NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Search string: "farming"

Matches found: 8

Thursday, January 26, 2012

NCC wants to expand Greenbelt

The NCC has announced a plan to expand the Greenbelt over the next 50 years. From the Citizen:

Over 50 years, parcels of land - large and small - belonging to provincial and municipal governments, as well as private holders, would be added to the Greenbelt through purchase or negotiations. By 2067, the Greenbelt would grow to about 24,000 hectares (23,875) from 21,875 hectares today.

Overall, 57 per cent would be natural environment, up from 50 per cent. Nearly 5,800 hectares would be set aside to promote sustainable agriculture, mostly small-scale operations of crops and livestock. About nine per cent will be buildings and other facilities. More than 25 per cent of the Greenbelt would be devoted to a variety of farming enterprises.

The biggest parcels of land the NCC hopes to add to the Greenbelt include privately owned land in Shirley's Bay and provincially owned woodlands and natural areas near the Mer Bleue Bog. The NCC believes it can negotiate with provincial and city governments to make their land part of the Greenbelt while maintaining ownership. Other pieces of land would be part of a study to determine if they should be added to the Greenbelt. The trickier part for the NCC, which is hard-pressed for cash, is to find the money to buy private lands.

Marie Lemay, the NCC's chief executive, said Wednesday the decision to expand the Greenbelt and prevent new commercial development is an affirmation of its value to the city.

Despite its failure to prevent suburban development, the NCC says the Greenbelt is still relevant, and continues to definitely pay dividends "by safeguarding forests, fields, streams and wetlands and species, and by filtering our air, cleansing our water, and moving toward sustainable agriculture."

NCC consultant Cynthia Levesque says with the new plan, there will no longer be any doubt about the Greenbelt's role: protection of the natural environment, a place for sustainable agriculture and recreation.

Of course the NCC only barely manages to run the Greenbelt as it is now, letting many properties simply go to ruin or burn down, and more or less bankrupting farming tenants through incompetence and indifference. So - onward with the sustainable agriculture!

Citizen: NCC unveils plan for Emerald City [26 January 2012]
Citizen: NCC will focus Watson's vision [26 January 2012]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Friday, April 19, 2011

More NCC farming tenants get out of Dodge

Hugh Adami in the Citizen catches up with some Greenbelt farming tenants originally profiled last May, and, predictably, finds more farcical goings on:

If the National Capital Commission is going to neglect its farm properties like the one it leased to tenants Eliane Michèle Crématy and Anna Lamontagne, it should give serious thought to getting out of this agricultural venture altogether.

But that doesn't seem likely, given the NCC hype over its Greenbelt master plan review. A review update this month says a couple of strategies will be to "protect and expand farm assets and build infrastructure" and "engage passionate people (as tenants) and build partnerships" with them.

Tell that to Crématy and Lamontagne, who were featured in a Citizen story last May about the disconnect between the NCC and farm tenants. Despite a decrepit barn that was virtually unusable for their plan to board horses, they were determined to wait for repairs. But today, they are among a growing number of former farm tenants who bailed well before their leases expired.

Bungling bureaucrats appear to be one problem. But Dell Management Solutions, under contract with the NCC to oversee the 60-plus Greenbelt farms, deserves a good kick in the pants, too. Its property managers can be elusive at times and then full of false assurances. To be fair, it was a property manager from Minto, which had the contract before Dell took over in 2009, that got the whole mess rolling. She's the one who assured Crématy and Lamontagne that the barn was in good shape and ready for use.

Crématy and Lamontagne say afterward, they were promised repeatedly that their concerns with the barn at their Ramsayville Road farm would be addressed, but nothing ever happened.

Has the NCC apologized to Crématy and Lamontagne for wasting 2.5 years of their lives - which they say has led to various stress-related health problems? They lost thousands of dollars in projected revenues and cashed in about $17,000 of registered retirement savings for maintenance work, a good deal of it unexpected.

