John Lee has Criticism and Suggestions for Downtown

At the regular council meeting on Monday, John Lee and Patrick Bonneville made two presentations that showed that although there are many closed stores on King Street and many in bad repair, the ones that his company Phoenix Genesis have been involved with were in much better shape. They also pointed to Condo developments they had done.  He made a number of suggestions on how the Downtown could be vitalized and also made accusations that the Town was biased and unhelpful in his dealings with them. Along the way, John clashed with Mayor Gil Brocanier and seemed to not make any friends on Council.  He also quoted Cobourg Blog News as saying that Gil said that he “would hold his feet to the fire” on something.

John Lee - at a meeting a year ago
John Lee – at a meeting a year ago

In a Council report on June 20, 2016, there was a mention of a Heritage permit that they had applied for and the report included the comment: “Gil Brocanier made sure that the timelines to implement the work were strict – he was concerned that it might never happen.”  If there was any other comment made, this blog did not report it.

The suggestions made were radical and controversial and were these:

  • Downtown needs unique stores
  • We need to think big.
  • The Town should sell Lakefront Utilities and Northam Industrial park.  This would net $120M (see Gil’s comment on this below)
  • The CCC should be sold to a private company – this might incur a loss but it would be easily covered by the $120M above.
  • Use the money to revamp downtown
  • Extend DBIA to cover all of Cobourg
  • Stop RibFest or at least insist it be held outside summer peak season – it  drains downtown businesses.
  • The Economic Development Officer should get out and see other towns.

Criticisms were:

  • Council failed to support Phoenix Genesis projects
  • Economic Development has not helped Downtown vitalization
  • It was a bad move to allow the LCBO to move to the Mall (that is, set up an additional store there).  The Downtown LCBO was an anchor but is now moving out.  (See Gil’s refuting of this below)
  • Shoppers should never have been allowed – the architecture is not heritage
  • Parking is poor and installing meters was a mistake
  • Cobourg is now almost a lame duck
  • Former Economic Development officer told him to “get out of Town”
  • There is too much red tape when he tries to do Heritage work.
  • The Town is biased against him – he wants help not hindrance
  • There is not a level playing field.

Response from Mayor Gil Brocanier

  • Gil said that just this morning (Monday morning) the LCBO told him that they had no intention of moving out of Town.  Gil had two witnesses to this statement and he asked John for proof of his contention that the LCBO were moving.  John’s response seemed to be that he had concluded that the move would happen based on their actions.
  • The $120M that John said was to be had for the sale of Lakefront Utilities and Northam park included $70M for Lakefront.  Gil said that in fact, the valuation was way off.  It was much less.

John Lee has made several presentations to Council on the subject of Heritage permits.  He objects to the Town’s requirement that he get an independent Heritage Impact Assessment study (e.g. if he wants to install new windows at the jail) when between him and the Town staff there is sufficient Heritage knowledge. In a recent presentation, he estimated that these cost about $8,000 and five of these would be $40,000.

Addendum – Clarification from Glenn McGlashon – 24 March 2018

The Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment (CHIA) that is required by the Town specifically relates to the development of the proposed 14-15 residential unit condominium project to be located within the compound surrounding the former Jail manor house, known as Heritage Harbour condo.  The CHIA was imposed as a condition of the Heritage Permit granted by Council in June of 2016, with the advice and recommendation of the Cobourg Heritage Committee (CHC), and is designed to ensure that the proposed alterations associated with the development appropriately integrate with and conserve the existing heritage resources on the property (ie. no negative impact on the heritage attributes of the historic Jail manor house), and to demonstrate that the proposed alterations will not impact the surrounding heritage district, including Victoria Hall (a heritage resource of national and provincial significance).  The requirement for a CHIA is in accordance with Provincial policies and legislation (Planning Act, Heritage Act, Provincial Policy Statement), as well as the Cobourg Official Plan, Heritage Master Plan and Heritage Conservation District Plan and By-laws as part of the proposed infill development of this heritage-designated site — the CHIA is not required for the installation of windows and replacement of verandah roofs (a Heritage Permit has already been issued for these smaller, incremental improvements that are more reflective of ongoing maintenance and stewardship of the resource than intensive development). 

The onus is on the developer/proponent to submit the requisite documentation with the use of qualified experts in the field, typically those recognized by the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals, for review by municipal heritage planning staff before making a recommendation to the CHC and Council.  It is not the role of municipal staff or the CHC to undertake the work on behalf of the proponent. 

Council has approved a Downtown CIP grant equal to $2,500, or approx. 25-30%, of the cost of the CHIA for Heritage Harbour condo, however the grant will not be issued unless Mr. Lee undertakes the CHIA.  If Mr. Lee is not satisfied with Council’s or municipal staff’s position on the CHIA, he has the right to appeal to the Provincial planning appeal tribunal for a ruling shortly after making an application for Site Plan Approval.   

