On the path to prosperity, we are more than sideways


(Ruth Mitchell stands in her former house in this September 2015 file photo.)

Last September, I did a piece on Ruth Mitchell, who sold her house to the city to make room for a Laurier Boulevard extension into a planned northwest industrial park.

Mitchell did not have to give up her home of 30 years because of expropriation – but to her it felt pretty close.

I feel like I've been bullied. It's just too fast,” she said at the time.

Mitchell recounted conversations with city economic developer Dave Paul in which the latter said: “'Brockville prides itself; we never, ever had to expropriate anybody, but we would.”

That made her feel pressured to sell.

(Paul did not dispute that version of events, but stressed expropriation was put on the table not as a threat, but for the sake of transparency.)

Now, however, Brockville’s proud streak of acquisitions without expropriation is coming to an end.

News of the pending expropriation of another tract of land in the still-to-be industrial park is being held up as evidence that another winning streak, the one the city most wanted, the one involving lots of new jobs, is not yet close to getting started.

Let’s rewind to that September interview for a minute.

City officials acknowledged the rapid sale was causing Mitchell hardship, but pointed to an overriding public good.

In early September 2015, Paul and others were urgently talking about a client ready to set up a business in the new industrial area as soon as zoning was changed. Hundreds of jobs were riding on that quick home sale.

"If we did not have a client, if we did not have hundreds of jobs on the line here, we could take our time," Paul said back then.

Fast forward to now. There is no client in sight for the still-vacant land, while Giant Tiger is gearing up to build a huge distribution centre in Johnstown.


What is more certain is the change of fortunes for the city’s industrial expansion plans.

Back in September, there was talk of rezoning the new industrial park in November and moving quickly to get it on a market hungry for increasingly large tracts of land.

In October, there was talk of a done deal between the city and all the landowners who needed to sell for it to be a reality.

Now, rezoning seems a long way away and the final done deal will have to be done, it appears, through a land acquisition method made infamous by Donald Trump.




No one will dispute the city’s need for larger areas of land to market to potential employers. And there are not very many large tracts of land readily available for conversion to industrial use.

Critics fault council all the time for “not creating jobs.” Well, when you’re tiny, border-confined Brockville, this is one of the ways left of doing that.

But expropriation? Pressure sales? Imminent deals failing to materialize?

What the hell just happened?

In the words of the city manager, the land sale in question “went a little bit sideways.”

The whole process, however, appears not only sideways at the moment, but at an oblique angle to reality.

If city hall is to straighten that direction, a public explanation, with a restated, more realistic map and timeline, would be a good place to start.