Tannery Update

The “Tannery Project” has a long history and this needs to be understood before going further. There is a lot of misunderstanding about both its scope and practicality – but at the next Committee of the Whole (CoW) Council meeting, Rob Franklin, Manager of Long Range Planning, will ask council to give final approval for an enabling By-Law. If passed, the Official Plan and Zoning will then be modified to enable the Master Plan for the Area. The first thing to know is that the Master Plan covers an area much larger than just the vacant Tannery land; secondly, there is still pollution on the property and thirdly, there is no indication that any developer is interested in creating the Master Plan’s vision of a sustainable development – which supposedly includes affordable housing.

But first, let’s look at the history of the property (see Resources for sources of this info):

History of Tannery Land

  • Originally site of Crossen Car works – a very successful factory used to manufacture railway carriages in the 1800’s. Details here at Cobourg History site.
  • The Crossen factory closed in 1915, and Dominion Wheel & Foundries Limited took over just two years later. A tannery was first established on the Alice Street property in 1926.
  • The plant was abandoned in 1988 and the building demolished in 2007. The Town held two tax sales – most recently in 2012 – but they failed (no-one was interested. No details were ever released – the grapevine tells me offers were received but not accepted).
  • Environmental assessments revealed contamination consistent with operation of the Tannery. The only good news was that “Interpretation of these results indicate that the contamination on the site is stable and slowly dissipating”.
  • In 2009, a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) was prepared for the area and “the Town held a design charrette to explore planning and design features to maximize the environmental sustainability of future development within the Tannery Site”.
  • The Town took ownership of the property in July 2014 and issued an RFP for development but there was no interest.
  • In 2015 Council asked staff to prepare a Secondary Plan for the Area.
  • In March 2018, a master plan was presented to the Public. This covered an expanded Area.
  • There were public meetings on the project in 2017, 2018 and 2021.

The Master Plan focused on creating a sustainable community which “envisions the Tannery District as a unique, healthy, vibrant and sustainable neighbourhood that promotes innovative development typologies and encourages diverse economic development opportunities.”

At the public meeting in 2021, we were told that the plan would be implemented in phases with the first phase limited to the Town-owned land.  This would be a housing development with some “park” area and a goal of 25% “affordable”.

Tannery District Plan
Tannery District Plan

The image here is “the Demonstration or Concept Plan for one possible scenario for how development might occur.”

If it happens it would be a model community. The Town says: “The Tannery District can become a showcase for Cobourg as a sustainable, transit-oriented mixed-use community and employment node that prioritizes the reduction of environmental impact, increases cultural and social connectivity and the creation of economic opportunities for the community and the region.”

Since 2021, the project has been on hold but now, the final master Plan is published and Council is being asked to approve enabling changes to the Official Plan and Zoning. Although the area covers from the Railway line to University, and George to Ball/Victoria Streets, there is no plan to ask or even encourage existing businesses to close – the planned Spring Street extension would go right through the GM Dealership on University. So it really is a LONG RANGE plan – only when businesses want to re-sell their property, would it come into effect; the new owner would be bound by this plan.

Meanwhile, the vacant land stands undeveloped with no interest from developers – probably because of the contamination. Don’t hold your breath waiting for affordable housing to be built here.


Articles and information on Cobourg News Blog

Other Sources

On Town Web site

The Town’s web site is currently really bad (many broken links, information missing, poor navigation, no search) although one section is good: the escribe pages with council meeting info. But surprise! Last I checked, these links worked:

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23 April 2023 11:05 am

Note to Ben :

I know you don’t want to believe this
But the large Hotel Franchise that has been trying to get its project off the ground here in Cobourg has Zoned , Severed , Bonded , provided Letter of Credit , Studied every thing requested Deeded the road way to the Town obtained the severance with terms and still can’t get it off the ground . Again Why ? They moved the Goal Posts again
The Town has changed and stalled the Site Plan Agreement over and over .
Yet this Group have purchased Raw land , serviced , zoned and built 4 hotels in different communities to the east in the same 4 yrs they have Farted around in Cobourg on just 1 that we really Need . New Jobs , Taxes etc what more can I say .

