There are many unanswered questions about the CN proposal to develop an intermodal facility on the 1,000-acre property in the SW portion of Milton. Until those questions are answered I am prepared to put my initial disapproval of this project on hold.
I have read all of the documentation made available by CN, by Halton Region and by the Town as well as watching and listening to both Councillor Duvall and Mayor Krantz in the media, I have to say I can see significant weaknesses in the arguments put forward thus far.
Let’s look at it from the CN side first. I presume CN does not invest in land for general property development returns. Given that they first raised a proposal to build an intermodal facility here at the turn of the century I presume that was their intention when they first acquired the land. I believe they withdrew their original proposal but am unclear as to why they did so at that time.
It has been sometime since I looked at the asking price for unserviced industrial land in Milton but I do recall a few years ago it was in the order of $300,000 per acre so the CN investment must be worth some where in the order of magnitude of $300 million. Currently the only investment yield on that appears to be the rent of the tenant farmers who currently farm it! Small wonder then that after withdrawing their earlier proposal that CN sought to have the lands available for development as soon as possible.
Thus far the questions to CN have appeared to be around the logistics and operation of the facility and its impact on Milton but I wonder if a more fundamental question needs to be asked as to the economic reasons behind the decision! Is this as a result of the usual corporate need to generate an adequate return on investment or is it truly the only or optimal place that a required facility can be built? Once the Town understands that then counter proposals can be prepared! If the question has been asked and I have missed it perhaps it needs to be given wider publicity but I haven’t seen it in any writings by the Region, the Town or its elected Councillors.
If we look at the Town side there are also several questions that need to be asked. Starting with when Town Officials, both elected and staff, first became aware of this proposal. I would have thought that the Economic Development side of the Planning Department would have cultivated an open relationship with such a major landowner particularly after the acrimony that was generated during the 2001 proposal!
We should also bear in mind that phase 1 of the industrial expansion of Milton involved primarily warehousing and logistics facilities, such as the Target warehouse, along the 401/Steeles corridor not just by Milton but also by Halton Hills. Have we not to some degree help build the justification for the new proposal?
Listening to the Mayor on Newstalk 1010 (Jerry Agar show) he expressed concern about lost revenue from Property Taxes. However under the Towns official plan that land is not scheduled to be developed for several years so if CN proceed with their proposal then property taxes would begin to flow earlier – do we have a discounted cash flow to show the results of that, bearing in mind that for the last 2 elections the commencement of developments in Derry Green has been a talking point and as yet nothing has started!
Councillor Duvall in his slot on breakfast TV, as did Mayor Krantz, seemed to indicate that there were other areas in Milton where perhaps the facility could be developed. I asked myself the question if putting it in one area loses tax revenue surely that applies to every area? I also asked myself how that would solve CN’s need for a return on their asset unless they themselves owned the alternate sites? To be fair I realize that in such interview situations the time is brief - all the more important for the talking points to be right on the money!
As I said at the start based on what I currently know I do not believe that the proposal will be good for Milton but I for one will not be rushing to fund a campaign against the proposal at least until more questions are answered both by CN and by Town Hall. In short you get my no vote but not my money!
March 30, 2015