A Lost Opportunity?


There is a building at 415 King Street West in Cobourg (the corner of Tremaine and King). It is now abandoned and deteriorating due to neglect.  Munitions manufacturer Cooeysold it to Winchester in the late 1950's and later in 1970 to Southam Newspapers, the publisher of the Cobourg Star took occupancy. When the newspaper departed 1995, the building has remained derelict. A foreign owner purchased the property in 2007 but did not pay taxes or do any maintenance. Scott Glover of Glover and Co. recently showed interest in building "rental lofts" on the site but found that the site was contaminated. He tried to make a deal with the Town but was turned down.

What followed gives rise to some exceptional journalism by Cobourg Internet News blogger John Draper. In a release published July 4, 2017, Draper reports what he was told by Scott Glover:

I'm a local landlord and occasional developer. I commissioned phase 1 and 2 environmental studies at 415 King with the intention of buying the site and developing rental lofts there. When the contamination levels were found to be far higher than anticipated I approached the town about contributing to the clean-up. I've walked away from the project so the town will end up owning the property for back taxes and paying the entire remediation bill.

My suggestion to the town was for them to contribute 25% of remediation costs up to a maximum of $200,000 which was the amount of back taxes they would have collected if my purchase had gone through. The remediation will require the removal of all of the soil on the 2 acre site. About 500 truck loads.

I had 23 bore holes drilled [they all failed MoE Standards] and installed 4 test wells on the site which show that the soil contamination has polluted the ground water. Until the site is stripped that contamination continues to spread into the creek and lake. The town has the data proving this.

Glover was able to get Winchester to pledge money toward the clean-up despite the fact that Winchester’s ownership ended over 40 years ago. Glover continued:

... the town just repeats the same mantra of not wanting to set a precedent of subsidizing a private developer. They fail to consider that the only alternative is to expropriate the land for back taxes and pay for 100% of the clean-up while they lose another 5-10 years of tax revenue and are left with another white elephant like the Tannery.

 Back taxes are more than the property is currently worth and if development were to proceed it  would generate $50,000 per year in property taxes. Is this a missed opportunity for the Town? Section 106(3) of the Municipal Act prevents Towns from subsidizing developers by way of tax breaks or waivers of development fees. This was the argument raised by the Cobourg Taxpayers Association in opposing a grant to the Northumberland Medical Arts building when the developers of that project came forward asking for a development fee waiver.

John Draper puts forward another position: “It's true that subsidizing a private developer would not be a good thing …but perhaps a deal could be made that forgives some back taxes in exchange for remediation being done. The money will be lost anyway. Forgiving back taxes (lost money) is not the same as forgiving new development charges - surely a policy can be developed that would cover this situation. Otherwise, this site would be another white elephant and taxpayers will be paying to fix it as well as never getting the back taxes.” [Photo credit: John Draper]