ClubLink and partners file plans to move ahead with controversial Kanata golf course development

The owner of the Kanata Golf and Country Club has unveiled its contentious plan to redevelop the 71-hectare plot of land in the city’s west end, but nearby residents vowed Tuesday to “vigorously” fight the proposal to build up to 1,500 housing units on the site.

ClubLink, which has owned the golf course since 1996, is working together with local developers Minto Communities and Richcraft Homes on a redevelopment plan that would see slightly more than half of the existing golf course property turned over to housing, with another 27 per cent earmarked for open spaces, ponds and parks and the remainder for new roads. The proposal calls for up to 1,500 new residential units divided among single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.

A concept plan for a community of houses, roads and green space proposed for the Kanata Golf and Country Club.

ClubLink and its partners initially revealed back in December that they were planning to replace the golf course with a mix of housing and parkland. They officially filed the development application at City Hall on Tuesday.

Robert Visentin, ClubLink’s senior vice-president of investments, said the golf industry has been in a “down cycle” since 2011, adding his organization’s overall membership has fallen from a peak of 17,500 to fewer than 15,000 today. Net operating income from its Canadian operations is down nearly 25 per cent year-over-year, he added, and Visentin said ClubLink needs to look at ways of making its operations more financially viable over the long term. 

“We’re in a recession, and I’ve kind of got my fingers crossed it doesn’t turn into a depression,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “All of these developments take time. You can’t do it when you’re broke.”

The new development will provide green space and recreation opportunities such as cycling paths and walking trails that will be accessible to residents 365 days a year, allowing the property to become “much better utilized,” he said. “That’s not happening today.”

But opponents of the project say it will lead to more traffic congestion in the Kanata Lakes and Beaverbrook communities and put more strain on public infrastructure such as roads and schools.

“We feel it’s wrong on all kinds of levels,” said Geoff McGowan, the president of the Kanata Greenspace Protection Coalition.

McGowan, who has been a member of the golf club since 1988, disputed Visentin’s argument that the sport is struggling and said the Kanata course gets “a lot of play.” He also said the property already serves as a year-round recreational site that’s open to hikers, cross-country skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts as long as they don’t interfere with golfers.

“I object to the fact that they are going to radically alter a unique neighbourhood and basically affect the property values of a tremendous number of people,” he said. “It will alter the lifestyle of a tremendous number of people. There are all kinds of negative effects, and there’s really no positive for the community. The only positives in this lie in ClubLink being able to enrich itself.”

Old agreement may be community's leverage

Community associations from both neighbourhoods are banding together with Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds to oppose the redevelopment plan. 

They point to a 1981 agreement between the former city of Kanata and the course’s owner at the time that requires 40 per cent of the Kanata Lakes property to be maintained as green space, including the golf course, and gives the city the right to take over the land at no cost if the owners no longer want to operate the course and cannot find another operator or buyer who wants to maintain it.

ClubLink bought the golf course in 1996; the City of Ottawa took over all legal agreements signed by all former municipalities in the former region of Ottawa-Carleton, including Kanata, when they were amalgamated in 2001.

Late Tuesday afternoon, city solicitor David White issued a statement saying the city's external legal counsel would apply to Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice within the next three weeks to determine the rights of each party under the 1981 agreement.

In a message to constituents on Tuesday, Sudds said she was “extremely disappointed” in what she called ClubLink’s “blatant disregard” for the 40 per cent agreement. “I will not give up fighting for our community to save this critical greenspace,” she wrote. 

In an interview with OBJ later Tuesday, Sudds called ClubLink's claim that 27 per cent of the land in the new development would be devoted to green space and public lands "misleading" because it applies only to the 71 hectares that comprise the golf course, while the entire parcel of Kanata Lakes property covered under the 1981 agreement totals 225 hectares.

Sudds said a "few different groups" have expressed interest in buying the golf course from ClubLink.

"Obviously, we'll certainly keep that as an avenue for future discussion if it's needed," she said. "But right now, I think the focus needs to be on that court ruling."

Visentin said ClubLink believes it’s on solid ground with its proposal.

“We wouldn’t have filed an application and gone through the work of doing all these reports if we thought it was a valid agreement,” he said.

McGowan said the plan’s opponents are confident they can win a legal battle.

“(Visentin) can feel how he feels, but I guess that’s going to be a matter for the courts to decide,” he said. “The reality of it is, they entered into a contract. Nobody put a gun to their head.”