Heading up the Zibi Kanaal without a paddle?

November 23, 2016

Ottawa’s Windmill Development Group has suffered a big financial loss and is now trying to make amends to disgruntled condo buyers at its Union Lofts project—built on the site of a former heritage church—in Toronto.

Earlier this week, Toronto real estate agent Bob Aaron told the Toronto Star: “It’s a cautionary tale to read the contract and make sure you know what you’re getting into.”

Could something similar happen at the Zibi Kanaal project on Chaudière Island in the Ottawa River? As many know, Windmill’s controversial Zibi project is dogged by opposition from Indigenous activists like architect Douglas Cardinal. It is also subject to an assertion of land rights by Algonquin First Nation chiefs from Quebec who say the island is part of a sacred site they want the federal government to recognize.

Buyers in Ottawa’s real estate market need to be aware that records from Ontario’s Land Registry office reveal that Windmill Dream Zibi Ontario Inc. is leasing parcels of land on Chaudière Island from Domtar Inc. It seems clear that what the company claims is private property may not really be THEIR private property.

In July 2015, Windmill and its corporate partner with deep pockets, Dream Unlimited Corp., entered into a five-year lease with Domtar, which used to run a paper mill on Chaudière Island. Ottawa historian and researcher, Lindsay Lambert, who uncovered the leasing agreement, has warned that buyers should beware. And he is not the only one sounding an alarm.

Uncertainty around this leasing arrangement prompted Warren McBride, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa to pen his open letter, 8 reasons I will not buy a Zibi condo on islands in the Ottawa River.

At the heart of this uncertainty are questions about whether a development company can sell a condo to anyone when the land itself may only be leased.

“These islands are not just chunks of land that nobody cares about,” McBride wrote.  “The National Capital Commission promised as recently as September 2016 that it will negotiate with First Nations over the Zibi proposal to build condos. How long will this take? Is this part of the fine print in any pre-sale agreement you might sign?”

National Capital Commission (NCC) staff said publicly during a Sept. 12, 2016 Board of Directors meeting that the NCC expects to begin consultations with Algonquin First nations when transfers of federal lands on Chaudière and Albert Islands begin.

It produced a map showing the situation on Chaudière Islands (areas in yellow depict Domtar leased lands still officially in the hands of Public Services and Procurement Canada). View the full PDF presentation here.

current-land-regime 1Kanaal condos came up for presale in November 2015. In February 2016, with 40% of the units sold, Windmill then launched Phase 2 of Kanaal sales.

Ask the right questions if you are considering a purchase. Don’t find yourself up a Zibi Kanaal without a paddle.


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