Instead of expressing its regrets, the NCC is showing the couple that bad landlords don't like to lose. It is seeking $6,000 to $7,000 in rent arrears, which the couple would have been able to pay had they not been hit with financial setbacks due to an unusable barn. The couple, now renting a private farm in Russell, was paying $1,330 a month for the 10-hectare NCC property.

The NCC says the couple should have inspected the barn thoroughly before signing the lease, as repairs to all buildings, except the farmhouse, are the tenants' responsibility.

How can that be fair? The barn's roof alone would cost $25,000 to $30,000 to replace. Adds Crématy: They would not have signed the lease had they been told the truth.

That's some partnership.

Citizen: Closing the barn door after tenants are gone [19 April 2011]
Citizen: Greenbelt grievances [23 May 2010]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Homeowner in battle with NCC over blocked drains

More landlord from hell hijinks courtesy the NCC. From the Sun:

How bad is the smell? So bad that Sweet's had to install a big $16,000 air-cleansing power vacuum machine in his basement to suck in the particles from the sewage gas.

When it comes to the air we breathe, Sweet, 46, is an expert: He's the owner and CEO of Air-Medics, an indoor air quality consultants and cleaning company.

"I'm not going away. If I have to be a thorn in their side forever, I will be."

He's talking about the National Capital Commission. It owns the land on which his house stands. It's a two-bedroom bungalow on Braddish St. near Bank St. and Conroy Rd. He bought it about 20 years ago for $150,000. He owes about $90,000 on the mortgage.

The NCC says he's responsible for his septic system. He knows that. The problem for Rob Sweet is this: Why is the NCC not responsible for his screwed-up septic system that, he says, wouldn't be screwed-up, causing sewage and health problems, had the NCC not decided some seven years ago to fill in the drainage ditch along the road at the left end of his driveway?

The NCC left the drainage ditch to the right of his driveway intact, but when a garage on a property to the left of his driveway was torn down, the commission had the ditch on that side filled in.

[...]Sweet says there wouldn't be a problem had the ditch not been filled in. What he finds strange is that the NCC now claims ditches - such as the one in question - are not its responsibility, even though it's the NCC that filled it in.

Mr. Sweet has been inspecting other properties in the area and has posted more info on his blog at Air Medics.

Sun: Raising a big stink [20 March 2011]
Air Medics blog: Living in the Green Belt on NCC Managed Property [30 March 2011]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Greenbelt farming gong show continues

Hugh Adami profiles another would-be Greenbelt farmer in his Public Citizen column at the Citizen:

All Steve Fournier wanted to do was raise and sell chickens and ducks, and host school field trips at the farm he rents from the National Capital Commission.

He wasn't expecting the Green Acres sitcom horrors that have been part of everyday life since he and his wife, Elizabeth, became NCC tenants in 2009.

[...]Rent for the 5.7-hectare property is about $1,000 a month. It includes a barn, a garage/shed and a farmhouse. He knew the barn was basically useless unless he carried out major repairs.

But the couple had no idea what awaited them in the farmhouse. They only discovered its many problems - the worst being a leaking foundation - after moving in.

[...]They discovered the leaky foundation problem soon after moving in. Last winter, several holes were drilled into the basement floor so water could drain. But water continued coming in every time it rained or during a thaw. Eventually, the moisture led to black mould throughout the basement and a vile smell that ruined a family get-together last Thanksgiving.

Fournier called Ottawa's health department, which inspected the basement and ordered the NCC to clean it.

The mould was chemically removed. Wet insulation that partially covered the basement walls was replaced last month, and the new insulation was covered with drywall. But work on the foundation footings was not done and water continues to seep in, even from areas under the new drywall.

The couple was forced to throw out clothes, furniture and many other belongings they had stored downstairs.

Besides the problem foundation, the couple had to put up with a faulty furnace last winter that cost them $1,100 in heating oil in one month alone. And the fireplace can't be used. It's stuffed with insulation to keep out cold air.

Some doors don't close properly, and there are cracks in the walls. Fournier says the failure by contractors to grout shower tiles in the upstairs bathroom caused water to seep down the wall. Eventually, a small section of ceiling on the main floor caved in.