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Sandpiper
23 April 2023 12:11 pm

Note to Sandpiper:
“You know the Property on Elgin by the YMCA the developer had services Stubbed into the property nearly 20 yrs ago and 2 foundations for Town Homes”

Ben explained several times:
“Absolutely and if the applicants returned the paperwork needed and requested they will be able to hook up!”

It’s not often that one gets the opportunity to watch a person flog a dead horse over and over again and again, but I want to thank Sandpiper for his oblivious intransigence against Cobourg’s Planning Dept. It is very entertaining to watch facts fail to penetrate his arguments.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
23 April 2023 1:12 pm

Lets Get Real for a Moment
Its very hard to alter the thinking of those that derive their jobs incomes and Pensions
from such Governments That would be biting the hand that feeds you and probably against some sort of Confidentiality / Employment rule of speaking out against the department . What you 2 fail to understand is the fact that the Paper work was returned to the Town over and over ! It takes months to get it back from the Town and they change what they wanted from the Towns wish list & Pre Consultations and plannings original requirements as set out by the Town initially .

You want to turn it around and make it look like the Developers who have $$$ Millions tied up here —That they like loosing money , that they are holding thems selves up These people use Professional Planners and Engineers at huge cost to do their presentations and paper pushing .

Reply to  Sandpiper
23 April 2023 12:11 pm


The issue, as you’ve indicated before, is the lack of sewer treatment capacity. Waste treatment plant 1 (King St W) is operating at maximum capacity. There has been no indication from the Works Dept about how or when this will be fixed.

Reply to  Bryan
24 April 2023 5:23 am

Bryan Plant1 has been at capacity for years, sewage is being rerouted to plant 2 which has capacity, this is a ‘red herring’.

Reply to  ben
24 April 2023 8:35 am

Not Really Tribute and Stalwood have that capacity nailed down
in fact what we were told by Planning 2 moths ago was there was just enough for Tribute Phase 1 before capacity upgrades had to be implemented Why else a new Water Tower over that way . .May be they were mistaken ?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Sandpiper
24 April 2023 9:29 am

What does a water tower have to do with sewer capacity?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
24 April 2023 10:50 am

Ken S & Sandpiper,

The water tower is not needed. The needed functionality can be provided by by booster pumps at significantly less cost. This is why numerous Ontario towns and cities do not have water towers. They are not cost effective and do not provide significant additional benefits for the extra cost.

Reply to  Bryan
24 April 2023 2:27 pm

I read the report some time ago and it gave a great explanation as to why water towers were preferred. I believe it was something along the lines cheaper long term I.e. less maintenance. Also things such as redundancy and emergency supply during natural disasters. Do not quote me on any of that but the report goes into detail if you look it up.

Reply to  Ahewson
24 April 2023 4:14 pm


I have read the report.
It fails to discuss alternatives that provide the same functionality at a significantly reduced cost. Further, the report provides no information or analysis of total cost of ownership for the water tower or for the alternative solutions which are not discussed at all.

Reply to  ben
24 April 2023 12:29 pm

Not a red herring at all.
Plant 1 is at/over capacity and plant 2, while having has capacity today, is at/over capacity when current development commitments are considered.
Further, the system’s ability to transfer load from plant 1 to plant 2 is quite limited and likely near capacity as well.

The tannery, Holiday Inn, towns & apartments next to the YMCA, etc are unlikely to be built any time soon without additional sewage treatment capacity. The alternative is to dump the overflow into the lake, or perhaps tanker truck it to another facility

A question. Why has(did) the Town engaged a consultant ($50K) to do a sewage flow study (collection system) when the real issue is lack of treatment plant capacity?

Last edited 1 month ago by Bryan
Reply to  Sandpiper
25 April 2023 5:58 am

Hey Sandpiper,
Would you by chance have any financial interest in any of the projects you are complaining about?
Land speculators should be up front about these things.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Drew
25 April 2023 8:49 am

Why, Drew? Does having a personal financial interest in a project make incompetence acceptable? We should all be grateful to anyone who identifies problems in a town department.