Glenn J. McGlashon, MCIP, RPP
Director – Planning & Development Division
The Corporation of the Town of Cobourg
55 King Street West, Victoria Hall
Cobourg  ON  K9A 2M2
(905)372-1005, ext. 4450

[Thanks Glenn].


Print Article: 


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

The First thing I would like to do is congratulate Mr. Lee for the fact he has not backed down and that he does have some of the Nicest stores & Store fronts in town , I would also note that he is one of the only people to heavily
invest in this down town in the last 10 yrs ,

I would also confirm that he is saying exactly what a lot of us small business operators in the down town area have been saying for yrs, For some reason we are never heard by council or the Economic Development Off.
and the press seems to only reflect councils views and agenda .

Some of us will remember this window issue as nothing new Its just a way council stifles progress and improvement I remember when Council fought with Radio Shack owner when it was on King st . The building owner went through the exact same thing studies ,cost and Red Tape . That building now has new efficient windows and that only came about due to the strong will of the owner at the time That building is also fully functional on all 3 floors with Newer HVAC sys and electrical Its also always occupied and seemingly successful in its operations , Food for thought

John Lee
Reply to  perplexed
6 years ago

Thank you “perplexed” for your support.
All the Phoenix Group wants to do is to help Cobourg fulfill the promise it has.
We have no ulterior motive. John Lee is not a drug runner, a Tax Evader, a Bike Gang Leader or a rotten Landlord notwithstanding the Comments & stories that spring up around our group of companies. John would in Jail if the stories were true.
Phoenix Genesis was named for a reason. The words speak for themselves. The Phoenix group is all about Heritage & revitalisation. WE have put our money where our mouth is and taken great risks. The Phoenix group is not John Lee actually it is a group of investors from far and wide including overseas who see the charm of Cobourg
We wish all success to the downtown merchants and indeed the Town of Cobourg.
There is an election taking place this year and everyone can participate. Our suggestions at council were just that. “suggestions” there are many more things we can all do to make our Town thrive and proper. What is required is intelligent strong leadership.
Please write to me personally if you have questions or other comments.

Mary Adams
Reply to  perplexed
6 years ago

The rhetoric of a fifteen year saga from a Developer who obviously does not want to abide by the rules and by the policies of a Municipality and a Province is predicable and tiresome. Visitors and Residents are not impressed by the eyesores that include the King George Inn, the two houses to the west on Albert Street, their southern yards which are in states of on-again, off-again destruction and with the abandoned trailor which serves as a canvas for misrepresented and illegible advertising.

6 years ago

Let me get this right: The town is suggested to sell a few of their large assets then spend this money to make a bunch of downtown improvements so that “Lee” and his partner can improve their financial position. Did I get this right?

John Lee
Reply to  cornbread
6 years ago

Dear Combread,
“Lee” does not have a partner. If you mean Phoenix Genesis (PG) it is owned by Canadian & international investors. John Lee is the local spokesperson. PG does not need to improve its financial position but thank you for the thought.
Please read the presentations. If the Cobourg Community Centre (CCC) loses $1,000,000 per annum, I am sorry, but most people would not consider that a real asset.
Sell it to private enterprise (not Phoenix Genesis) who would risk their money and hopefully make a profit through efficiencies. When these Centres were built throughout Ontario as part of stimulus grant packages they were supposed to be revenue neutral not huge loss making public enterprises. Toronto if I recall spent their stimulus grant on public transportation infrastructure.
In any event the CCC consumes approximately 5% of Cobourg’s operating budget. Maybe Cobourg should be supporting a Centre of this type, maybe it shouldn’t, but in any event lets make it cost effective.
Ponder another thought. Why do we keep the old rinks that the CCC was meant to replace? Sell them and invest the proceeds. Maybe pick up $500,0000 in land value from investors and use the money wisely to benefit the whole of the town. Do we really need to keep Dressler House? It was supposed to be vacated by the town staff who were moving to Victoria Hall and/or the CCC. Still seems to used by the economic development staff. The inside looks pretty much like any other property in town. Cobourg is short of housing. Sell it to a residential purchaser, keep the historic plaque, and collect another $500,000 for a worthwhile Town endeavour or reduce property taxes by $1,000,000 for 2018.
Unfortunately, Councillors are not business people but they need to act like one. Mr. Brocanier comes close with his experience as a mid level manager at Kraft 20 years ago. His son and niece are both entrepreneurs and maybe they should run for council in the next election. Miriam Mutton & Emily Chorley could be good candidates as well. Lets get people on Board who really care about our great little town. Also get a gender balance and drop the “Old Boys Club”.

Just a few more thought hopefully viewed in a positive light.

Pat Stanley
6 years ago

John, If you want more history on John Lee then I have it. Not publicly, mind you, as I do not trust him. I have removed the rest of my post, sorry.