One of the city’s most ambitious highrise projects will be hurt, and even scaled back, if the city drags its feet on helping clean the site, its builder warns.
The soil at the site of Rygar Properties proposed $300-million multi-tower highrise development is contaminated. City politicians are questioning $2.7 million in cleanup costs requested by the builder under a city program funding the cleanup of “brownfields,” properties contaminated because of previous industrial or commercial use.
If the city doesn’t pay up, Rygar may change its planned development, president John Rodgers said.
“It’s a lot of money, and we strongly believe we are entitled to it. We don’t want any favours, we just want to be treated the same as other developers,” he said.
“It will impact it. I would not say right now it would cancel it, but it would put me in a bad situation.”
In a recent report to city council’s planning and environment committee, city staff supported Rygar’s request for funding to clean soil at the site that used to house a gas station.
The report breaks down the company’s $2.7 million request:
- $2.4 million for the removal of soil contaminated with heavy metals, hydrocarbons and petroleum.
- $38,220 to remove an underground storage tank.
- $251,400 for environmental consultant fees and associated laboratory fees.
The money would be paid out in phases from 2021-28.
“Rygar Properties Inc. is proposing a major development in the downtown, which includes three highrise apartment towers and ground-floor commercial uses on a site that is contaminated from past industrial and commercial activity,” states the report.
“In addition to the environmental benefits that will result from site remediation, this development will provide significant public and economic benefits.”
But Rygar’s request came under fire from politicians who suggested the price tag seemed steep. Some questioned whether it was for all soil work on the site and not just the cleanup. The city pays only for cleanup.
“This is taxpayers’ money and it is not a small amount of money,” Coun. Stephen Turner said.
Politicians referred the report back to staff to ask for a breakout of what remediation only will cost. An update is expected at an upcoming meeting.
Turner points out Tricar Group didn’t ask the city for funding for soil remediation for the Azure tower it is building near the Rygar site.
“Our geotechnical report says the level of contamination there is pervasive through downtown. Will we pay for every tower downtown?” Turner said.
He also questions if the city is being asked by Rygar to pay for removing uncontaminated soil. The contamination extends to a depth of 5.4 metres, but the company is asking to go down to 9.1 metres, Turner said.
Rodgers said Rygar has done $100,000 worth of environmental testing on the site with numerous studies.
“We need the money to excavate the soil, clean it and take it to landfill sites,” he said. “We have a very good understanding of what the conditions are on the site.”
Rodgers said the company pays $78,000 a year in taxes on the site. When the project is completed, the amount will jump to $1.4 million.
“It is frustrating, you don’t have to put up with this in other cities,” Rodgers said.
The city paid Medallion Properties Inc. $570,000 to clean the site of its towers in old east London, at Dundas and Lyle streets.
But that same development points to why some city councillors question Rygar’s $2.7 million figure, Turner said.
The site of the Medallion development — two towers are up and a third one is on the way — is about as big as Rygar’s and the land reclamation fee is much less than what is being asked by Rodgers.
“By comparison, those buildings are a similar footprint,” Turner said.
He downplays suggestions the residential and office complex would be hindered if council rejected Rygar’s request or allocated a smaller amount.
“Will the development proceed if not for the grant? The viability of a $300-million project should not hang on this,” Turner said.
The proposed development stirred up controversy when city council voted to allow Rygar to demolish Victoria-era row homes on Talbot Street called Camden Terrace.
The company agreed to preserve the facade of some townhomes under glass in the highrise lobby.
“We are ready to move ahead, we are ready to go,” Rodgers said.