Company behind Heron Gate development rejects proposal to further help evictees

·3 min read
A rendering of the proposed development for Heron Gate, between Walkley and Heron Road, by Hazelview Investments. The controversial project was put on the spot during a public meeting Thursday by the city. (Hazelview Investments - image credit)
A rendering of the proposed development for Heron Gate, between Walkley and Heron Road, by Hazelview Investments. The controversial project was put on the spot during a public meeting Thursday by the city. (Hazelview Investments - image credit)

Current and former residents say they want further changes to a controversial housing development in Ottawa's Heron Gate neighbourhood to help evictees and make units more affordable, but during a public meeting Thursday, the company behind the project wouldn't give an inch.

During the city's meeting held via Zoom, Hazelview Investments, previously named Timbercreek, faced numerous questions about its plans.

The community has seen multiple evictions, including one in 2018 involving more than 500 people.

Earlier this week, advocacy group ACORN presented its "alternative vision" for the Heron Gate development, based on the results of a survey of people from the neighbourhood. ACORN's proposal calls for up to 35 per cent of units to be affordable, and for people previously evicted from the neighbourhood to have the option to return to a unit similar in price and size.

"Practically everyone I've talked to who's been pushed out of Heron Gate, they've all had to pay at least [$100], maybe [$200] or more in increased rents per month," Mavis Finnamore, a former resident and ACORN member, told CBC Ottawa before Thursday's meeting. "So it's definitely cost them a lot to be pushed out of there.

"I'm missing the community. Me and my family want to go back," ACORN member Grace Iyobosa said, also in an interview. Iyobosa was also evicted from the neighbourhood, once in 2015 and again in 2018.

No more promises made

ACORN put the vision plan before Hazelview Investments on Thursday night, but company officials wouldn't commit to agreeing to any changes.

Hazelview Investments has already made several commitments to residents as part of what would be a legally binding "social contract."

Hazelview Investments says it's already made several legally binding commitments to residents, so won't agree to make any other changes to Heron Gate.
Hazelview Investments says it's already made several legally binding commitments to residents, so won't agree to make any other changes to Heron Gate.(Kate Porter/CBC)

Twenty per cent of the new units build would be deemed affordable, and there would be a mix of housing, including three-bedroom and four-bedroom units. The company has also promised that no more homes would be demolished until tenants can find newly built units at the same rent.

But vice-president of operations John Loubser said Thursday that previously relocated tenants wouldn't be offered new units.

"We're not prepared now to extend such an offer retroactively," said Loubser.

Residents 'really, really upset'

As part of the plan, 57 new buildings, including 16 towers, would be built between Walkley and Heron Road. Initially, the plan was for some to be 40 storeys tall. The company has since adjusted that to 25 storeys.

Still, residents like Mariane Arrage said she and other nearby residents are "really, really upset," because when they first purchased houses, there no highrise buildings were behind them.

"Those highrises will block the sun. There's a lot of people's gardens. It's not feasible," said Arrage.

Planning consultant Antonio Gomez Palacio said they opted for taller buildings over lowrises to create more room for green space, but the company is "trying to find that sweet spot."

Questions remain unanswered

Many had questions about the cost of the affordable units, such as the exact number of them and when construction would begin.

The company didn't have those answers Thursday, saying much of the project is still in the planning stages and years from being realized. But officials said the company planned to keep residents informed of changes.

A recommendation on the project will be submitted to the city's planning committee, which will make its recommendation to Ottawa city council in May.

If approved, there would be a 20-day period for any appeals to be filed.