A potential land deal for cottage owners in Rondeau Provincial Park has raised questions and concerns regarding the recent involvement of the municipality.
In a report to be presented last week to council, administration said discussions have taken place with the Rondeau Cottagers’ Association and the Province during the past year.
The report outlined a proposal for the provincial government to sell the 279 existing cottage lots to the municipality for the assessed value of $29.2 million. As part of the arrangement, Chatham-Kent, in turn, would sell these lots to cottage owners for the same price.
The report stated there is the potential for “obtaining a sale of the cottage lots to the municipality and then a subsequent sale” of those lots to the cottagers.
“It is hoped that exploring a possible solution like this will resolve the long-standing uncertainty that cottage owners face while also ensuring that processes are in place for the ongoing protection of the important natural heritage that Rondeau Provincial Park represents to our community,” the report stated.
The cottagers association represents more than 90 percent of the cottage owners, who have remained in the park on periodic, short-term lease extensions.
If approved by the Province and Chatham-Kent, the plan would effectively bring an end to the long-standing uncertainty around the leases, which have been extended multiple times to the cottage owners in the park.
While the Province has been open and willing to have discussions on this matter, Provincial representatives have made it clear that Indigenous and public consultation is required before any decisions can be made.
“Discussions between the Municipality and the Rondeau Cottagers Association have been very positive to date, with both parties actively working to move this issue forward towards a resolution that works for all stakeholders,” reads the report.
“Preliminary communications are being sent to cottage owners asking that they confirm their interest in acquiring ownership of their respective cottage lots,” the report says. “Cottage owners will be given further details in the future regarding the transaction before being requested to make any binding commitments.”
David Colby, president of the cottagers’ association, said he’s pleased with the ongoing developments and called the plan “a win for all sectors.”
However, Trevor Thompson, a councillor for South Kent, said he and many others were wondering why Chatham-Kent was suddenly in the middle of this proposed land deal between the cottagers and the Province.
“It’s clearly an issue that elicits an emotional response for a lot of people,” said Thompson.
Don Shropshire, Chatham-Kent’s Chief Administrative Officer, said these months-long negotiations have now reached a point where the Province is willing to entertain the possibility of transferring ownership of the cottage lots to the municipality. However, a good deal of public consultation will still be needed.
Shropshire said Chatham-Kent’s involvement came as a result of the simple fact the Province wants to sell the 279 lots as a single transaction. Therefore, the municipality would be required as a middleman for the deal.
“We’re basically trying to make that transaction as seamless as possible and as quick as possible,” said Shropshire.
He added the first step is to reach out to cottagers to confirm their interest in acquiring the property for a fair market value.
According to Shropshire, a letter has been sent to cottage owners asking them to respond by June 11 to determine how many are interested in buying their cottage properties.
If the proposal is successful, Shropshire said cottagers would accept the full responsibility for the sales, such as legal costs.
If the Province is prepared to pursue the transfer after public input, there will be costs incurred by the municipality.
“In order to ensure that the financial resources of the citizens of Chatham-Kent are not impacted by this project, the municipality has informed the Rondeau Cottagers’ Association that the municipality will be expecting that the cottage owners will bear these direct costs of the municipality” reads the report.
Thompson pointed out the assessed value of the lots is now raising the ire of many Chatham-Kent residents who consider the sale prices “way too low.”
According to preliminary appraisal information from the Province, the total value for the cottage lots is $29.2 million, with different values associated with interior, water view and waterfront properties. The report listed the average value of the 225 water view lots at $114,500, the six waterfront lots at $129,000 and the 45 interior lots at $52,000.
Shropshire explained the Province hired a firm to do those assessments, and therefore, Chatham-Kent had nothing to do with determining the value of the lots. He also said any land sale to the cottagers would have no impact on public access to the Provincial Park, adding the lots in question comprised only four percent of the Rondeau’s total area.
Further reports to council would outline any proposed agreements, zoning changes and service delivery plans for consideration.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News