Reply to  Drew
25 April 2023 8:51 am

Not a Nickle $$ in any of them Retired
Just concerned about the Red Tape , and time it takes any outside developer to get
projects processed and Approved in this Town .
But I can tell you there are a lot of Local Jobs other than Construction being lost and good jobs for younger people and families that will keep them in Northumberland .

22 April 2023 11:18 am

Ben Did you know they just asked to have an Arborist study to be done after 5 yrs of submissions on a couple of acre lot
in a CORN field where there is not a tree in sight , and Herbicides have been used for decades . YOU SURLEY KNOW That they these departments have the ability to Waive Studies
just as the have the wright to ask for them The DIFFERANCE is Creation of Red Tape keep some work in progress on the table — Job Preservation and The Lack of Common Sense .

20 April 2023 1:58 pm

A rebuttal to Sandpiper, he stated that some developments around town have been held up because of the Planning Dept. So I asked the Planning Dept. about his specific mentions; here is the answer:. It seems that three of the four developments are awaiting applicant submission, the other one is in site-plan development.

DePalma Developments , – active file, working on site plan agreements for hotel & road extension

The land next to Can . Tire , – active file, waiting for detailed design submission drawings from applicant

The High density project next to the YMCA , -active file, waiting for site plan drawing submission from applicant
Sidbrook ,

George and Buck st Seniors apartment building – active file, waiting for site plan drawing submission from applicant

Wally Keeler
Reply to  ben
20 April 2023 4:41 pm

Thanks for this Ben.

Reply to  ben
22 April 2023 4:38 pm

Explain why we need an Arborist study on a Corn Field did you ask that
or did you hear what they wanted you to hear
Active Files for How Long How long between responses from Planning 6 Months if you bug them and your lucky
The First 3 or 4 expired in process or had to resubmit that means Redo and new studies
The rest have been 4 yrs in the works with the Present Owners .
When do we stop defending Stagnation and poor Management within these department .
Premier Ford would not be all over this and Red Tape in the Planning Depts if it wasn’t a real issue that his people have Identified in Driving up Affordable Building in a Timely fashion .

Reply to  Sandpiper
22 April 2023 6:30 pm

I guess that not only do you accuse the planning department of holding things up but also don’t believe what they are saying. Three of the four I cited are awaiting submissions from the applicant. Stop digging a hole and admit that you may be confused!

Reply to  ben
23 April 2023 9:14 am

Yes 4 years Old and Older on those submissions one the Town never cashed the Applicants cheque held it for 6 months Thats from the Latest Developers not the preceding developers that Gave up and walked away this is the Issue It takes for ever to get any Submissions through and approved never mind the fact that site plan you talk about has been in the works for 3 yrs + . You know the Property on Elgin by the YMCA the developer had services Stubbed into the property nearly 20 yrs ago and 2 foundations for Town Homes
They are there hidden in the Brush and left to Ruin Why ??
We should have had a 90 + unit apartment building and 40 Town homes
built there long ago

Reply to  Sandpiper
23 April 2023 10:38 am

“You know the Property on Elgin by the YMCA the developer had services Stubbed into the property nearly 20 yrs ago and 2 foundations for Town Homes”

Absolutely and if the applicants returned the paperwork needed and requested they will be able to hook up!

19 April 2023 3:23 pm
19 April 2023 11:28 am

Now that I have heard several other comments on this proposal
one thing comes to mind — several properties will become devalued
under the revised &.Future Uses . Setting the costs of Contaminant clean up aside ( Huge )
the cost of residential land in this area price pre acre next to the tracks busiest line in Ont — unless high density high rise 10 story Then the land values —
will be far less than its present land use values of existing Commercial / Business and present day industrial . Not to mention the set backs from the Rail Lines for residential is 4 times that of industrial / commercial applications . Thus sterilizing some lands as to use and value
My question is Who compensates the land owners for loss through devaluation when this becomes the Towns new OP or Zoning Bylaw imposed , Will the Property Tax Assessments be amended promptly when this comes into effect . ????

