Affordable housing a fair exchange for clean-up dollars, says Watson

If developers want tax dollars for site decontamination, they should have to build some affordable housing in return, Mayor Jim Watson said Tuesday.

Mr. Watson asked staff at the finance committee to look at options for including such a requirement in future brownfields grant agreements.

The issue was raised as councillors considered a $15.8-million grant to help the Regional Group clean up the former Oblates land on Main Street to build a 900-unit residential complex. Once approved by council, it will be largest payout in the program’s history.

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But there are even larger requests coming: decontamination of LeBreton Flats could cost “hundreds of millions,” Mr. Watson said, and if the city’s going to help foot that bill he’d like to taxpayers to get something in return.

“There’s a bit of a quid pro quo where we want the companies to recognize there are over 10,000 people on a waitlist for affordable housing,” he said.

The city’s brownfields grant program helps developers to build on lands contaminated by past uses, which would otherwise be too expensive to rehabilitate.

The city waives development charges and municipal taxes over the course of the project to cover up to half the cost of the clean-up. Its technically revenue neutral, according to city treasurer Marian Simulik, because the city’s simply forgoing new money.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko defended the program as a community-building necessity.

“Contaminated sites tend to sit idle for decades, if not for generations,” he said. “It’s only through techniques such as this that we are able to get a private sector partner willing to make this kind of investment.”

The Oblates grant will be to council April 13.

This story originally appeared on on April 5.

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