Posted May 3, 2021
When developer Lalit Aggarwal recently unveiled plans to transform a heavily rental east-end community of Manor Park, there was significant apprehension that it would be Heron Gate all over again: bulldozers tearing down homes and hundreds of residents evicted to make way for new upscale homes for people with deep pockets.
Heron Gate, you’ll recall, is the neighbourhood where developer Timbercreek razed low-income homes three years ago as the first step in a plan to create a new gentrified community of 15,000 to 20,000 people.
“We are always reminded of Heron Gate and we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” says Suzanne Starkings, a Manor Park resident and member of the social justice group ACORN. “People should not be forced out of their homes. We are not anti-development, we are anti-displacement.”
In the event, Manor Park redevelopment may turn out to be the kind of intensification the city has been yearning for, a new model to embrace.
Community association president Elizabeth McAllister says the unfolding story in Manor Park is not whether it’s going to become another Heron Gate — it’s not — but whether it could be a new model of intensification in the city. While nothing is settled and a lot of issues still need to be ironed out as the redevelopment goes through the planning process, McAllister says Aggarwal is offering a new way of doing intensification.
Aggarwal, whose family owns 35 acres of Manor Park Estates, has submitted a masterplan for a new mixed-use neighbourhood of apartment buildings and townhomes of more than 4,061 units, to the city. Residents’ concerns were heightened because the plan included replacing existing homes with new ones — just as was done at Heron Gate.
But Aggarwal moved quickly to allay the fears in the community, making clear he is a different kind of developer. He has committed that no tenant will be left without an affordable home because of his company’s redevelopment plan. “I couldn’t sleep at night if people thought I was displacing people for profit,” he told the Citizen. The residents believe him, as does area councillor Rawlson King. “He seems sincere,” Starkings says of Aggarwal. “We are confident Manor Park will not become Heron Gate.”
Aggarwal however, is just one developer in an area where others have redevelopment plans. And there may be areas around the city where aging properties are ripe for redevelopment. That’s why ACORN says it will be pressing Ottawa council, which did nothing to help Heron Gate residents, to adopt a formal anti-displacement policy. Such a policy would ensure that tenants in a community slated for redevelopment would be protected from being thrown out of their homes, and that enough of the new units would remain affordable for the original tenants. The tenants would have the right of first refusal for new units.
Currently, the city has no policy to stop a repeat of Heron Gate, and Coun. Catherine McKenney says she’d support an anti-displacement policy. Burnaby, B.C. is the only city in Canada with such a policy, but getting it done in Ottawa would be extremely difficult. Developers would certainly lobby hard against such a policy. And it is highly unlikely this particular council will go along. “It would be new to people, it would be new to council and it would be a significant policy change,” McKenney says. “But if we are serious about homelessness, this is the kind of thing we have to do.” Indeed.
As the city seeks to create more livable communities through increased urban intensification, intense battles between communities and developers, who are often backed by city hall, have ensued at great cost to citizen groups. A group of Westboro residents recently lost a three-year battle against a developer and city hall at a cost of more than $90,000. It doesn’t have to be this way.
There’s a long way to go and many hurdles to clear in Manor Park, but Aggarwal is showing that intensification need not be mortal combat.
Opinion by Mohammed Adam for the Ottawa Citizen