19 April 2023 9:10 am

What might be helpful for further discussion would be an overlay outlining proposed and current developments (under construction) as well as town owned land, on a Google Earth snapshot.
Best to see what is proposed and taking place, in it’s entirety.

Reply to  Malcom
19 April 2023 9:33 am

And How long some have been at the Planning Table .
They must be a reason some very viable properties still remain
undeveloped after 10 of 15 yrs .

Reply to  Sandpiper
19 April 2023 2:12 pm

tell us all why sandpiper!

Reply to  ben
19 April 2023 3:29 pm

Hey Ben, why don’t you simply pick a reason – as if Sandpiper has some inside track on information. I would suggest that among the myriad of reasons, the most significant reason for the lack of progress is the lack of leadership. Getting a brownfield project, of this size, off the ground during a 4-year term is a monumental undertaking requiring a highly skilled visionary leader with the ability to bring people together. The Tannery District project is the stuff that legacies are made out of…that person isn’t on Council today and hasn’t been in my time as a resident.

Reply to  Rob
19 April 2023 4:40 pm

Rob I asked sandpiper to tell as he is famous for asking questions that he thinks he has the answers for. For instance he keeps telling us that the site by the YMCA is being held up by planning – for 30 years after approval – give me a break!

Reply to  ben
20 April 2023 9:25 am

lol – oh I know Ben…. 🙂

Reply to  ben
22 April 2023 11:35 am

BEN You Obviously didn’t know that several applications had been made on the Elgin st property ,not by the land owner but by a user
the land developer brought to town

. You also don’t know what planning & Eng. do in their respective departments—- Not all is revealed to Council .
There would have been a New Long term Care Age in place facility
there by now But Planning not Council decided that the user could have a Not For Profit facility there But as they were For Profit
Rezoning and land use changes were required and they would not process the Request / App .
Please Can you explain the difference in Land use of a Badly needed Retirement / Nursing Home For or Not For Profit .
We Lost Jobs Taxes as a For Profit pay and family Seniors are being shipped all over to available space in this province these day

Reply to  Sandpiper
22 April 2023 1:29 pm

Perhaps some robust reporting from planning to the CAO and Council on a quarterly basis is needed. Several reports may be needed:

Subdivision agreements:
Closed in the quarter,
Security deposits
In default

Development applications
Date received
Closed in the quarter
Type of development
Estimated project cost
Estimated Town fees
Estimated Property taxes
Zoning changes pending
Water capacity available
Sewer capacity available
Documents pending
Planed “shovel in the ground” date

Other suggestions…..

19 April 2023 8:49 am

Great Now that this Tannery Dream is out of the way
researched , dreamt about , and revised for the Umteenth time Lets put it on the Back Burner .
again Now
The Planning Department and Council can get on with some Real Business
like Expeditious responses to other viable projects with willing developers
Like DePalma Developments , The land next to Can . Tire , The High density project next to the YMCA , Sidbrook , George and Buck st Seniors apartment building May be a Parking structure Down Town Etc Etc

19 April 2023 8:48 am

LET’S HAVE A BOTANNICAL GARDEN. Plants can’t sue us if they die of contaminated soil.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  What'sUpDoc
19 April 2023 10:30 am

Now that’s an interesting idea. The Cobourg Horticultural Society, the Willow Beach Field Naturalists, the Cobourg Ecology Garden are all volunteer orgs with specific skills that could work together to make that happen. Populate it exclusively with indigenous trees, bushes, flowers. The Town is largely seniors, so such a park would appeal to them. No need for playground equipment, or space for a sport, because those are available within walking distance elsewhere. Perhaps five or six picnic tables at the south end, otherwise only benches along winding gravel paths. (Gravel effectively discourages skateboarding etc) Perhaps a gazebo styled like the bell tower on Victoria Hall, with enough room to hold a five person musical group without amplifiers.

