Norfolk General Hospital is expressing interest in checking out 32.4 acres of land that Norfolk County optioned last year for a recreational hub in Simcoe.
Once the province turned down Norfolk’s grant application for an ambitious recreation facility at the corner of Ireland Road and Decou Road in August, the county had no reason to hang onto the parcel and was free to seek a high bidder.
Norfolk staff notified different agencies that the land was available and invited them to have a look. Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess told Norfolk council on Sept. 22 that NGH expressed interest in whether the property fit into their future plans.
However, that was before Norfolk council decided Sept. 15 to follow through on its original plan to sell the land back to the developer from which it was purchased.
At the Sept. 22 meeting, council agreed that parties associated with the Zitia subdivision south of Oakwood Cemetery would have 90 days to repay the nearly $3.5 million Norfolk put up for the land. Council was not interested in waiting to see if the land fits into NGH’s strategic plan.
“It’s a little late in the game for council to be kicking this around,” said Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin. “I wish the hospital well with its endeavours. But if the hospital is interested they can contact the developer directly.”
Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp and Simcoe Coun. Ryan Taylor were the only council members last week interested in maximizing Norfolk’s payback from the land.
The rest of council concluded the community was told that Norfolk would sell the parcel back to the developer if the grant for the hub facility failed to materialize.
Due to the expectations this created, council voted 7-2 for retrieving the county’s investment and not seeking a higher payback for land that appraisers say is worth about double the purchase price.
Chopp expressed disappointment that council was not interested in helping NGH plan for its future. She’s perplexed that council will provide the developer 90 days to organize a refund – up from the 60 days initially proposed in Tuesday’s resolution – but is unwilling to extend the hospital the same courtesy in terms of strategic planning.
A letter in the council agenda indicates the Zitia developers behind the land deal were not happy with the suggestion that Norfolk might seek out a high bidder now that the parcel will not be used for recreational purposes. Paul Halyk said this was not their understanding of how this would play out.
In council’s discussion of the matter on Sept. 15, it was suggested the parcel could serve as a land bank for affordable housing.
“We are disappointed that consideration was given for using subject lands as for anything but what they were intended, specifically a place of community and excellence for sport, recreation, a senior centre as well as an opportunity to engage Fanshawe College ever deeper within the Norfolk community,” Halyk said.
“We applaud council’s decision on the basis of principle that subject lands should only be used as intended.”
Halyk’s disappointment surprised the mayor. Chopp said the developers are sophisticated players who understood this was a business deal. If they were concerned about the county exploring its options in the absence of a government grant and a recreational hub, Chopp said the vendors should’ve covered this off in the purchase agreement.