Just do it!

Behave like Dave

Halifax Council, Annapolis Group directors:

will you leave a legacy behind or just empty chairs?

A long time ago I accompanied some staff from Nova Scotia Environment on a two-day trip in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area in southwesternNova Scotia. Our job was to check out a derelict cabin before demolition in the winter. We canoed, portaged, camped, and visited an island covered with lush old-growth forest. suit imageA satellite phone was our only link with civilization. “Dave”, one of our guides, cooked gourmet meals in a single frying pan (everything tastes great when you’re camping).

Dave’s job sometimes required him to spend weeks at a time alone in the forest and he loved it. I asked if he was concerned that someday he might be too infirm to go into protected areas, where ATV and wheelchair access is banned.

“No. I’ll be happy knowing that partly because of the work I’m doing, wild places will always be available to people’s children and grandchildren,” he said.

I trained my bullshit meter on him but there was no reading. Dave meant what he said. He could think beyond his own self-interest.

In late 2007, ’round about the same time Dave and I had our conversation, NSE announced it would convert more than 3,000 acres of Crown land between Highway 103 and the Bicentennial Highway, adjacent to the Bayers Lake Business Park, into a protected wilderness area like the Tobeatic.

There would be places there where you could neither see nor hear the city. And you and your backpack could reach the trail heads by public transit.

Even better, as the new release somewhat naively put it:

Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area will complement Halifax Regional Municipality’s regional planning strategy, which includes creating a large park in that region.

“I’m very pleased with the province’s collaborative approach and support for HRM’s regional plan,” said Mayor Peter Kelly. “This will help us move forward with HRM’s plans for a regional park in the area.”

This was genius. The city would create a municipal park of about 1,350 acres that would be the necessary protective buffer around the wilderness area. But, being a municipal park, it would also provide a near-wilderness experience for people who don’t or can’t hike into the back country. In other words if  —  perish the thought — Dave found himself in a wheelchair someday, he and others could still enjoy a semi-wild area.

Many believe the project, if completed, would be the largest urban wilderness area in North America. Perhaps, but the real value is that this patch of paradise would be available to Haligonians and their neighbours no matter how big the city grows. Think of Calgary’s (smaller) Nose Hill park, which is 11 square kilometres of high plains, replete with wildlife and cheek by jowl with 12 communities.

Blue Mountain-Birch Coves Lakes Wilderness Area is a legacy project. If our descendants are going to have it, then key people have to raise their gaze and think bigger. Like Dave.

Sadly, 11 years later, park proponents have learned just how slowly municipal government can move. The province fulfilled its promise but successive city councils, apparently dazzled by the power and glory of the developers who own much of the needed parkland, couldn’t come to grips with their task.

By way of background, ownership is not the last word on what happens to a piece of land. For example, the city can “buy” your land at fair market value to widen a road. Usually, the landowner and city are able to negotiate a deal, which is what Halifax has been trying to do with landowners around the wilderness area. The last resort is expropriation, which forces a sale at the fair market value.  It’s based on the idea of the greater good, which is why the province expropriated land for the Maritime Link power line.

So far, city staff have made one purchase — 80 hectares by Hobsons lake in January — from West Bedford Holdings.

That might have inspired other owners to sell but for one thing: a $120 million lawsuit by Annapolis Group, a private company with long history in Nova Scotia. It owns critical portions of the land the city needs and, ironically, claims the land is being effectively expropriated by the delaying in negotiating purchases.

The city says Annapolis “… acquired the majority of its lands in the area prior to 2006 in speculation of potential future serviced urban development. The Plaintiff acquired additional lands in 2014 from Armco Capital and the Sisters of Charity with the same intention.” (Emphasis added.)

Speculation is a common practice: you buy land at a low price and wait for the day it’s worth a lot more, e.g., when cities like Halifax expand.

The land in question is currently assessed at under $2 million, one-sixtieth of what Annapolis is suing for.

In response, the city says it is acting well within its rights. (And it still has the right to expropriate.)

Of course, both parties to this suit have to prove their cases in court, but that’s a problem. City staff have to round up at least 8,000 pages of documents demanded by Annapolis. At the last appearance in Supreme Court, the city was represented by outside counsel, which is expensive. This puts enormous pressure on city hall’s officials and councillors to give up or pay an outrageous price.

But why are we going through this? Do company directors cease being citizens once they’re behind boardroom doors? Maybe you can’t be a board member and my friend Dave at the same time.

Or, maybe you can accept the fact you speculated on some land and lost, which is part of being a developer. Then you can be a citizen for a moment and realize you are standing in the way of an historic project that will improve the lives of everybody in your community and their descendants — forever.

You can sit down with the city and negotiate a fair deal.

For the same reasons, if you’re a councillor, you can stop being afraid and direct staff to begin expropriation. The Utility and Review Board might have to adjudicate, but it’s a lot faster and cheaper than the court system. My guess is the two sides will quickly come to an agreement because, as the saying goes, nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of a hanging.

