Chelsea residents sue developer that scrapped organic farm

A group of residents living in the Hendrick Farm development in Chelsea, Que., is suing the developer for removing the organic farm they say is the reason they bought there in the first place.

Organic farm was main draw to the development, some say, and now it's gone

Jennifer Nadon said she moved to the Hendrick Farm development specifically because of its proximity to the organic farm. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

A group of residents living in the Hendrick Farm development in Chelsea, Que., is suing the developer for removing the organic farm they say is the reason they bought there in the first place.

Hendrick Farm, which sits just west of Highway 5, is a tight-knit community of brightly coloured houses, porch swings and white picket fences. The development originally included a two-hectare organic farm as part of its plan that was promised "in perpetuity."

Now the farmland is being transformed into a mixed-use area that includes things like community garden plots, fruit orchards, picnic tables, walking paths, and a possible skating rink, all open for public use. 

"It was devastating to be honest," said resident Jennifer Nadon.

"None of us were expecting this and it sort of makes you second-guess everything that I loved about the idea of living in this community."

Nadon is one of 17 residents who signed a class-action lawsuit against both Hendrick Farm and the Hendrick Farm Foundation seeking a permanent injunction to revert the land back to its original state.

Bryan Hendry said he agreed to buy a house and live with the sound of traffic on the nearby highway because his porch looked out over an organic farm. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

'Like a nightmare'

Resident Bryan Hendry said he used to enjoy his morning coffee on the porch overlooking the farm but the grass, newly planted trees, and pathways under construction just aren't what he envisioned.

"There's a lot of tears. It was very upsetting because this is our dream home and now it's like a nightmare," he said.

Hendry said he and other residents were drawn to the Hendrick Farm development specifically because of the organic farm. Upon signing the purchase agreement, buyers and the developer agreed one per cent of house sales would go back to the Hendrick Farm Foundation to maintain the space.

Hendry said he was shocked to first hear about the planned changes in November 2020. After failed attempts to change the course of the plan, Hendry said the group decided to take legal action in May.

"If we can't reverse the damage that's been done, then we may be seeking damages as a result," he added.

WATCH: Hendrick Farm residents upset after developer scraps organic farm:

Hendrick Farm residents upset after developer scraps organic farm

2 years ago
Duration 1:33
Featured VideoA group of residents living in the Hendrick Farm development in Chelsea, Que., are suing the developer for backtracking on a five-acre organic farm originally promised to potential buyers. Residents Bryan Hendry and Jennifer Nadon have signed onto the class-action lawsuit, while Mike Cousineau has not.

'Small litigious cabal'

In a statement, Hendrick Farm developer Sean McAdam said the farm was not financially sustainable. In consultation with the community, an agreement was reached to move to "a less labour-intensive agricultural model," he wrote in a statement.

"I hope that in time this small litigious cabal will be able to both see the beauty in shared green space and, ultimately, celebrate that it's near their own house," McAdam wrote.

Still, one resident told CBC he felt "betrayed" and "played with," while Jamie Herring wrote a letter to his neighbours decrying the public use he did not sign up for.

"I can't help but picture hundreds of people eating food, drinking beer, having BBQs, bringing their dogs and further denigrating the land and the values we bought into," Herring wrote.

Those involved in the legal battle also expressed concern about how the space could transform once another $100-million joint development between Hendrick Farm and Nordik spa is complete.

Sean McAdam, who is behind the Hendrick Farm development, calls the group seeking the injunction a 'litigious cabal.' (Yasmine Mehdi/Radio-Canada)

Community divided

Not everyone in the community has an issue with the altered plans.

Mike Cousineau has lived at Hendrick Farm for nearly five years and said some neighbours are looking forward to the changes.

"I'm good with it. I see the positives of the changes in terms of bringing the community even closer, a space to gather, a spot to walk, to be with nature, but within a small urban community," he said.

Cousineau does respect his neighbours' rights to legal action.

The legal proceedings are currently in the discovery phase and it's not clear how long the process will take.

Some residents say the dispute over the future of the farmland has divided the tightly-knit community. (Jean Delisle/CBC)