It’s Bad Enough That “The Condo Act” And “Tarion”, Allow Developers To “Exploit Consumers” . . . . But When They Partner With The Municipal Government And “exploit consumers”, Well It Just Becomes Too Much!

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College Park in Toronto offers an excellent example of everything that is wrong with “CondoLand“, a nick name given to our city by Toronto Life Magazine in it’s editorial Feature “Faulty Towers“.

I’ve known of this intimate little piece of green space in the downtown core of the city for almost fifty years.  It is located right in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District immediately behind the original Eaton’s Store.

Today this quiet oasis forms the nucleus of an urban high rise condos concept originally envisioned over a dozen years ago.

Over twenty years ago, this section of the city boasted a few condos like Liberties on Bay, a three building mid-rise with many units in it being marketed back in the 1980’s as having “views of Barbara Green Park”.

Approximately twelve years ago College Park Phase 1 was launched as a “pre-sale” (before construction) offering units with “views over a beautiful park in the heart of the city“.

Approximately eight years ago, the developer launched College Park Phase II between Phase 1 and Liberties On Bay.

About six year ago the same developer and the city worked together to develop “Aura at College Park”, the third high-rise and the highest residential building in Canada at the corner of Gerrard and Yonge, forming the final element to the semi-enclosure of that beautiful 3.5 acre park.

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The developer, over the decade and a half since launching Phase I of College Park Condos, agreed to contribute sufficient funds to offset a complete renovation of the park to the tune of $3.5 Million Dollars.

Consumers bought the park renovation story and that powerful purchasing motivator, coupled with the convenience of this location enabled the developer and the City Government to successfully sell out each and every building.

On top of these three massive residential towers, the developer developed the “Parkview Townhomes“, where in my professional opinion, you will find the most unique townhouses available in the city!

I played a significant roll in the design of this collection of twelve, twenty two hundred square foot, four level townhouse that sit on the insid of towers I and II, right in the park!

The uniqueness of not being located “on a street” cannot be understated.  The developer is at best a “middle market developer” who “sells big” but cuts every corner imaginable.

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I can say this with first-hand knowledge as I was called in by the developer to identify what to do with the land immediately behind the two towers, with knowledge of the coming of Phase III, “Aura at College Park“.  I’m not an architect but I know what sells and that’s what they wanted to know.

I told them that if they built what I told them, that “I would be able to sell all of them within a couple weeks“.  As usual, dealing with this developer, their promise of me getting exclusivity to sell them was not honoured and, after discovering their ad in a condo magazine trying to sell them themselves, and a rather harsh reminder from me on their voice mail of their promises to me I was given seven days to sell the remaining seven units.

I had seven of my real estate clients purchase one and I bought mine immediately overlooking the fountain.  I still own it and, in my opinion it is one of the single best “value luxury residence in downtown Toronto“.

Purely from a practical perspective, the finished design of eleven of the twelve townhouses was, in my opinion, lacking on the developer’s part.   They are notorious for “seeking the lowest bidder” and that seldom makes for a “world class finished product“.

I felt confident that I could manage them to deliver at least a “superior quality product“.  I negotiated my unit to be “custom designed” to be more family-functional, but the developer adamantly refused to do any other custom work.

My theory was that three bedroom plus den homes in the downtown core, being targeted at families must have a “family room“.  If you are using 3 bedrooms you probably have a family with 2 kids, so I designed my townhouse by moving my master suite down onto the third floor and shifting one bedroom with its ensuite bathroom up to the fourth floor, giving the 3rd bedroom its own ensuite bathroom, plus a powder room down on the living room level and giving the home a spacious penthouse family room with expansive terrace overlooking the park.

The rest of the homes unfortunately limit any family’s usage of space, limited to the small living room overlooking the park.  Imagine, you and your 2 kids spending all your time in a 15 x 15 square foot living room.

So, for over a couple decades, the city and developer have “made out like bandits” selling “air space above the ground” surrounding this beautiful little 3.5 acre city park.

The townhouses front onto the park, their front doors actually facing the park but interestingly, the walkways leading up to the townhouses, the lawns of the townhouses, etc. are owned by the City of Toronto, and that’s where the blight on these luxury townhouses originates.

In the Faulty Towers article you will see that the Municipal Government receives anywhere from $8 Million to $10 Million per high rise in development fees, not to mention millions in HST, land transfer taxes, Permit fees, levies, hook-up charges, before the building is even built!

The City and Provincial Government have also enjoyed solid construction employment and aftermarket benefits (furniture sales, lawyers, designers, etc.). We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars potential from just the three towers of College Park (“College Park I, College Park II” and “Aura at College Park“).

