We spoke with an appraiser who has worked with the ministry of highways to get a better sense of how expropriated land is valued. The answer is…it depends.
“Appraising property is not an exact science,” explained Robin Johnson of Crown Appraisals. “There are many variables and each appraiser has their own their own opinion of value, and they would put more weight on some factors than others.”
To illustrate, Johnson pointed to court cases where appraisers sit on either side as expert witnesses, offering competing versions of what a piece of land is worth.
As a general baseline, appraisers look at the value of surrounding property, however that situation can change quickly. “Once the bypass…is announced it will have an impact on land value, because of speculators (who) are probably buying land and trying to make a profit,” said Johnson.
One of the properties to change hands during the course of bypass route planning was owned by truck stop operator Flying J, at the southwest corner of Victoria Ave. and Tower Road. The undeveloped land was subsequently purchased by Aurora Retail Corp. for a planned shopping area. Aurora is led by Harvard Developments – owned by the Hills, one of Regina’s most prominent business families – and Forster Projects, owned by a close associate of the Hills. An undisclosed source stated Pilot Flying J was unhappy with the relatively low property value assessment given to land that is now likely destined to be worth millions.
This led to public speculation that Aurora’s partners had an inside track on the potential value of commercial land next to a new roadway, as well as access to necessary zoning changes that were denied to Flying J. There were, however, other factors in play at the time.
"Road conditions...were not ideal," - Anne Lezotte, Pilot Flying J
In 2005, Flying J submitted a rezoning application to the Rural Municipality of Sherwood. It was approved and the “Commercial” zoning was changed to “Commercial – Contract Zoning,” allowing for greater negotiating power with the RM to develop the land. The land was sold and then annexed by the City of Regina before any such development took place.
No one affiliated with the Flying J in Regina was willing to talk about the events. However, the communications branch of Flying J’s Texas head office replied that the move resulted from a review of all properties, after Flying J merged with Pilot in 2010. The review included a traffic assessment survey carried out be a contractor.
“There were concerns that the road conditions at the Regina location were not ideal to handle the traffic flow in and out of the property. As a result, we sold the site and our new location in Balgonie, Sask. ultimately replaced this one,” Anne LeZotte, Pilot Flying J communications manager stated in an email.
An appraiser later contacted by our investigative team explained that when land is undeveloped and lacks services or access roads, this would result in a low valuation. After land is annexed by the City of Regina and utilities are installed, it typically receives a higher value assessment.
Although there is no assessed valued stated on Aurora Retail Corporation’s land title, the document notes the current owner has a $24 million mortgage attached to the property.