There have been electrical problems - three fuses blew at the same time - and the septic system backed up last April. Just recently, a rotting support beam in the basement dropped to the floor, just as Fournier was tending to another problem a few metres away.

The couple's complaints just add to the growing pile about the commission's ineptitude as a farm landlord.

Citizen: Public Citizen: Farm tenants find Green Acres [23 February 2011]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt farming archive

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"We do value farming in the Greenbelt"

The Citizen followed up today on the plight of valued NCC farming partner Jennifer Englert, who rented a farmhouse and some acreage from the NCC in September 2009 with the expectation that she would be able to, y'know, farm. But after more than a year, the NCC never came across with a land-access permit they required. Now she has had to move out:

The faster the National Capital Commission fairly compensates Jennifer Englert for a farming venture that never got off the ground, the faster it will do the right thing.

So far, the NCC has offered her about $3,200 - the equivalent of two months rent for the commission-owned farmhouse on Ridge Road that she vacated Tuesday. The offer is a joke because it is a fraction of what she lost in anticipated revenues and money that she wasted on farm supplies, including an $18,000 tractor.

Englert waited all last year for a land-access permit from the NCC, through its property manager, Del Management Solutions, so she could begin farming 14 hectares of Greenbelt land. The permit never came.

She moved into the farmhouse in September 2009, with her young son, Jaden. She hoped her tenancy would expedite the land assignment under a separate lease with the NCC. The land was assigned to her last spring. Then came the fruitless wait for the access permit.

Not only is the NCC offer of $3,200 grossly insufficient, but it comes with a sleazy catch. If she takes the money, she has to sign an agreement that she will not pursue any claims for the bureaucratic fiasco that killed her dream. "($3,200) doesn't come close to what I've lost," says Englert, who is still calculating how much money she is out.

[...]But after acknowledging the "unfortunate situation" in early December, the NCC told The Public Citizen that it would "work hard at making sure her farming season (in 2011) can start as soon as she wishes."

NCC spokesman Jean Wolff said at the time that Englert was the type of tenant the commission wants farming its lands because of the products she was planning to grow and sell.

Obviously, that mea culpa was then. This is the NCC now: "As anybody else who wants to farm on NCC land, she can apply," said Gadbois-St-Cyr. "And the NCC will consider (her application based on its merits)."

[...]She says she cannot believe the countless miscommunications from the NCC. Even on Christmas Eve, after being initially told she could move out of the house at the end of February, as requested, she was shocked to hear that she would be responsible for the rent through next August.

She was told the NCC automatically renewed her lease for another year when it raised her rent last September.

[...]Rent for the farmhouse was $1,582 a month, and she spent hundreds more on heating and electricity. When she signed her lease, the NCC had told her propane expenses would run around $200 to $250 a month. Her propane bill this month was about $825.

Organic vegetables were going to make up a large part of Englert's farm. She was also going to cultivate seeds from a variety of organic squash plants. She was also going to grow 1.5 hectares of "cut" flowers to sell at local farmers' markets.

She was able to plant the flowers late last spring after Del Management contract manager Stephan Groleau gave Englert the go-ahead in a signed email.

She had already purchased the tractor following Groleau's assurances the permit would come at any time. But she was ordered to get off the farmland twice - once when Groleau was away and days later, after he quit the job. She was told by his replacement that Groleau didn't have the authority to allow her to farm without the permit. Englert couldn't even tend to the flowers she had planted. An acre of cut flowers, she says, could have yielded her as much as $20,000 in revenues. "I didn't get to touch them," she says.

At this point, it is worth quoting NCC CEO Marie Lemay's interview in the Citizen last May, when they ran a series on the challenges farmers in the Greenbelt face:

"Farmers can't just be tenants," she said.

"The first thing will be to sit down with them, not just talk through other people, and identify clearly what are the impediments."

The NCC leases more than 60 farms on the Greenbelt, most commonly for periods of five years at a time.

Many farmers say urban encroachment, crumbling barns and farm infrastructure, impractical leasing options and dealing with a third-party property management company hired by the NCC often leave them feeling disconnected from the NCC.

Lemay said she's heard many of the complaints before.

She used the example of new leasing arrangements as one way of building better partnerships between the NCC and its tenant farmers in the future.

"If you want people to be invested in their farming operation, then you probably want them to be living there and have an ownership of the property. Even if we're the landlords, they have to feel that they're a true partner in this," she said.

Farmers should be happy the NCC is currently reviewing its master plan for the Greenbelt, Lemay said, reiterating their importance.

"We do value farming in the Greenbelt, that's not something they should question," she said.

Looks like we have a candidate for impediment number one: issuing permits. But no doubt Jennifer Englert is thrilled the NCC is reviewing their Greenbelt master plan. Another horror story courtesy the absentee landlords at the NCC.

Citizen: Farmer's dream goes to seed [25 January 2011]
NCC Watch: NCC farm tenant high and dry [8 December 2010]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt grievances [24 May 2010]
Citizen: Bountiful opportunities for produce in Greenbelt: NCC [24 May 2010]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NCC farm tenant high and dry

Another story about one of the NCC's valued farm tenants:

Somebody should remind National Capital Commission chief executive Marie Lemay that more than six months have passed since she spoke of the need to fix its relationship with its farm tenants.

Because in that time, Jennifer Englert, who rented a rural house from the commission in September 2009 with plans to start farming adjacent NCC land last May, has been left high and dry.

It's Dec. 8, and she is still waiting for her land access permit from the NCC, through its property manager, Del Management Solutions.

Not that the permit would do any good right now, but until she gets it - or the lease that she was also promised - she will be in the dark about next year, too.

[...]Englert has spent thousands renting a three-bedroom "heritage" house on Ridge Road, in the Ramsayville area, that has cost her a ton more in propane and hydro. She bought a new $18,000 tractor following more assurances that the permit was coming for about 14 hectares of land assigned to her in early spring. She bought other farming equipment and supplies, including seeds, bulbs and spuds. She relinquished her booths at two weekend farmer's markets last July because she didn't have any of the vegetables or cut flowers that were to come from her new farm.

[...]It's not clear which is the bigger villain in Englert's ordeal - the NCC or the property manager. Certainly, staff changes at Del Management and the NCC, as well as miscommunications and other gaffes made the situation worse.

But the NCC was neglectful, too, and, as the property owner, is the one which was supposed to sign off on her land access permit for 2010 and a subsequent five-year lease for 2011-2015. One NCC staffer actually suggested she complain to a Del Management superior. That got her far.

The NCC leases more than 60 farms on its Greenbelt lands. There have been numerous complaints about the condition of barns and other farm buildings, impractical leasing options and the property management company.

The problems were documented in a Citizen story on May 23. In a report the following day, Lemay said she was well aware of the complaints, adding the commission would have "to act so farmers know and are appreciated as partners with the NCC."

Citizen: Slow land permit process leaves NCC farm tenant high and dry [8 December 2010]
NCC Watch: Greenbelt grievances [24 May 2010]

Friday, May 24, 2010

Greenbelt grievances

The Citizen has a three-part series on farming in the greenbelt, highlighting typical problems experienced by anyone who is a tenant of the NCC:

Behind one of the barns on Eliane Michèle Crematy's farm on Ramsayville Road is the rusted carcass of a Ford truck.

The windows are smashed, the vinyl seats are slashed and the white paint has turned grey with time. A Manitoba maple tree and other weeds threaten to swallow the truck whole with their foliage.

This isn't Crematy's truck, but it's been there since the day she moved onto the farm almost two years ago.

She has asked the National Capital Commission - her landlord - to remove the truck, yet here it remains.

"It's just so hard to get somebody here to say, 'Yes, you're right, we're going to fix this,' and take action," Crematy says, letting out a long sigh.

Farmers on the Greenbelt have many gripes: urban encroachment, crumbling barns and farm infrastructure, impractical leasing options and a landlord-tenant relationship that leaves many feeling disconnected from the NCC.

But "Canada's Capital Greenbelt" - the 20,000-hectare crescent of farms, forests and wetlands that hugs the city - is supposed to be a place where Canadians can experience their rural roots and natural heritage; a place where sustainable farming and forestry are key features.

[...]Today, the NCC owns more than 60 farms, leased to tenants like Crematy through a third-party property management company.

[...]Crematy's dream for her 10-hectare farm was to board horses, do some market gardening and ease into retirement with her partner, Anna.

Crematy hoped to get certified to teach riding horses.

But the 50-year-old barn badly needs repair. Its leaky roof creates deep puddles in the stalls she wanted to use for boarding and there is no running water. One section of the ceiling is caving.

Although the lease stipulates the NCC is responsible for structural repairs, Crematy said the couple has put more than $10,000 into the farm since 2008.

Those added costs, combined with some bad luck, forced them to miss two months' rent - something Crematy says would not have happened if they were boarding horses.

"We were told the barn was great and that was the biggest disappointment."

On the other side of the Greenbelt, near Shirleys Bay, David Burnford grows organic vegetables on about two hectares of land.

He says the line between what regular maintenance he's responsible for as a tenant and what tasks should fall to the NCC is fuzzy.

"I think that results in a lot of issues not being addressed by either party," he says.

He cites, as examples, a kilometre-long driveway that is pocked with potholes and a century-old barn needing structural work.

Burnford says the NCC should invest in the farms.

"If we're going to designate it as a special area and keep it away from development, we might as well do it properly," he says.

Burnford, who is more than halfway through a five-year lease, adds a longer lease would allow him to invest capital more confidently.

These problems have existed since the land was expropriated, and there's little reason to believe, consultant reports, 'buy local' faddism and Marie Lemay's personal enthusiasm for farming notwithstanding, things will ever change.

And while the NCC churns away on its next plan for the greenbelt, the city had its own consultant report on the greenbelt, recommending that land along major arteries be developed. However, as Randall Denley notes:

To really get anything done in Ottawa, one requires intelligent involvement by either the federal government or its agencies. That's a problem. The consultants highlight the disconnect between federal actions and good land use policies. For example, the federal government has done nothing to intensify development in its outmoded office campuses at Tunney's Pasture and Confederation Heights. These are prime revenue-generating and intensification targets, but the government has no particular motivation to act.

Citizen: Greenbelt Acres: Farm living, it's the life they seek [22 May 2010]
Citizen: Greenbelt grievances [23 May 2010]
Citizen: Bountiful opportunities for produce in Greenbelt: NCC [24 May 2010]
Citizen: Consultants tell city: tighten your Greenbelt [16 May 2010]
NCC Watch: Down on the farm with the NCC [24 Sep 2000]
Citizen: Greenbelt history left to rot [22 Oct 1999]

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Down on the farm with the NCC

This article from the Citizen provides the history of some of the lands now part of the NCC's greenbelt. Tenants are tenaciously hanging on, doing the NCC a tremendous favour by maintaining buildings and property, despite the NCC's indifference and refusal to grant long-term leases:

Jim Brennan was the first in his family to get a notice of expropriation. In August 1959 -- one year after the NCC started to claim Greenbelt land -- he received a $75,000 government cheque. Four years later, Gerald received $22,000 for his share of the land. To the Brennans, there seemed little point in fighting the valuations. The NCC was willing to pay as much as $1,000 an acre, which seemed like a gentleman's price. But others weren't so convinced. Designation of the Greenbelt was already depressing prices within its limits, while prices beyond it were skyrocketing. In townships such as March, land was already selling for $2,000 to $3,000 an acre. The building boom looked poised to leap the Greenbelt even before it was created. Among Gerald Brennan's neighbours, some argued bitterly that if the federal government wanted a restricted development zone, Nepean's landowners were sure as hell not going to subsidize it.

