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Blue Box, Grey Box, Green Box -- Canadians have embraced recycling on many levels. One southeastern Ontario city has taken recycling a step further, to encourage creation of "like-new" land for urban development.

Kingston, located half-way between Toronto and Montreal, is the first municipality to embrace Ontario's Brownfields Financial Tax Incentive Program (BFTIP), officially launched in October 2004. BFTIP should facilitate the recycling of serviced land that has lain dormant, underutilized and contaminated for far too long. This program allows Ontario's 445 municipalities to cancel, or reduce, municipal property taxes on eligible brownfields properties, and allows the province to match municipal tax treatment in the education portion of the property tax.

"Brownfields" are former industrial and commercial lands, usually significantly polluted, that are typically located along waterfronts, waterways, old highways and railway lines. Redevelopment would open up urban industrial areas and waterfronts, reducing urban sprawl, maximizing existing infrastructure and increasing municipal tax revenue. Before brownfield legislation, regardless of the source of pollution, property owners were responsible for clean up.

In contrast, "greenfields," unpolluted, undeveloped lands, located on the periphery of urban areas, have been the target of extensive recent development because they are in "dig and go" condition. Since greenfields are often ideal for agriculture, recreation or both, the housing boom continues to remove arable land from food-production and green space from public access while developers pocket profits.

"Developers will be attracted because there is an economic advantage," said Joe Davis, Senior Project Manager of Kingston's Planning and Development Services Department, explaining that the expense of clean-up has been a barrier to redevelopment. "The legislation was designed to level the playing field between greenfields and brownfield sites. This program allows us to tip the balance in favour of brownfields. It is costly, but the technology is all there to clean these sites up so everybody wins."

Creating a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) was the first step for Kingston. Since millions in tax revenues are at stake, this painstakingly-detailed process required considerable analysis and local input into revitalizing local unused properties, while conserving land and other resources. The province recently approved the city's CIP, which includes significant emphasis on cleaning up industrial areas containing 529 properties near the downtown core. Many of the 201 hectares (497 acres) were originally developed in the 1880s. For example, the 15-hectare Davis Tannery site, closed since the late 1960s, sits vacant on the Kingston waterfront while another former industrial site is currently a parking area.

Davis explains the provincial and municipal financial incentives involved in Kingston's urban revitalization program as follows:

  1. The city offers up to C$10,000 for an environmental property assessment, to ascertain which properties are contaminated brownfields.
  2. If a proposed development fits into the CIP, the developer will qualify for full exemption from development charges and associated fees through a municipal bylaw approved in August 2004.
  3. Under the BFTIP, when a developer's application is approved, the education portion of municipal taxes will be cancelled until the development is complete.
  4. Once the property is redeveloped and the new tax rate is assessed, the developer is eligible to receive 80 per cent of the difference between the pre-development taxes and the new tax rate, as a grant for a period of ten years, or until the cost of rehabilitating the site has been offset.

Some sites will be more attractive to developers than others and all may not be developed, but Davis emphasizes that in-fill residential development with mixed-use commercial will revitalize the area, encourage other owners to redevelop, create economic spin-offs, and establish a higher tax rate in the eleventh year.

The standards of environmental clean up will not be compromised by BFTIP. Final site approval must be received from the Ministry of Environment before construction may begin.

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