Spurred by tech titan Terry Matthews, residents mull Kanata golf club purchase to halt development

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Mitel co-founder and Kanata tech magnate Terry Matthews. File photo

Spurred on by an appeal from billionaire tech titan Terry Matthews, Kanata residents are stepping up with offers to donate funds to save the Kanata Golf and Country Club from being razed for a new residential development, the local councillor says.

More than 400 people attended a community meeting Monday night at the Brookstreet Hotel to talk about golf course owner ClubLink’s controversial plan to redevelop the 71-hectare site. ClubLink is proposing to team up with local developers Minto Communities and Richcraft Homes to tear up the course and replace it with roads, parks, ponds and 1,500 homes divided among single-detached houses, townhouses and apartments.

ClubLink senior vice-president of investments Robert Visentin told OBJ earlier this month the golf course industry has been in decline for the past decade and the firm needs to look at new ways of making the property more financially viable.

But Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds, who organized Monday night’s meeting, said the community doesn’t want to see all that greenspace disappear. She said Matthews, best known as the co-founder of telecom giant Mitel, told residents at the meeting he’d be willing to make a significant contribution to any bid to buy the course from ClubLink if other residents agreed to put money toward the cause as well. 

Sudds said Wednesday she’d already heard from a number of constituents who told her they’d be happy to chip in to save the course from being bulldozed.

“I think as a community, we need to look at all avenues that are possible,” she said. “For the community, it was certainly a call to action. We need to work together to do whatever we can to save this greenspace.”

Barbara Ramsay, chair of the Kanata Greenspace Protection Coalition, which opposes ClubLink’s plans, said Matthews’ offer is intriguing. 

“That’s a large idea that he’s talking (about), but it’s an idea that is certainly worth vetting,” she said, adding she too has been approached by residents asking if her group would take the lead in putting together such a proposal along with the tech entrepreneur.

Opponents of ClubLink’s redevelopment plans say they have the potential to negatively affect their property values, lead to more traffic congestion in the Kanata Lakes and Beaverbrook communities and put more strain on public infrastructure such as roads and schools.

They also say the proposal violates a legal agreement that dates back almost 40 years.

Sudds, Ramsay and others 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.

The city filed an application last week asking Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to rule on whether the so-called 40 per cent agreement is still valid. Sudds said Wednesday the city has asked the court to expedite the application in the hope of having a hearing by Dec. 13.

ClubLink officials say they believe the agreement is invalid.

“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,” Valentin said recently.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on ClubLink’s development application with the city, which was filed in early October. Under provincial law, the city has 120 days ​– meaning until Feb. 5 ​– to make a decision on whether to green-light the proposal.

Sudds and others worry the court hearing process won’t be concluded by the time the February deadline arrives, putting the city in a quandary.

“There is literally nothing that we can do as a city to stop the planning (process),” she said. “We’re doing everything we can on the legal side to try to get this dealt with prior to the 120 days expiring. Obviously, it’s distressing. Until we hear back from the court, it’s hard for us to be able to assess how realistic these timelines are. But I do know that we’ve got an incredible legal team working on our side, and I know that they’ll provide good advice either way.”

The Kanata Greenspace Protection Coalition is hosting a public meeting next Tuesday evening at Earl of March Secondary School to discuss how the community can support the city’s legal fight. 

“It is the right thing to do ​– as far as we’re concerned, the only thing to do ​– to show the respect to the 40 per cent agreement that it deserves,” Ramsay said.