Other landowners will follow suit and all concerned will be celebrated as legacy-builders.

Annapolis directors*: do the right thing and take your place in history.

Councillors**: grow a pair of ovaries and start the expropriation process. Leave a legacy when your council days are over instead of an empty chair.

*Annapolis directors: C. Robert Gillis, Director; David J. Hennigar, Director; Archibald Colin Hattie, Director; Jason A.O. Weston, Asst. Secretary; Murugesu Sooriyakumaran, VP-Planning & Engineering; April Greencorn, CFO & Corp. Secretary; Archibald Colin Hattie, President; David J. Hennigar, Chairman; Michael Laycock, VP – Development.

**Councillors: Steve Streatch, District 1; David Hendsbee, District 2; Bill Karsten, District 3; Lorelei Nicoll, District 4; Sam Austin, District 5; Tony Mancini, District 6; Waye Mason, District 7; Lindell Smith, District 8; Shawn Cleary, District 9; Russell Walker, District 10; Steve Adams, District 11; Richard Zurawski,  District 12; Matt Whitman, District 13; Lisa Blackburn, District 14; Steve Craig, District 15; Tim Outhit, District 16, Bedford; Mike Savage, Mayor.

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Downloads:

Amended Notice of Defence of HRM filed Apr 5, 2017 re Annapolis

ANNAPOLIS V HRM Amended Notice of Action filed March 22, 2017 re Annapolis

Related posts

Don’t negotiate! Expropriate!

BMBCL parkland potentially worth $67M

 

 

 

 

 

BMBCL parkland potentially worth $67M

BANC

View from Costco on Chain Lake Drive: left, BANC Developments; right, wilderness area. Trees aren’t worth much until someone cuts them down.
NOTE: I have corrected this report to reflect the fact that a much-quoted $6 million figure demanded by developers actually refers to an offer made with respect to just 210 acres. H/T Waye Mason.

A 2013 sale of city-owned land to BANC Developments suggests the land adjacent to the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area could be worth $67 million to its current owners.

But that’s only if is re-zoned to allow development. As it is now, the same land is assessed at only $2.4 million.

Our team of crack analysts also believe that the owners, primarily Annapolis Group and Stevens Group, would prefer to hang on until this or a future council decides to re-open the whole question. This is a manoeuvre known as a “full Rankin”.

SOME BACKGROUND

Halifax Council has decided not once, but twice, to buy the 1,308 acres of designated parkland near the Bayer’s Lake Business Clusterpark. This idea originated in 2006 and it inspired the province to declare roughly 3,200 adjoining acres a protected wilderness area. The city land would be an ecologically vital buffer for the wilderness area and an accessible green-space for folks who aren’t hikers or canoeists. It would be 20 minutes from downtown Halifax and reachable by bus.

The province has done exactly what it promised. And so, really, has Halifax Council. All that remains is for staff to negotiate the terms or start expropriation. They have been directed to do this after due process. The owners want $6 million; the city is offering $2.8 million.

IS COUNCIL SOMEWHAT RESPONSIBLE FOR T-LAB’S OUTRAGEOUS ESTIMATE?

Yes. In 2013, after meeting in secret, Council authorized the sale to BANC Developments Ltd. of 183 acres behind Kent Building Supplies and Staples in Bayer’s Lake. You can easily see the demarcation between wilderness area and BANC’s “developed” land from the Costco parking lot across the street. (Please see photo above.)

At $9.3 million, the sale price is $51,070 per acre. If that price were applied to the 1,308 acres in question, it would work out to $66,799,224.

IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?

No. The Facilitator’s Report rejected by staff last week mentioned 210 acres that Annapolis felt was worth $6 million, vs $2.8 million suggested by the city. In the absence of real information, I think it’s fair to extrapolate, giving us $37.4 million for 1,308 acres. The city’s valuation for those 210 acres extrapolates to $17.4 million. (I do not apologize for these seat-of-the-pants valuations. This is what happens when your government won’t release hard data.)

So, I offer four conjectures for the value of the land:

Mine: $67 million

Annapolis Group: $37.4 million

The city: $17.4 million

Also mine: $2.4 million, based on the total current assessment.

The differences are based on what you’re allowed to do with the land. $67 million is possible if the land is zoned industrial/commercial, like the BANC land. However, if the land cannot be developed in any way, which has been the case for 10 years, I would argue the value is closer to $2.4 million.

In essence, the developers are arguing they should be paid as if the current zoning magically changed in their favour. But it won’t unless Council can be pressured into doing that, so the owners deserve bottom dollar. It’s tough, but that’s business for you.

Again—the direction to staff to buy the acreage as identified almost 10 years ago is done and dusted. Negotiations are taking place in that context. Obdurate Councillor Reg Rankin would have you believe otherwise, but he is as wrong as a flat-earther.

