We’ve already got the land. Why not use it?

August 5, 2009

Guelph Mercury, 05/08/09abandoned

I’m sure the Jefferson salamander is a remarkable little creature. But I’ll bet $20 even it’s not cute enough to rally a city around a 675-acre plot of land that most of us have never set foot on.

So it goes without saying the well-intentioned folks who packed a Guelph courtroom yesterday morning to fight an injunction that would end their occupation of the planned Hanlon Creek Business Park have got their work cut out for them. They can sing their folk songs, hoist placards and host their walks through the “old growth” forest of the future business park.

But they probably can’t stop the bull dozers. And that’s too bad.

Not because this columnist believes the land they’re fighting for is so ecologically precious it must remain untouched. But because the development they oppose represents more of the same – a city that is ever-expanding outward while ignoring the vacant real estate all around us. Because creating another business park on the fringes is wasteful and unimaginative.

Whatever you think about the band of squatters who set up camp on the Hanlon Creek site last week, some among them have raised a good point: Is there not already plenty of unused or underused brownfields or industrial land in Guelph that cannot be converted into space for the businesses the city hopes to attract?

The mayor says the Hanlon Creek Business Park is a necessary step in plans to make room for 35,000 new jobs and another 60,000 new residents projected to be here by 2031. At the same time, every planning expert says our future development need to be all about density, density, density. So shouldn’t we naturally be building up on the commercial land we already have but aren’t using, rather than expanding even further away from our core?

You don’t have to look far around this city to see these former factories, plants, warehouses or vacant lots that have been left to rust and grow weeds. Many are empty because their former owners left them contaminated and no one wants to foot the bill for cleanup.

These so-called brownfield sites are everywhere – in 2002, there were about 175 of them within the city, according to a report prepared for city council. There is a further 1.3 million square feet of industrial building space sitting empty in Guelph. Could many of these properties not be a solution to the shortage of commercial land?

City Hall plans to spend $20 million on the first phase of the Hanlon Creek Business Park, and more in following stages. Imagine if that money were instead spent on a focused program to clean up and prepare our old factory sites for new uses and, where necessary, pressure the Ministry of Environment and the land’s owners to get to work on de-contamination?

Of course there’s a high cost to redeveloping these former industrial and commercial sites. But that same 2002 report shows there’s compelling economic reasons for doing so.

The report pointed to four rehabilitated brownfield properties in Guelph that increased their property values by nearly $27 million, creating an extra $600,000 in municipal taxes for the city. Among other examples, it also says Coburg, Ont. spent $2 million cleaning up a handful of its former industrial sites, creating $162 million worth of construction projects.

Redeveloping these overgrown eyesores already in our neighbourhoods just makes sense. It pays off in the long run. And yet it seems we’d rather avert our eyes and flatten more land elsewhere.

One Response to We’ve already got the land. Why not use it?

  1. Maria Pezzano on August 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I am looking for light industrial space in the ward to move my studio to. Is there someone or somewhere I can go to that may have a list of small building I could look at? I am looking for about 1000SF

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *