Heron Gate residents, developer sketch out community's future

Dozens of residents gathered Saturday morning to sketch out plans for the redevelopment of Ottawa's Heron Gate neighbourhood — but not everyone shares the same vision for the south end community.

Timbercreek planning to redevelop community over next 10 years

Residents of Ottawa's Alta Vista neighbourhood gathered Saturday morning at Featherston Drive Public School to discuss a proposed redevelopment of Heron Gate. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Dozens of residents gathered Saturday morning to sketch out plans for the redevelopment of Ottawa's Heron Gate neighbourhood — but not everyone shares the same vision for the south end community.

About 50 people showed up at Featherston Drive Public School to brainstorm the neighbourhood's long-term future, as part of a meeting organized by City of Ottawa officials.

The meeting comes as Timbercreek Asset Management, the company that owns the 16-hectare parcel of land, hopes to press ahead with its redevelopment.

Timbercreek senior vice-president Greg Rogers said the overarching goal is to add more housing to the neighbourhood, while ensuring any redevelopment meets the needs of the residents.

"We're long-term owners and community builders," Rogers said. "The more we bring people together to talk about what the community needs now and in the future, the better will be the result."

The meeting marks the latest step in Timbercreek's long-term plan to redevelop the community, bounded by Heron Road to the north, the Herongate Square to the east, Walkley Road to the south, and the Heron-Walkley Park and hydro corridor to the west.

In 2016, Timbercreek evicted residents from 80 of its townhomes to make room for its HG7 apartment complex project — three six-storey apartment buildings that will eventually accommodate 348 new residential units, slated to be occupied by June 2019.

Now Timbercreek is setting its sights on developing its 16 remaining hectares.

Calls for community input

The purpose of the consultation is to come up with a secondary plan: a document that allows the community to provide more input into the evolution of a specific area in the city.

Timbercreek will draft the plan over the coming months, in collaboration with community associations, residents and property owners.

According to Timbercreek planning documents, a draft plan will be submitted for public consultation sometime in May or June.

Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier says he felt it was important for Timbercreek to hear directly from residents about what they expect in terms of development, including new buildings and transit connections, parks and other amenities, as well as neighbourhood density and building heights.

Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier says it's important for all Heron Gate residents to have their say in Timbercreek's plans to redevelop the community. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

The city will organize two additional workshops in the coming months, Cloutier said, though those meetings have not yet been scheduled.

"It is not a process to be rushed," he said. "It is a very long-term visionary process for the future of this community."

Although Timbercreek could have submitted a planning application to the city this year, Rogers said the company accepted Cloutier's request to slow the process and now plans to submit its application in early 2019.

"It's not about somebody coming in and imposing a plan," he said. "It's about engaging the community."

'Just a facade'

Those efforts did not sit well with long-time Alta Vista resident Josh Hawley, who lives in Fairlea — just across the road from Heron Gate.

"We believe in planning from the ground up, and this is absolutely the opposite of that," Hawley said. "This is all just a facade."

Josh Hawley says Timbercreek won't protect disadvantaged residents who will be affected by the company's plans to redevelop the neighbourhood. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Hawley said Timbercreek has purposely let its buildings fall into a state of disrepair, failing to respond to maintenance requests.

Rogers shot back at those criticisms, saying Timbercreek has invested $45 million into repairs since acquiring the property in 2013.

"We can't change everything overnight," Rogers said.

"Perfection at any given moment will always be a challenge as it is for everyone, but we are making genuine and material progress in improving the quality of this community."

Greg Rogers, senior vice-president of development with Timbercreek Asset Management, says the company is committed to redeveloping Heron Gate with the support of community members. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

But as Halwey sees it, Timbercreek's redevelopment will only raise rents in the neighbourhood, driving out residents on fixed incomes who already struggle to afford market rates.

"When we're talking about Heron Gate, we're talking about high numbers of new immigrants, racialized people, disabled people, seniors. And you just don't see those people in this room right now, so who are they really consulting with?" Hawley said.

"It's really the people in Heron Gate who need a voice, and they're not here."

Lack of trust in developers

Cloutier said city officials did publicize the meeting well in advance, with some 3,200 flyers delivered to area residents. Still, he said the city could do more to make it easier for local residents to attend.

"This is their community. These are their homes," he said. "Because their opinion is so important, we will make further efforts to specifically target ... the people who are renting in Timbercreek, so that they are aware and feel welcome."

Future workshops may include language interpretation and on-site daycare services, Cloutier said.

Those services would be welcome by Alta Vista Community Association president Clinton Cowan, who said the relationship between the community and developers has long been fraught with challenges.

Clinton Cowan, left, is the president of the Alta Vista Community Association. He says the proposed redevelopment of Heron Gate will only succeed if it reflects the needs of the community. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

"There have been some trust issues along the way. And we're working hard to try to bridge that, build trust, build more space and opportunity to talk to each other — rather than at each other," he said.

Cowan said he hopes more residents will take part in the process, provided they have an opportunity to do so.

"Some may only notice this project is happening when there's a crane in the air. That's too late," Cowan said. "That's a huge missed opportunity when there are so many people that want to know and be engaged."