WOULD DELAY BE A GOOD TACTIC FOR THE DEVELOPERS?

 

A favourable re-zoning would be worth big money and worth waiting for.

If it were re-zoned as, say, residential, then you could subdivide and build spectacular lakeside homes for wealthy people right next to a wilderness area and 20 minutes from downtown. The value would jump to at least $67 million, as noted.

IS A FULL-RANKIN REALLY POSSIBLE?

Yes. Council memories fade with time. Sometimes they change their minds after new members are elected. And, sometimes, councils just get tired of dealing with a particular issue and will do anything to move on.

If Turpin Labs were advising the landowners, we would tell them to delay sale until one of those things happens. After all, land only gets more valuable with time. And developers are patient—much of the land hasn’t changed hands in more than 30 years.

WHAT SHOULD COUNCIL DO?

If we were advising Council, we would recommend bringing this deal to a close quickly, even if it means overpaying. Alternatively, there’s expropriation, which would probably put the matter in the hands of the courts. That can be a crapshoot, but there’s just as much risk posed by the ongoing pressure to close the purchase after 10 years of delay.

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT NEXT?

It’s possible someone will propose swapping the 1,308 acres for all or part the  Williams Lake backlands. It would be pitched as a grand compromise but, in fact, would be a $67m rip-off.

Don’t negotiate! Expropriate!

 

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Turpin Laboratories has determined that the $6 million reportedly demanded for private lands within Halifax’s Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park is outrageous.

“It’s whack-a-doodle,” says Bill Turpin,  the Turpin Labs CEO. “If they’re only paying taxes on a $2.4 million assessment,  how can they claim it’s worth $6 million? Maybe they’re paying a special, extra-high tax rates. I dunno.”

In 2008, when the joint provincial/municipal BMBC project became general knowledge, the assessment was even lower — about $2,017,000. (Caveat: both totals are subject to small variations because they do not include small slices of private lots that need to be acquired, and assessments for three lots did not go back as far as 2008.)

Both assessments come from the Property Valuation Services Corporation, which is the same outfit that also assesses homes. Halifax staff think it’s worth about $2.8 million, which is generous.

Interestingly, the total value of the land — owned by the Annapolis Group and the Stevens Group — has increased by 20 per cent in the past eight years, whereas the assessment for the Turpin Laboratories estate in the North End of Halifax has increased by 32 per cent. According to our forestry director, Celestia, the lower gains by the undeveloped land is because “trees don’t have any value until you cut them down.”

In any case, the PVSC says its assessments reflect the true market value: “Nova Scotia property assessments are determined by highly professional and experienced PVSC assessors. Our assessors are trained to value all types of property. 

We assess properties at market value, which is the amount, you, a willing seller, would receive for your property if it were purchased from a willing buyer on the open market … “

There you have it. Argument over, right? Haligonians pay a hefty $2.4 million and we get the land for our park, where trees will remain in place, thus depressing the property value. But it appears that Annapolis and Stevens are not “willingto sell at that price even though, barring the something truly exceptional, it’s the assessment they have been paying taxes on. You can’t have it both ways.

The reason these landowners can even contemplate demanding the $6 million is that pressure to buy the area has been building on Council and staff ever the BMBC project became public. The easy way for Council to get on with their lives would be to pay more than the land is worth. Lots more.

But the money belongs to us, not Council. What are we to do? 

Well, for once, we have the hammer. For once, we get to tell the big boys what to do. Or, as we say here at Turpin Labs: “Don’t negotiate! Expropriate!”

And we pay the lower valuation set in 2008. Why? Because we can, and we’re annoyed with these landowners. 

Don’t be squeamish about this, Haligonians. Expropriation happens all the time, but usually to “ordinary” people.

Detailed assessment information is below. If you punch the “PID” number into viewpoint.ca, you’ll see where each lot is and its assessment history. In Many cases, you can also see Viewpoint’s estimate of their tax bill, e.g., $6,244 for PID 00339598.

PID OWNER Assessment 2008 Assessment Current
00339598 Annapolis  $429,000  $516,000
40725897 Annapolis  $254,500  $332,400
41120577 Annapolis  $233,000  $302,100
40420747 Annapolis  $267,300  $231,500
41269853 Annapolis  $117,200  $134,300
41269879 Annapolis  $47,200  $85,300
41269861 Annapolis  $26,600  $50,700
41365156 Annapolis  $37,100  $37,100
41269929 Annapolis  $29,500  $27,600
41365131 Annapolis  $21,300  $21,300
41269911 Annapolis  $21,900  $17,600
41358086 Annapolis  $1,100  $1,100
40806200 Stevens Group  $498,700  $622,400
40806218 Stevens Group  $26,400  $32,600
40420788 Stevens Group  $6,600  $6,600
  Totals    
  Annapolis  $1,485,700  $1,757,000
  Stevens  $531,700  $661,600
  Grand Total  $2,017,400  $2,418,600