amounting to about $150,000.

Some business and property owners in downtown Simcoe have complained about the arrangement. Some are paying business improvement taxes in the range of $1,000 a year.

Others have reminded council that Norfolk planning policies traditionally steer new retailing in Simcoe to the downtown core.

“We have downtown retailers who are struggling,” Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus said at last week’s council meeting. “I don’t think the right thing to do is to give them a tax break.”

Council is not impressed that S. Land Development requested the tax break without disclosing that it intended to sell the land. Mayor Kristal Chopp said it was “presumptuous” to advertise the property assuming that the tax break was “portable.”

Norfolk staff was directed two weeks ago to draw up an agreement with S. Land Development confirming the tax break.

Last week, council instructed county lawyer Nicholas Loeb to include a clause stating the concession is solely for the benefit of the Toronto firm and is not transferable.

The province allows municipalities to extend certain breaks to developers when they make improvements to land that increase its assessed value.

In this case, S. Land Development has raised the low-lying property at the intersection of Cedar Street six feet with 13,000 cubic metres of clean fill.

As well, the land qualifies as a brownfield because a rail line used to run through it.

A previous owner had planned to build a housing development on the parcel but thought better of it when soil tests located an underlying peat deposit. The land emits methane gas which will have to be vented away when the 35-store shopping centre is constructed.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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