The next level of serious cash burden on the consumer are those property taxes. Let’s focus on those for a minute as every approximately 750 square foot of space above the land comprising those three towers equates to on average around $2,000 per year payable to the Municipal Government (City of Toronto).  We’re talking about a couple thousand units (many much larger) paying on average a couple thousands dollars per years!

The focus of today’s blog is the fact that the park was used as the central sales and marketing piece, only to be totally abandoned when all buildings had been sold out by the City Government.

When the townhouses were delivered in 2008, the lawns had sprinkler systems, sod and landscaping installed.  Public taxes were already financing the maintenance and upkeep of the park with its automatic watering system, luscious landscaping, fountain and skating rink.

Now, this is a unique park as it sits above commercial parking (every square inch of College Park makes constant income streams for the developer, its partners and investors plus the City) and the below infrastructure networking all of the commercial components of all these buildings.

So, you would think that with everyone making out so well, the City Government and the developer as well as the provincial government through the boost and what proved to be the key employment industry, that they consumer, the person who put down the cash to pay for their “dream home or investment in the sky“.

Tragically, that’s not the story at College Park.  After spending years “selling” condo buyers and investors on a $3.5 Million Dollar Park Upgrade paid for by the developer“, and having College Park Phase I and College Park Phase II fully built and occupied and paying those annual property taxes and the Parkview Townhouses fully sold, built and occupied, the City chose to “destroy the park“!

They shut off all water to the park allowing the park to quickly fall into disrepair.  Especially due the to existence of the Provincial Courts in College Park on Yonge Street at College, the park has become a meeting place for troubled youth and misfits, culminating in a broad daylight rape in the park in the morning rush hour (police came to my door).

I had heard the flimsy justification about the park’s demise being caused by Aura, but the facts show that Aura did not impose into the park at all in the four and half years or so that it has taken to be built.

And all the while, these thousands of consumers who bought the story of the $3.5 Million Dollar park rejuvenation have discovered that it has remained not only a sales “shell game“, but it has proven a gross neglect of the City Government to at minimum live up to it’s obligations to taxpayers to at least “continue to deliver the services already budgeted for in maintaining the park“.

The City Government has enjoyed a “windfall income” from College Park, collected millions in permits, construction fees, application fees, etc., from the developers plus property taxes from thousands of residents of College Park but cut off already funded maintenance of the park, driving it into disrepair unquestionably imposing a significant negative impact to real estate values and taxpayer’s pride of ownership.

Prices on these townhouses have not mirrored Toronto’s market and the blight of the park cannot be underemphasized as the cause.  This is 100% in the city’s control and the maintenance budgets were already being fully met!

The City voluntarily cut off services allowing “an asset of the taxpayers” to degrade yet the City continued to collect its property taxes.

It is simply unfathomable that our elected officials cannot see this.  Alderman Wong (whom I blogged about earlier commenting on her taxpayer funded elaborate self-promotional brochure) seems to tell us that she is fully watching over Toronto’s parks, specifically including Collage Park, yet the park continues to be an eye sore and an insult to the thousands of taxpayers who “bought into the park storey“.

Aura is now fully built, registered (the developer has gotten its money) and occupied yet the park remains blighted!   The city has informed everyone, once again that 2016 will see the revitalization of the park commence.

Everyone’s hands are clean, but those condo owners that bought park views and wanted to stroll in the park, that back before the city chose to desert it, was beautiful with it’s pulsating multi-head fountain shooting fifteen feet in the air all summer and then switching into a beautiful skating rink (names after Canadian Olympic figure skater Barbara Ann Scott) in the winter time.

One year into residency, the city chose to shut down the park and it has remained a nightmare ever since.  City truck continually drive over the front lawns making them an eye sore.  Fences that had been promised to buyers were never intended to be included and the city balked when the condo board asked that the owners be given minimal privacy with either a fence of landscape.

My question is simple.  Why are taxpayers left in the lurches in this type of situation when we voted in Alderman Ms. Wong-Tam, to represent our best interests and all we get are colourful, self-promotional glitzy brochures.

Taxpayers have paid heavily to enjoy the lifestyle that this refurbished park was intended to give them and they have been left with a significant negative in having lost the park!

I have long said, and published that the city owes each owner in College Park a realistic portion of their property taxes refunded to them for the willful disregard in fulfilling their obligations to protect these consumer’s best interests.

There is absolutely no logistical reason why the park has been allowed to decay in this manner.  It’s maintenance was fully paid for from property taxes before the development of condos in the park.

The City has enjoyed a massive income from the developer and through application fees, development fees, levies, hook-up charges, added to the fully funded budgets already in place a decade ago of this park, in a city with the nickname “A City Within A Park” it just seems like the “ultimate hypocrisy” for City officials to now propagandize their successes with its parks.

I’m Charles

 

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