When trees mature there, the Town could hold a bird house competition for the public, then install the top five for one year, another five the following year. Year by year the park becomes richer in natural foliage, natural bird inhabitant, (Trees will discourage Canada Geese flying onto an open field) Design a corner of it as a butterfly waystation.

The point is that there is an empty space available for all the public to enjoy for generations to come, or will it be for the private property enjoyment of well-money people exclusively and forever?

It is an empty space that the public can fill with their collective imagination and enjoy collectively forever. Or will it be a space of private property, divvied into private gardens, private trees, and the public at large will have the enjoyment of walking thru their streets to access the meadow at the bottom.

Yes, a meadow. That’s what it is south of the boardwalk and Ecology Garden. What kind of a Town has a large meadow downtown? A wonderful Town.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
20 April 2023 8:52 am

Yes I believe the Town should clean up the property if this were privately owned By Law would be all over them .. How ever Park s cost Money ! to up keep up and maintain There where homeless encampments all over that property for the last few years you just couldn’t see them for the trees . So will it be safe for seniors to just stroll around with out Policing Oops more cost ! And another thing Money People as you put it have options and choices Why would anyone with options and $$$ want to live next to a busy Rail Line
Not a good investment Wally .

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Sandpiper
20 April 2023 10:50 am

I was describing the former CDCI track ground down next to the boardwalk.

Reply to  Wally Keeler
20 April 2023 11:58 am

Its still not to safe at night down there
used to be but again the homeless like the beach as well

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Sandpiper
20 April 2023 12:37 pm

Many Irish fled to Canada during the potato famine. Many debarked at Cobourg on the same pier on which Susanna Moodie began her Canadian writing career. The Irish camped on the beach. Many were diseased and it was a good quarantine place. They were dirty, disheveled, and sometimes a righteous individual called for the removal of these wretches, or losers, some might say. Instances of an Irish person vomiting into the sand were spread thru the community. Back in the 60’s some righteous townfolk complained about dirty disheveled long-haired hippies sleeping on the beach. Horrors. So Foster Russell, editor and publisher of the Cobourg Sentinel Star, wrote a story about how he saw a small group of hippies around a campfire on the sand on the beach around the area of the sensory garden is today. He wrote that he returned the next morning before going to the office. The hippies were gone. He walked to the site and saw no burnt anything, but on the way back, saw that the hippies put all of the fire debris in the metal trash container.

19 April 2023 8:36 am

Now if we could only do something with the Sidbrook and Brookside properties!!!

Wally Keeler
Reply to  CiW
19 April 2023 12:18 pm

If only we had the money to do something with the Sidbrook and Brookside properties!!!

Pete M
Reply to  Wally Keeler
19 April 2023 8:26 pm

Opportunity missed by Town and County.
Sidbrook should have been expropriated by County and Town and turned into County Archives with building serving as a representation and legacy to the American Summer Colony of years past.
Displays could set up inside showing history of area from First nations thru to now, Rice Lake, The Depot, The Northumberland Regt, The Durham Regt, The Canadian Northern Railway, Cobourg Ptbo Railway, Trent Severn Waterway, The one room school houses from.port hope to brighton
Think on what can displayed and what people can learn about the history of their communities.There are stories waiting to be told and shared. Sidbrook and Strathmore are two of those vehicles to help tell those stories

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Pete M
19 April 2023 10:02 pm

I’m afraid that Sidbrook is beyond recovery. The interior is rotting away from roof leaks, and there is a opening to the sky for weather to enter. It would take a ton of money just to bring it up to code, let alone bring it up to museum standards. Expropriation doesn’t mean the Town gets it for free. The current owner may reject the price, or may reject the idea of expropriation, and then we have a costly legal battle. And really, for what? And would it be worth it? Let a private housing developer have their way on it. Brookside, though, is in good shape, but we should be wary that Brookside doesn’t become Brokeside.

Pete M
Reply to  Wally Keeler
20 April 2023 6:36 am

You re right. What a lost opportunity.
Sad to watch the building go thru demolition by neglect.

