Why is it that 16 acres of undevelopable land donated by the Glenway developer to the Town of Newmarket is worth over $14M when a 16 acre farm 300 metres away is on the market for $5.5M?  

I'd like to know.

On 14 December 2021 the Town of Newmarket issued an official donation receipt of $14,290,000 to the Glenway developer, Marianneville, for its donation of 16 acres of land in Glenway West, abutting Bathurst Street. (see map below)

Eleven years earlier, on 21 January 2010, Marianneville bought the former 140 acre Glenway Golf Course for the knockdown price of $9,900,000 gambling on getting planning permission to redevelop – which it got

Astonishingly, the donation receipt for 16 acres is worth more than Marianneville paid for the whole 140 acres in 2010.

Money in the bank

Marianneville can use the donation receipt to offset tax owing to the Canada Revenue Agency. It’s as good as money in the bank.  

The Town doesn’t pay anything. For accounting purposes, the donation receipt will appear as revenue in the Town’s financial statements, matched by the acquisition of the land for the same amount.

But who decided the land was worth over $14M? And why isn’t the valuation report available for the public to read? 

The Town has a Donation Policy but valuations are kept confidential. 

So I have no way of knowing if the $14M is a wildly inflated valuation or if it is the going rate, in line with similar gifts of comparable undevelopable land elsewhere.

Fair Market Value

The donation has to be valued at Fair Market Value which is defined as the price the property would bring 

“in an open and unrestricted market and between a willing buyer and a willing seller who are knowledgeable, informed, and acting independently of each other.”

Last month’s sale of the Clock Tower in the heart of the historic downtown for $4,250,000 shows the market at work.  For gifted land, professional valuers must be brought in to assess its value. The donor pays for the valuation.

Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt

The land contains two large stormwater ponds and lies within the Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine where development is strictly controlled. In fact, no development is possible on the donated land. 

On 30 December 2021 Newmarket Today reported

The donated lands are around the former 16th hole of the golf course. (Marianneville’s Joanne) Barnett said that portion of the property was less suitable for development for houses, but worked for a trail system. 

“They supported two stormwater ponds and segued nicely into the woodlot there. It was a nice fit.”

Three hundred metres away, the 16 acre Chesters Chicken Farm, at the corner of Bathurst and Davis Drive West, is up for sale with an asking price of $5,499,000. The land also lies within the Oak Ridges Moraine.

So why the huge difference in value?

Planning considerations

The donated Block 120 is zoned as Open Space. It is located in the settlement area of the Town of Newmarket but it also lies within the Oak Ridges Moraine. The policies of the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP) override the Town’s official plan. 

Municipal planning decisions have to conform with the ORMCP which takes precedence over municipal official plans.

There are other land classifications listed in the Plan such as “Countryside”. And where the land is up for sale the market decides its value.

What $14M could buy

If you Google “land sales on Bathurst Street” you will find other parcels of land for sale. And all these are within the Oak Ridges Moraine on the rural King side of Bathurst.

I see 16230 Bathurst where you can get 23 acres for $5.25M.

Now I see 100 acres in King – within the Oak Ridges Moraine – offered for sale at $12,800,000. For this you get:

“a beautiful mix of open rolling paddocks, hayfields, a lovely woodlot with trails and even a horseshoe-shaped pond.

And what about 16365 Bathurst (this one on the Newmarket side) ) where you can pick up a rather grand house and 37.6 acres for $7,500,000?

The detailed maps of the Greenbelt are here. They show the boundaries of the Oak Ridges Moraine. The Glenway lands (and the donated Block 120) are shown in sheet 31 which covers Newmarket. Aurora and the Oak Ridges Moraine in King are shown in sheet 45.

Personal and sensitive 

The Town keeps the record of donations secret for this reason:

“Charitable giving is normally a personal and sensitive issue. To ensure the privacy of donor information it is necessary to control access to donor and donation information. The Financial Services Department maintains records on all donors and donations received by the Town. A donor may request that his/her gift and/or all information pertaining to that gift remain anonymous.” 

But, surely, that cannot possibly apply to the donated land when the Town itself publicised the gift in 2017 and Marianneville has chosen to speak openly about it.

How can they then shelter behind the veil of confidentiality?

In other cases where donors insist on confidentiality, it should be possible to list the number of donation receipts issued every year with their value together with the number of donors who didn’t want a receipt for tax purposes.

The Marianneville valuation shouldn't be secret. 

We need to have sight of the valuation report and the name of the valuer who prepared it. Why ever not?

The Town's donation policy also takes into account any possible advantage the donation may bring to the donor. (For example, properties overlooking permanent open space may sell for a premium.). 

“Only the Eligible Amount of a donation may be recorded on a donation receipt. If the donor receives any property, services, or other Advantage in consideration of his or her donation, the Fair Market Value (FMV) of the Advantage is deducted from the FMV of the gift to determine the Eligible Amount for the purposes of the donation receipt.” 

Donations and Planning Approval

The policy makes it clear that:

“Donations will not be accepted from persons who have a concurrent application of a permit or license from the Town or an application for planning approval from the Town, or from persons who are bidding for a contract from the Town through a procurement process.”

Marianneville is still waiting for certain approvals for what remains of its Glenway West development but this was anticipated in 2017 by the Town’s then Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, who wrote:

“Marianneville continues to own the balance of the west lands that are not included in this land donation. These lands include a woodlot, stormwater management ponds and former golf course fairways. Should Marianneville file a development application for some or all of these remaining lands, the application will stand on its own and be reviewed in accordance with the prescribed Planning Act process.” 

We would expect no less.

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Update on 1 February 2022 to change "tax receipt" in headline to "charitable donation receipt" for greater accuracy.

Update on 27 January 2022: I have updated my blog to include the new paragraph above headed "Planning considerations"

Note: In his Information Report in 2017, Bob Shelton, told us that, in addition to the land donation, Marianneville had agreed to 

"design and construct trails and related works at its cost on, and adjacent to, the donated lands at a time agreed to with the Town. The trail will connect to the Bathurst Street sidewalk, the existing trail in the Kirby Crescent Park, and Alex Doner Drive. For the portion of the trail proposed on lands retained by Marianneville an easement will be required and provided to permit public access over private land." 

There are 42 km of paved recreational trails in Newmarket and more are planned including multi-use paths. I don’t know the length of the one at Glenway West nor do I know how much it would cost to build. The Town, though, will be responsible for maintaining it.