Kanata residents will meet Monday night for an update on the proposed Kanata Golf and Country Club redevelopment and you can bet a clubhouse beer the city will be taking note of attendance. Ditto the developers, who also want to gauge just how deep community opposition really is to the controversial development plan now that local residents have had time to digest some of the details.
Even if you don’t golf or live anywhere near the plush rolling grounds of the Kanata Lakes course, you might want to keep tabs on how this all unfolds over the next year or so. That’s because it just might answer a question or two that have been rolling around city hall for some time now: Do developers wield too much power in Ottawa? And do citizens or even the city really have any business dictating what private property owners do, provided it’s generally in keeping with the surrounding land use. Remember the Château Laurier brouhaha?
It’s been a month since Minto and Richcraft released their vision for the community and they are hoping its colourful pamphlets and lofty promises of maintaining existing tree stands and creating “parkettes” have eased at least some of the initial community backlash.
The city is probably looking for the same answer. Truth is, the city has better things to do than engage in an expensive and protracted legal battle with high-profile developers. It also stands to earn the benefit of new taxes derived from all those new homes.
But, at least for now, the city is fully onside with residents.
Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds is determined to keep it that way. On Friday, she informed residents that the city is seeking an expedited court order to force ClubLink to honour a development agreement signed by a previous course owner back when Kanata was a fast-expanding city in its own right, prior to amalgamation.
“I share everyone’s frustration that we must deal with this application that has a total disregard for our community and legal agreements,” she assured her constituents.
From the outset, that agreement bound the owner of the club — who ever it was — to retain the property forever as a golf course, or at least parkland, as part of a broader guarantee that 40 per cent of the Kanata Lakes community would be retained as green space.
Hundreds of homeowners whose homes back onto the course or are nearby, have a lot riding on the outcome as it could impact the value of their property investments. They paid premiums to live on or near a course and fear their future land values would be eroded sharply if the golf course is replaced by town homes or other development.
The so-called 40 per cent rule lies at the heart of this new battle and a legal decision could ultimately set precedent for any similar agreements elsewhere.
If the city ultimately wins in court, ClubLink will be ordered to either withdraw the development application it has filed with the city or hand ownership of the lands over to the city at no cost. But there’s plenty of wiggle room for appeals that could tie up this fight for years.
I suspect there’s a greater chance of me beating Kim Jong Un on the golf course (he scored five holes-in-one in his first game) than ClubLink waving a course flag in surrender and forking over a valuable piece of real estate for free.
So what’s the alternative?
Given the value of land at stake, I’m surprised ClubLink hasn’t made a few generous overtures to the community to at least try to lessen public opposition, perhaps by offering to shell out for an arena, a community centre or some other community-owned space or facility. It might make the deal a little more attractive for some residents. Heck, it could offer free memberships at its other golf courses in the region for those most affected. I’m sure that would placate many club members.
Surely, the developers, who have a lot at stake in this battle, can pony up a few ideas of their own to placate existing homeowners.
Maybe even the city could chime in with details on how property taxes could be lowered to reflect the reduced value of some properties.
The alternative, of course, is to batten down the hatches and take to the bunkers in preparation for a long and very expensive legal battle ahead. Right now, it’s get ready for war.
Gibbons is a veteran journalist/broadcaster and former publisher and chief executive of the Ottawa Sun.