BLOG #705: City council’s planning and environment committee managed to dispatch a report on various issues involving development in SoHo, including the much ballyhooed FinCore Canada project, without asking a single question.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
You’ve got to hand it to city council’s planning and environment committee.
It usually operates at a snail’s pace, often taking hours to make fairly routine decisions. But when it wants to ignore something, to give it the Royal Nose Up so to speak, it can move at warp speed.
So Monday night, the committee took less than a minute to dispatch the first six items on its agenda, a list that included right at the top city planner John Fleming’s fulsome report on the procedures for selling city land and dealing with the unusual development application by FinCore Canada.
Unusual? Decide for yourself. FinCore wants to build two 26-storey condo towers with a 12-storey medical centre and office complex between them at the corner of South Street and Wellington. It has applied for rezoning to make it happen.
Thing is, FinCore doesn’t own the land on which it wants to build its $200 or $250 or $300 million project (various numbers have been used by the company over the past six months). The city owns a big chunk of it, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority owns some.
In another committee room Monday, the finance and administrative committee considered a plan to find some partners so it can acquire the old Normal School and its surrounding Green in Wortley Village from the provincial government. Really, all the city wants is the Green as a future park; it would like a stable, successful tenant or buyer for the restored historic building.
The province has make it clear the school and grounds are a package; buy it all or not at all. Perhaps, suggested Councillor Joni Baechler somewhat cheekily, we could proceed even though we don’t own the property. Martin Hayward, the city treasurer, was quick to shoot that idea down. The province wouldn’t allow it, he said.
So why did the city in somewhat similar circumstances?
Because some members of city council are in love with the idea of a big private enterprise project that would create some fulltime jobs (less than 100), some construction jobs (great for our election campaign partners) and additional tax revenues.
When the project was presented a month ago during the investment and economic prosperity committee’s public hearings into good ideas to get London moving, there was nary a question from the committee as its members fairly gushed fare thee well. Catching their breath they then admonished city staff to fast track the application.
This for a company that has, at best, a thin development record and has never tackled something of this magnitude.
Mayor Joe Fontana announced this project last January during his annual State of the City breakfast, back when it was said to be worth $200 million. That he would have the scoop is hardly surprising; his friend, Loredana Onesan, is the founder and CEO of FinCore Canada. They are both on the board of Show Kids You Care, a project of Trinity Global Support Foundation of which Mr. Fontana is board chairperson and Ms. OneAna is listed as a new board member. Also on the board is Dave Broostad, co-chairperson of the mayor's 2010 election campaign.
At the announcement, and certainly at the investment committee meeting, the impression being put around was that the property deal was a slam dunk for FinCore.
The seven-page report so casually shifted along Monday night suggests otherwise, which perhaps explains why no one on the committee, not a single person, could find one single thing about which to ask a question or make a comment. That in itself is unusual.
Mr. Fleming’s report makes it clear there will be a “competitive, fair and transparent process” to sell the city’s land. Anyone will be able to make a bid, although the rules haven’t yet been made public.
Writes Mr. Fleming: “Planning staff will process this application expeditiously, while ensuring that all steps of the planning process are completed and opportunity for public engagement in the process is afforded. Meanwhile, a separate process is proceeding with respect to the disposition of the lands. This process is delinked from the planning application process.”
All that, Mr. Fleming further states, will take until the spring of 2013 to complete.
Now Mr. Fleming does write fairly clear reports, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that didn’t at least raise a few questions, at the very least to clarify some points or to get a more detailed explanation. For example, you could ask about the process? Or how the land is being evaluated? Or how the FinCore application was proceeding? Or when it would come to committee? Or the status of the UTRCA land sale? Or how the FinCore deal will mesh with the larger SOHO community plan? Or how any rough edges will be fixed? Or how public engagement will be handled?
But no one made a peep. Or a tweet. Or even a squeak.
So what do you make of that? Unusual, to say the least.