There’s big money to be made in developing land. Just ask former Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees who makes millions from “facilitating” these things. 

But it’s also possible to make millions by buying land and doing nothing with it, simply waiting for its value to increase. This happens in Newmarket and all across Ontario. Property speculators secure planning approval for major schemes and then sit on their hands. 

Seven years ago I blogged about Tri-cap properties who have planning permission to build a 20-storey condo with 280 units at the intersection of Davis Drive and George Street. Approval was granted 11 years ago. The same outfit owns vacant land at 22 George Street where planning approval was granted an astonishing 27 years ago (in 1993) for a 12-storey condo with 115 apartments. Nothing has been built. (Photo right of Davis and George in 2013 and below the same site in July 2020 - after millions of dollars of public money had been spent upgrading Davis Drive.)

Land-banking

Tri-cap is into “land-banking” in a big way but they release and develop land when it suits their purpose. (The employment land between Harry Walker Parkway and the 404 is currently being developed.) 

But I am left wondering how many condos across the Province have planning approval but nothing gets built because of an investment strike by landowners. Sitting on decades-old planning approvals for condos is a sin when so many people in Newmarket are crying out for affordable accommodation. It's not against the law but it is clearly against the public interest.

Once planning approval is granted it “attaches” to the land (as the lawyers would say) and cannot be withdrawn without massive compensation being paid to the landowner. A simple and elegant solution is to time-limit the planning approval. If work hasn’t started within, say, five years the permission is withdrawn. 

Planning approvals

This is what happens in the UK where planning approvals lapse after three years if shovels aren’t in the ground by then. Once the approval is timed-out a new application would have to be submitted to the municipality.

Of course, there would have to be safeguards. Here in Newmarket, for the moment, there is insufficient sewage and wastewater capacity which restricts the number and size of developments which are allowed to proceed even if they have planning approval. But these “servicing allocations” are a temporary stop-gap until the capacity issues are resolved.

As municipalities do their best to manage intensification within their own boundaries, the Provincial Government is currently out to consultation on plans to open up more land to development outside the built-up areas. Ford wants municipalities to identify the land needed for development up to 2051. Critics fear this will encourage sprawl.    

The consultation closes this coming Friday (31July 2020) and the Town’s planners sensibly are recommending (a) growth is concentrated in areas with the infrastructure to handle it and (b) policies requiring more affordable housing (through inclusionary zoning) are implemented.

Greenbelt and Whitebelt

The Greenbelt is off-limits to developers but with Doug Ford you never know. He told his friends he would open up big chunks of the Greenbelt to development and then changed his mind when he was caught on camera and the video got out.  Over time, he forgets what he has promised.

Ford’s proposed amendments to “A Place to Grow” will inevitably put pressure on the so-called "Whitebelt" – lands between the boundaries of the urban areas and the Greenbelt which are shown white on Growth Plan maps and which are not protected from future development.

Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence, told the Globe and Mail last month:

“It’s a big gift to land speculators who have bought up farms in the whitebelt, because once you get (the land) redesignated, its value goes up (by) orders of magnitude.”

Frank Klees is going to be a busy boy.

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