Many of Ontarians living within the GTA would recognize the ever-growing trend of intensification within existing urban centers, converting traditional commercial and industrial areas into multi-storey residential/commercial condominiums. Former commercial and industrial activities may have contributed or caused the property to become contaminated leaving the properties vacant or underutilized. The process of converting these vacant and underutilized contaminated properties into a space that can be better utilized by the community is known as brownfield redevelopment.
The existence of brownfield redevelopment appears within many urban and rural communities across Ontario, but generally occur on properties that have had a history of a known contaminating activity where site remediation will be required to allow for smarter urban growth. Brownfield properties have had a history of being left vacant for long periods of time as the costs to remediate these properties can be expensive and pose a large risk to developers while municipalities overlooked the significant environmental, social, and economic benefits that brownfield redevelopment has on the surrounding communities. Although brownfield property owners may incur the environmental problems associated with the property, many benefits arise by obtaining approval to redevelop the site, including:
- Brownfield properties tend to be sold below market value
- Allows for development in desirable locations (ex. Along waterways or in downtown cores)
- Increases property assessment values
- Commonly have access to existing municipal infrastructure and established transportation networks
- Can apply for municipal financial incentives
Recognizing these benefits, municipalities in Ontario offer Brownfield Financial Tax Incentive Programs (BFTIP) to brownfield property owners in order to encourage remedial activities and development towards a more productive community. Municipalities incentivise brownfield redevelopment due to the benefits the project may have on the community, including:
- Preservation of green spaces, agricultural land, and natural heritage systems such as the Greenbelt
- Reduces urban sprawl
- Increases government revenue by providing effective land utilization including high density housing and commercial storefronts
- Reduces public health and safety issues by removing or cleaning contaminated land, water, and air from the community
- Promotes growth of formerly unproductive areas within the community
Benefits of brownfield redevelopment can be recognized by both the owner and the municipality, so what are the steps involved in completing a brownfields redevelopment?
To obtain approval to develop a brownfield site, the property owner must provide the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MECP) environmental site assessments (ESAs) indicating that the property complies with the MECP’s applicable site condition standards or standards defined within a risk assessment followed by submitting a record of site condition (RSC) on Ontario’s Environmental Site Registry.
The process of obtaining the required approval to begin brownfield redevelopment begins with obtaining a qualified person to conduct the environmental site assessments and submit the RSC to the MECP on the property owner’s behalf. A Phase I ESA would entail a detailed historical review of the site and all properties within a 250 m radius of the site, a site inspection, and interviews with knowledgeable people or regulatory agencies to determine actual and/or potential sources of environmental contamination. Once a Phase I ESA has identified all actual and/or potential sources of contamination, a Phase II ESA would be conducted to quantify the extent of the contamination on-site. A Phase II ESA can establish the horizontal and vertical extents of contamination within the soil, ground water, and sediment on the property in preparation for remedial activities.
Site remediation would commence upon identification of the impacted areas on the site. The goal of site remediation is to ensure that all actual and/or potential sources of contamination on-site are addressed and indicating that the subsurface media comply with the MECP’s applicable site condition standards as defined.
Upon completion of the environmental site assessments and site remediation, a qualified person can submit a RSC to the MECP for review. The RSC summarizes the environmental condition of the property and lays out the steps taken in order to get the property into compliance with the applicable site condition standards. The RSC review process is completed by the MECP to ensure the environmental assessments performed on the brownfield property were conducted in accordance to Ontario Regulation 153/04. Typically, the review process is completed within six (6) weeks of the RSC submission however, this timeline can be delayed if further work is to be performed or revisions are required.
As a brownfield property owner, obtaining an RSC approval is a crucial step in the development application approval. The filling of a RSC indicates that the property has met the required regulatory criteria based on the proposed change in the land use, ultimately reducing the property owner’s liability.