One of those to protest was Fred Mattatall, the comptroller and vice-president of Ottawa's Freiman's department stores chain. In 1953, Mattatall and his wife, Alice, had bought the old Archie Graham estate for $12,000. The Mattatalls set about restoring the estate lovingly. They planted five kinds of apple trees. They named their 40 acres Pinewood Orchards. Mattatall cherished his retreat. It was a reprieve from the pressures of his executive job. On summer evenings, after putting in long days at his office, he was often spotted in the fields, gas lantern in hand, nursing his young trees with fertilizer.

When the NCC moved to claim his land, Mattatall, then in his early '60s, launched a legal challenge over the assessed value of his property. But in March 1963, at the age of 64, he died of a heart attack before his appeal could be heard. Alice Mattatall abandoned the fight, and agreed to the NCC's offer of $95,000. In all, between 1958 and 1966, the NCC spent $40 million to acquire farmland for the Greenbelt.

The Mattatalls never got to see the first apples harvested from their orchard. After expropriation, the NCC rented out the estate, as well as the wood-frame house that had seen three generations of Brennans. For the most part, the new tenants did their best to carry on the area's farming tradition with mixed success. "It was a kind of transition period," said Gerald Brennan. "They didn't want people to walk away and let things go to ruin. They wanted things to be presentable."

By then, Gerald and Ruth Brennan were living in a modern brick bungalow. Because the bungalow sat on the northeast corner of Lot 1, Concession 1, an easy walk from Gerald's day job, the Brennans found themselves in the awkward position of being tenants of the NCC, in a house they had built to raise their family. During those years, Gerald watched as speculators snapped up land ever faster, and suburbia crept ever closer. The first planned community near the western tip of the Greenbelt was Lynwood Village in Nepean. It was built by Bill Teron, the developer and architect who went on to build Kanata.

[...]The Keehners, both in their 30s, are the latest occupants of Pinewood Orchards, the former Mattatall estate. Dave's parents were the first to rent the property after expropriation in 1963 and he lived on the estate until age 13, when his family moved to Britain. Years later, when Dave returned to Ottawa and met Lisette, he convinced her Pinewood Orchards was where they should make their home. That was four years ago. "I wanted to come back to my roots," Dave explained one evening as the sun set behind the apple trees.

The Keehners applied to be tenants of the orchard in 1996, the same year the NCC unveiled its future plans for the Greenbelt. Very quickly, the couple discovered the discrepancy between NCC policy and NCC practice. First, they were given a five-year lease, hardly an arrangement that would encourage farmers to invest long term. Without a longer lease, the Keehners were reluctant to pour money into upgrading the estate, particularly its crumbling barns. With a few exceptions, their landlord seemed indifferent to the couple's pleas. Their list of urgent repairs included leaky roofs, hazardous wiring and dubious foundations. The NCC blamed budget limitations for its inaction.

The Keehners found themselves in a Catch-22. To turn their orchard into a moneymaker, they had no choice but to pay for their repairs. On the other hand, the NCC gave the couple no assurances their efforts would be rewarded with a longer lease. What's more, any improvements made would not increase property values since the orchard sits on Crown land. In the end, the Keehners spent about $4,000 on renovations, recycling building materials as much as possible. With the help of friends, the couple completed most of the repairs on their own.

By day, Dave works as a contractor, reading gas meters to finance the costs of the farm. Each fall, when the apple harvest starts, the couple welcome visitors who buy fruit or cider fresh off the farm. They would like to do more than that. They talk about hosting weddings and garden tours, but their plans remain a fantasy. "When I have to worry about old buildings falling down, it takes away from developing the orchard," says Dave. "Just a little bit of money from the NCC for the maintenance of the property wouldn't hurt."

Their five-year lease expires next spring. Already, the Keehners are preparing a 40-page proposal to the NCC -- not the chores of your typical farmer. They hope a detailed plan will secure them a lease of up to 25 years. "Despite all the frustrations, we want to be here," says Lisette.

The NCC has a poor record on protecting heritage buildings and properties on the greenbelt.

Citizen: The edge of edge city [24 Sep 2000]
Citizen: Greenbelt history left to rot [22 Oct 1999]