Cobourg taxpayer
19 April 2023 12:09 am

I now understand why Rob Franklin is called a long range planner because this plan he’s working on will likely not be built in his life time or most of the rest of us on this blog. Nothing irks current land use owners more then being told their properties are losing current zoning and therefore land value plummets. The actual tannery property is all the town should focus on at this time as that’s all they own and try to get that developed but as has happened in the past no developer has shown any interest. contamination is an issue as is being dictated to as what can be built there. If a developer is not going to profit there is no interest. The inclusion of subsidized housing also has developers showing no interest. Unfortunate there is little detail as to why past proposals were turned down by council likely because money the town had already spent would not be recouped, but the taxpayer will never know.

18 April 2023 9:01 pm

Time for the town to get the federal and provincial to help and clean up the property
Federal government is spending billions to clean up Port Hope , probably less than 10 million to clean up the Tannery than sell the property to the County for affordable housing
Victoria style apartments blocks would fit the town

18 April 2023 3:30 pm

Let’s turn the Tannery lands into a train spotting park. Low cost, low impact,
tourist potential and honours Crossen Works.

18 April 2023 1:57 pm

That is one monstrous slice of big-city-style ghetto they have contrived to drop into our small-town milieu – all straight lines, right angles and hard masonry surfaces packed into a few blocks.

Totally out of context with its environment. Back to the drawing board, everyone!

Last edited 1 month ago by JimT
18 April 2023 1:44 pm

Interesting and, as you point out John, long range.

The tannery’s brownfield status will continue to be a development disincentive. It would be interesting to know how much the Town has invested in the “tannery land: unpaid taxes, legal, consultants, CIP, brownfield testing, upkeep.

It will be interesting to see how the current property owners react when they learn that this plan significantly restricts the type and number of potential buyers for these properties. I wonder if there is an estimate of the impact on “tannery area property value.

There may be ways around the planning requirement however. For example: if a property is owned by a corporation and the purchaser buys the corporation, the property continues to be owned by the corporation even though the corporation’s owner has changed.

It could be a very long time before the car dealership lands become available to “join” the tannery

Reply to  Bryan
18 April 2023 4:05 pm

Never know Bryan – word is out GM is in trouble again. Perhaps dealerships will be reduced.

Pete M
Reply to  Dave
19 April 2023 7:05 am

Further to Dave’s post:


Governments can put in place all the mandates they want to eliminate ICE vehicles. But if the auto manufacturers dont have the capacity to build and haven’t learned how to integrate the technology for mass production, then these mandates are all for not.

We hear so little about China and EV’s. I doubt they are moving with any urgency towards EVs

Reply to  Pete M
19 April 2023 8:02 am

Pete M, it is not just auto manufacturers needing to overcome problems. I was recently speaking to an electrician who told me some states are not allowing residential EV chargers to be installed due to grid capacity (I have not verified this to be true). Fortunately for the Tannery Land it is centrally located and people can walk or cycle to work, stores, etc. (not feeling safe enough due to the drug problem is an issue) I agree it will be a long time before anything actually gets built. Until then much of the local development is on the edge of town, increasing sprawl and use of cars.

Pete M
Reply to  Kevin
20 April 2023 8:53 am

I see Tannery lands being developed as more as a commuter neighbourhood given proximity of train station- whether it be VIA or someday GO Train.

Look at the current development in Bowmanville around Bowmnaville Ave/ Hwy 2 behind Loblaws plaza, future site of Bowmanville GO station. Townhouses very densely populated.
Thats what I foresee for Tannery Lands.

But I will probably be pushing up daisies and it will be my grandkids maybe looking at living there; if Cobourg can ever figure out how to entice employers and industry to set up here, so my kids dont have to move away for work

Reply to  Pete M
19 April 2023 8:33 am

China, with millions of very poor, will probably develop steam engine cars run with coal…just like they develop electrical power right now.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  cornbread
20 April 2023 10:57 am

Interesting that you would get so many thumbs down for your comment. This is how China generates the electricity for its society; China approved equivalent of two new coal plants a week in 2022, report finds | CNN Business