Sale of York lands: No improprieties or conflicts

York University issued a statement yesterday about the release of the review by retired justice Edward Saunders (right) of the 2002 sale of York land to developer Tribute Homes. The review was requested by the York University Board of Governors in the wake of stories about the deal in the Toronto Star. Saunders was asked to determine if the process through which the price was negotiated with Tribute Homes was appropriate in light of criteria imposed by the University and whether any improprieties or conflicts existed or occurred in relation to the sale. Here is the University’s statement:

The “Review of the Sale of Lands by York University” by the Hon. Edward Saunders was received by Marshall Cohen, Chair, York University Board of Governors, on Friday June 17. It was presented to the University Board of Governors meeting on Monday, June 20. As promised, the review is publicly available on the York homepage and can be accessed by clicking here.

The conclusion of the review by Mr. Saunders reads as follows:

“YUDC [the York University Development Corporation] developed a Concept Plan for the Southlands which was consistent with the Master Plan of the University. YUDC explored the market and negotiated the sale with Tribute after it became apparent that Tribute was the only suitable builder interested in building to the standards set by the University in the Concept Plan. YUDC and the President of the University recommended the sale which was approved by the Property Committee of the BOG [Board of Governors] and then by the BOG itself. The process was appropriate and there were no improprieties or conflicts in relation to the sale.”

The review by Mr. Saunders also established the following key points:

  • York is not a public institution (p. 3), has its own governing body and the lands in question were not part of the lands that were granted to the University (pp. 3-4).
  • The required process leading to the agreement on the part of the University was followed (p. 23).
  • There are very few [builders] who have the qualifications to build the type of community called for by the Concept Plan (p.31). There was no requirement to hold an open or wider bidding process (p. 33).
  • It was not an unreasonable decision in the circumstances by those charged with making it (p. 33). A wide bidding process does not necessarily produce the highest bid (p. 32).
  • There was nothing inappropriate in this decision nor were there any improprieties (p. 33).
  • YUDC made its best efforts to obtain a reasonable price which it believed in good faith was in the range of fair market value (p. 37).
  • Joseph Sorbara always acted in the best interests of the University (p. 40). There is nothing that suggests that the University was not loyally served by Joseph Sorbara (p. 42).
  • In 2002, 35.5 acres were sold to Tribute at $450,000 dollars per acre (pp. 17, 19, 20, 21). Seven acres were transferred to the city by the University for which it was not paid (p. 26).
  • With regard to net return, the University made $13.5 million out of the sale, which is over two million more than was originally estimated (p.27).
  • The other builders who were approached by the University did not eventually bid through lack of interest (pp. 10, 16).

Of the three other land deals cited by the Toronto Star in the article of February 26, 2005:

  • There were significant differences between the development of that property [WSIB] and the sale to Tribute (p.35). The WSIB transaction does not support the contention that the price paid by Tribute was too low (p.36).
  • The McMillan-Bloedel price is $52,000 less than the price paid per acre by Tribute (p.37).
  • As for the third deal it may be that the University got a better price from Tribute than Canadian Tire did from Norstar (p.37).

“I am very pleased that the Hon. Edward Saunders has given York’s governance practices a clean bill of health and that the RFP [request for proposal] process in particular was considered appropriate,” said Marshall Cohen, Chair of York University’s Board of Governors. “The Board of Governors was and remains fully satisfied that the University got full value from the sale of the land, given the restrictions the University placed on it. I am also very happy that Mr. Sorbara was cleared of any conflict of interest. Going forward we will ensure that the existing protections in the governance structure are maintained and strengthened.”

Lorna R. Marsden, president and vice-chancellor of York University, said, “I am pleased that this independent review by Mr. Saunders, a highly respected jurist, confirms that our processes were clear and transparent. We were confident that the University had acted appropriately in the sale of these lands. We will continue to make decisions that serve the best interests of the University and the many people who live and work here and in our community. We are pleased that this matter has been resolved. Our academic mission remains our top priority and we will pursue this more vigorously than ever.”

YUDC president Bud Purves said, “To the YUDC volunteers like Mr. Sorbara, I would like to convey my thanks for their dedicated service and their commitment of time and effort to achieve excellence and value for the University.”

Note: Appendices were provided to the University in hard copy and can be seen here.