Back to the Future – Developers aim to preserve nature in Old Chelsea project
Ottawa Citizen, November 16, 2012
Hattie Klotz – Ottawa Citizen
The Hendrick Farm development in Old Chelsea is a huge opportunity to make a giant mistake. Or it could be a spectacular chance to do something unusual in North America, something different and something new, with more than a nod to tradition and yesteryear.
At least, that’s what developers Sean McAdam and Carrie Wallace are intending.
Of the 107 acres of farmland they purchased last year, they intend to develop just 45. The remainder will be left to nature with a series of parks, trails and a nature preserve along Chelsea Creek, the rushing stream that flows through the property from Gatineau Park.
In early October, Chelsea Council voted unanimously to approve the plans for Hendrick Farm. It was the final step in a process that has taken 10 years. McAdam began discussions with the farm’s previous owner, Vince Hendrick, in 2002. In 2006, they signed an agreement and in 2011, McAdam and Wallace became the owners of the land, which is west of Highway 5, sandwiched between Old Chelsea Road and Gatineau Park. (The Hendrick Farm project should not be confused with the controversial Chelsea Creek development to the east of Highway 5.)
Hendrick and his wife, Gert, continue to live in the small farmhouse on the property, but they no longer keep cattle or horses on the land that had been in their family for more than 100 years.
But McAdam and Wallace have fought hard to ensure that farming does continue on the land. They have set aside 10 acres for an organic farming initiative that in its first season already supplied nearly 50 community shared agriculture boxes and sold produce directly to the public from the original barn on the property.
“We number among those strange, few developers who have done everything backwards,” McAdam laughs. “The land was zoned residential-commercial and therefore we’ve had to prove that it has been farmed continuously, without interruption, in order for us to continue to do so.”
This is an odd thing for a developer to do. And it’s a very expensive one. “This goes beyond opportunity costs for us,” says Wallace, “because it has implications for taxes and other things, too.” Taxes, for instance, on a piece of land zoned residential-commercial are far higher than one zoned agricultural. It makes no difference what that land is actually being used for. But this is just one example of the conservation community that McAdam and Wallace are intending to build.
They have a passion for the land and a strong desire to make this development a part of existing Old Chelsea. It may be a new subdivision, “but it’s a contiguous extension of the village,” says Wallace. “The main thing is esthetics for this project. You have to appreciate the beauty of the land and that’s why our design has focused on the relationship between the outdoors and the indoors.
“That’s why we’ve designed a mixed-use commercial and residential project with clustered buildings and density. It’s an unusual development model that doesn’t fit standard zoning, tax and land use models, but we’ve found that there’s an appetite for clustering houses and maximizing the use of green space.”
When McAdam and Wallace took possession of the property, they bought a very large, structurally unsound barn that the Hendrick family had used for pigs, cows and horses over the century. They have painstakingly restored it, creating a place for the preparation and sale of vegetables from the organic farm and a sales office for the development project.
After travelling extensively through North America looking at other planned communities and following several consultations with local Chelsea residents, a corn roast and horse-drawn carriage rides, they discovered that there was an appetite for smaller houses on small lots, reminiscent of the old English-style village life with shopping close by.
Houses, of which there are eight models to choose from, are traditional with shingles, board and batten siding, wide porches and white trim. They range from 1,535 square feet to 2,250 square feet with separate garages to the rear. They will be clustered to foster walkability within the community and to nearby shops and restaurants.
Lots start from $105,000 for a village property, rising to $145,000 for a larger piece of land overlooking a park. Those lots overlooking the organic farm start at $105,000 and rise to $125,000.
McAdam and Wallace launched the first phase of sales in late October with a private view event, hosted in the former livestock barn. Slipcovered hay bales, rustic wooden tables, a fiddle and banjo trio and steaming hot apple cider welcomed the curious, visitors and pre-registered buyers. They sold eight of the initial 60 lots they released on the day and have subsequently sold two more.
“This offers the best of everything to me,” said Duncan McTavish immediately after sticking his red dot to the site plan as a cowbell rang nearby to signal his purchase. “I live in Ottawa now, but like this village living. I didn’t want to live in the country if it meant a large amount of land, but this is so close to Ottawa and is perfect to downsize.”
For Phillip Gauthier and Marilou Tremblay, it was the village feeling and proximity to Gatineau Park that sold them. “We like the Chelsea atmosphere and the village,” says Gauthier. “We enjoy biking and skiing and we want to stay grounded.”
For the future, Wallace and McAdam have plans for the barn. “My dream is to have a commercial kitchen and do local farm-to-table events,” says Wallace. They also plan to run environmental educational programs for children.
What: Single-family homes from 1,535 to 2,250 square feet
Builder: Sean McAdam and Carrie Wallace
Prices: Lots from $105,000 with houses from $385,000
Sales centre: 3 Chelbrook Rd., Old Chelsea, just off Highway 5; by appointment only
Information: Call 613-907-0130 or visit hendrickfarm.ca
Photograph: Carrie Wallace and Sean McAdam in barn
Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, Ottawa Citizen