Rondeau Provincial Park cottage owners may soon be allowed to purchase the land upon which their privately-owned cottages sit.
A new plan has been put into motion between Chatham-Kent City Council, the provincial government and the Rondeau Cottagers Association to facilitate the sale of the lots.
More than 270 private cottages are located in the park. The land is owned by the province but the cottagers have enjoyed long-term leases that were set to expire in 2017. The leases have been extended twice and are currently to set expire at the end of 2022.
There is now a proposal, explained in a report to Chatham-Kent council at their May 10 meeting, to enable the cottagers to purchase their lots. The plan would involve the municipality purchasing the lots from the province, and then reselling them to the cottagers.
The prices would range from $52,000 for an average interior lot, to $129,000 for an average waterfront lot.
Trevor Thompson, councillor for South Kent, said the association proposed the idea to avoid hundreds of individual real estate transactions between the province and cottage owners.
"The cottage owners association came to the municipality and basically said, to make things easier and more palatable, the province doesn't really want to deal with 300 different lawyers, 300 different agreements, 300 different closing fees, 300 different sets of paperwork," Thompson explained.
"If the deal goes through, it's a single transaction from the provincial standpoint. They hand the properties to us. We hand them over to the cottage owners."
According to Thompson, the council seems to be in support of the proposal.
'Principal and legal concerns'
The cottages in Rondeau park have been a vacation spot for some families dating back decades, with cottages being handed down through multiple generations.
The cottagers consider themselves 'stewards' of the park, according to Keith Graham, a member of the Rondeau Cottage Association. He is pleased with the plan.
"For the first time in over 60 years, the college community feels that we're heading down a path that can solve the problem that is Rondeau," Graham said.
According to the report to council, "the issue of lease renewal for cottage owners within Rondeau Provincial Park is a long standing issue that arises when lease periods come up for renewal."
"Under the terms of the leases, if the leases are not extended, the cottage owners would be required to remove their cottages from the Park."
Not everyone agrees with the decision to sell parkland to cottagers, including Ken Bell, a former Green Party candidate and environment activist.
"The transfer of crown lands held in public trust to private individuals, just on the principle of it, doesn't feel right to me," he said.
"The park was set aside in 1896 for the purpose of being a park, which is why they never sold to the lease holders at the time," said Bell.
"There has been disturbance to the environment of Rondeau park through introduced species and disturbance to the beach front habitat."
The report to council outlines that any deal to sell the cottage lots is far from finalized.
"Provincial representatives have made it clear that Indigenous and public consultation is required before any decisions can be made," says the report.
Councillor Trevor Thompson cautions against any hope by cottagers that a deal is imminent.
"Any one of those speed bumps could throw a monkey wrench into any sort of timeline," he said.