A deal to buy a privately-owned property in Gatineau Park slated for the housing development is among an estimated $330 million worth of such purchases the National Capital Commission intends to make, says NCC chair Marie LeMay.
The commission, which manages federal lands and buildings in the Ottawa-Gatineau areas including the 36,131-hectare western Quebec park, announced Wednesday that it was buying 36 hectares of land on Carman Road, just north of Farm Point, a few hundred metres inside the park's eastern boundary.
LeMay said that in the future, the park intends to spend approximately $30 million buying up vacant land and $300 million purchasing built properties in the park, which together make up 605 hectares or about two per cent of the park. The rest is owned mostly by the NCC, with a minority stake held by the Quebec government.
"Our main objective is to stop development in the park," LeMay told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Thursday, adding that buying large pieces of vacant land was therefore a priority.
She said the amounts that the NCC expects to pay are only rough estimates that need to be refined, but acknowledged that the longer the agency waits and the more the land is developed, the higher the prices will be.
The agency is currently looking into phases, timelines and budgets for the remaining purchases, she added.
The NCC has faced accusations in the past that it was not doing enough to stop development in the park.
In April, a group of residents in Chelsea, Que., a municipality that includes part of the park, went to their local council to express their concerns about a plan to build houses on the Carman Road property and to call for a development freeze in the park.
LeMay said the purchase of the land is intended to send a message to the public.
"I hope that this will reassure people that we are taking this seriously," she said.
Price not disclosed
The agency had no trouble buying the Carman Road plot quickly, despite the development plans, because it belonged to Robert Grace, someone who had worked with and volunteered for the NCC to help out with the park.
"We were lucky that we were dealing with a friend of the Gatineau Park," said LeMay, who added that the agency was very happy to reach a deal on a piece of land that was one of its top priorities for acquisition.
Grace has for years lived there, where he has a home with solar panels and a vegetable garden. During that time, he has allowed strangers park on his property and walk and ski into the park.
Marie Lemay would not disclose how much the NCC is paying, as the deal has not been finalized, but said it was fair market value.
Grace told CBC News he doesn't want to comment until the final papers have been signed.
The sale was announced Wednesday in a news release that said the NCC first became aware of the Carman Road development project in January, had negotiated a deal to buy it in March, and had recently received approval from the federal government.
Under the National Capital Act, the NCC requires the approval of Treasury Board for all purchases above $25,000.