Wilson farmhouse expectations: Misrepresentation or wishful thinking?

A resident’s missive.

At the foundation of all the debate on the Wilson farmhouse lies a bedrock of expectations. Since “expectations” are being invoked as a rationale for one option over another, I think these expectations merit a closer look.

Our Official Plan is the legal document which guides development in Guelph. It is available on-line for review by all citizens, developers, builders, real estate agents and new home buyers. The Wilson farmhouse is one of only two buildings specifically identified by address in the Official Plan:

3.5.20 In addition to the policies contained in subsection 3.5 of this Plan, the following policies provide context for new development within the Victoria Road North Secondary Plan Area:

1. The farmhouse at 595 Victoria Road North will be incorporated into the design of the main public square for the lands located along the west side of Victoria Road, providing opportunity for the use of this building as a public facility (community centre or library) or alternatively, to be retained as a residential use.

The Victoria Road North Secondary Plan was incorporated into the City’s Official Plan through O.P.A 11 and was approved by the OMB in 2001.

Based on this document, all Guelphites can reasonably expect the vision of preservation of the farmhouse to be fulfilled, either through community use of the farmhouse or residential use.

On the other side of the debate, members of the Northern Heights Community Association have been asserting entitlement to the entire city block for the neighbourhood park. Flyers posted in the neighbourhood have stated, “We were promised the whole park.”

As this position stands in direct contrast to what is contained in the Official Plan, I have been trying to piece together the origin of this entitlement.

In submissions to Council and on the Ward 2 blog, the Northern Heights Community Association and individuals in the neighbourhood have made multiple allegations that a promise of the “whole park” was made by the builder from whom they bought their houses.

A detailed document was attached to one of the petitions submitted by the Northern Heights Community Association. It is dated April 26, 2011 and is entitled: “Objections to Proposed Heritage Designation and Sale of the Wilson-Ingram Farmhouse on Simmonds Drive, Guelph ON.”

In the second paragraph, the following statement is made: “Homeowners were told by the builders, the farmhouse was to be renovated and used for a city facility NOT private sale.”

In the last paragraph on the second page, the submission states: “People were informed when they bought their houses that the farmhouse would be used by the city for community purposes rather than to facilitate private use and limited monetary gain.”

The final statements include the following: “In conclusion, to designate this property Heritage and sever it is: A violation of the understanding of all the recent property purchasers around this area who paid a lot premium for their respective properties facing the park;”

Of note: Nearly all the properties on the west and east sides of the park would have been constructed after 2009. On the 2009 aerial photograph submitted by NHCA, these houses have not yet been built, including, as far as I can ascertain, the home of Mr. Lackowicz. (p.3 of the submission).

Curiously, the statements made in the April 26, 2011 submission stand in contrast to background information printed on a survey distributed by the Northern Heights Community Association, but never remitted to the City: “The approved Master Plan for the Wilson Farmhouse and Park identified that land around the Wilson Farmhouse could be severed from the park with the potential for the City of Guelph to sell the land and house at market value. The City’s Official Plan recognized the house as a historic structure with Council directing that the house be officially designated as a historic property.”

The same allegations of a builder promise of the whole city block without the house have been repeated in posts on the Ward 2 blog and uploaded letters originally sent to City Council: On September 7th, 2013, dh276 posted: “There was a premium charged by the builders to live across from a park not a residence….The house was nice but the city has neglected it and the only thing that has historical significance is a window frame which the new owners could build a new house around and we will have paid a premium for nothing. Will the city pay these premiums back?”

LO Sept. 23rd, 2013: “I remember how our neighbourhood was deceived over the Pravada development. Please make sure that you do support our wishes that the house be demolished and the land added to the park.”

AS Sept 24th, 2013: “The initial plan for this land supported keeping it whole for all to enjoy.”

These allegations are all serious in nature. Anyone dealing in Real Estate – agents, brokers, builders or developers – is bound by the Provincial Real Estate and Business Brokers Act of 2002, specifically sections 35 and 37.

Furnishing false information
35. No registrant shall furnish, assist in furnishing or induce or counsel another person to furnish or assist in furnishing any false or deceptive information or documents relating to a trade in real estate. 2002, c. 30, Sched. C, s. 35.
False advertising
37. No registrant shall make false, misleading or deceptive statements in any advertisement, circular, pamphlet or material published by any means relating to trading in real estate. 2002, c. 30, Sched. C, s. 37.

Members of the Northern Heights Community Association and residents in the area need to substantiate their allegations or withdraw them.

The Official Plan unequivocally states two potential uses for the farmhouse – community use or use as a residence. Were representations made by the builder that the house would be removed from the park block? If so, how were these representations made? Verbally? In writing? In marketing materials? I hope this information will be forthcoming at the Council meeting on the Wilson farmhouse on September 30th.

If, as alleged, people had misrepresentations made to them about what would be happening to the Wilson farmhouse and paid a premium fee as a result, I can understand that they would be upset and angry. They will have a right to legal recourse. However, if this is really a case of wishful thinking and inference, then the residents need to take responsibility for their own lack of due diligence.

Two pieces of information in the Northern Heights Community Association submission support either scenario. Page 20 is a photograph of a sign posted on Victoria Road in 2013. Indeed, the graphic does not show the farmhouse in the park, just a green rectangle. Was this a sign put up by the developer or by the City?

In a cover letter to the petition, dated April 29, 2011, Mr. Lackowicz describes his experience on the doorstep: “Most people were uncertain or misinformed as to the situation…some even thought it was already heritage and severed!” Evidently, not everyone in the area bought their house with the expectation that the Wilson Farmhouse would be removed from the park block. Some anticipated that it would remain in its location.

One thing we can say for certain is that demolition of the Wilson farmhouse was not envisioned in the Official Plan. In fact, its preservation was specifically negotiated as part of the plan of subdivision.

Whether the root cause of the expectation by some people of the removal of the Wilson farmhouse and integration of the 1/3 acre into the park is based on misrepresentation or wishful thinking is ultimately immaterial. Citizens in the rest of Guelph are not obliged to make good on Real Estate misrepresentations made anywhere in the City, nor to fulfill wishful thinking or compensate new home buyers for lack of due diligence.

A triple-bottom-line assessment of the impact of demolition of the farmhouse needs to account for the environmental and cultural effects. In addition, the bottom line financial impact these individuals are expecting City taxpayers to absorb is not insignificant: $200,000 – $215,000 lost revenue from potential sale of the farmhouse and up to $50,000 for the demolition. In the context of a $2.4 million budget shortfall, this is simply not a reasonable expectation.SW

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Filed under Heritage, Wilson Farm Park

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