Memories of mass eviction still fresh as Heron Gate redevelopment plans continue

Fears of gentrification and residents being pushed out of their homes in Ottawa's Heron Gate neighbourhood were front of mind Saturday as a property owner plans to redevelop the south-end community.

Evictions still haunt some residents as Timbercreek moves forward with 10-year plan

Heron Gate residents discuss what they'd like to see included in plans for the community's redevelopment at a workshop in Ottawa on April 7, 2018. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Fears of gentrification and residents being pushed out of their homes were front of mind Saturday as a property owner pushes forward with the redevelopment process for Ottawa's Heron Gate neighbourhood.

Around 50 people gathered at the Heron Road Community Centre Saturday morning for the second visioning workshop in the last few months for a 16-hectare parcel of land owned by Timbercreek Asset Management.

Timbercreek is planning a new development over the next decade, but exactly what that will entail is still being ironed out — and for some residents, that's the crux of the problem.

"There's still a lot of bruises from the HG7 process," said Alta Vista Community Association president Clinton Cowan, referring to residents of 80 units evicted in 2016 to make way for Timbercreek's HG7 apartment complex.

"It could have been a little more collaborative."

But it isn't just Heron Gate residents worried about the redevelopment, Cowan said.

Since Heron Gate is already one of the city's most densely populated communities, he's heard from other people in Alta Vista who are concerned about how increasing that density might affect things like public transit.

There are also concerns that plans will be rushed through city council because it's an election year, Cowan said.

No set plan

"The plan is to get a plan. Right now we don't have a plan," said Greg Rogers, Timbercreek's senior vice-president of development.

The workshops are designed to get the community's input before plans are submitted later this year, he said.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 additional units could be added to Heron Gate through the redevelopment. Many of the existing townhomes aren't in a sustainable condition.

"Right now, it's really a process of defining a community in the form of its amenities and amassing of the buildings," Rogers said.

"What goes in the buildings, the income levels, the suite sizes, the amenities within those buildings and in the surrounding area — that's all taking shape as part of this process."

Mavis Finnamore was one of a number of tenants issued eviction notices by Timbercreek in 2015. She's been attending the redevelopment meetings to ensure the same predicament doesn't happen to current residents. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

'Left in the dark'

Mavis Finnamore lived on Sandalwood Drive until she received an eviction notice from Timbercreek in the fall of 2015. 

Finnamore said residents were left scrambling to find new places to live in the dead of winter. 

She said she's attending the meetings to ensure what happened to her won't happen to any of the current tenants, and called them a good first step.

"A lot of people felt that they were totally left in the dark," she said. "It left us disadvantaged in finding good places to rent and moving companies at a time when it was just inconvenient."

Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier had requested the company slow its process to ensure ideas from residents were included in discussions about the new community.

Cloutier said Saturday that renewing Heron Gate would be a "long-term benefit of the residents and of the city as a whole."

Varying the types and prices of units is also in line with the city's policies, he added.

"I don't think any community wants a cluster of housing that is all at a particular price point," Cloutier said. "I don't know if that's healthy."

Samuel Kardash says he's worried about losing even more of an already small number of affordable townhomes in the city. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Buildings in disrepair, some residents say

Samuel Kardash, who's lived in Heron Gate for nearly two years, said he's worried the already low number of affordable townhomes in Ottawa will be diminished once Heron Gate is redeveloped.

He believes Timbercreek is letting some buildings and their surroundings fall into disrepair, pointing out the number of potholes and accusing the company of shoddy workmanship.

"I have a hard time believing that," Rogers replied, stating $45 million has been spent on Heron Gate since it was acquired in 2012.

"We have professional capital managers. We don't hire two guys in a half-ton truck to come in and do work for us.... This is all very professionally managed, with professional contracts and professional inspection standards. So I would be shocked if any of the work we did here didn't follow that type of process."