Fight for land continues after expropriation

The Hetheringtons say this was the original request for land. (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

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Steve and Vicki Hetherington never expected to be where they are now when approached about selling a portion of their land to help build a personal care home in the Town of Carman in 2013, but after years of being ignored, misinformed, and what they say can only be described as lied to, the couple has found themselves short seven acres of land and are now frustrated and furious about the entire ordeal.
“The money for the land has never been the issue, it’s the land, our land,” said Vicki Hetherington. “That’s what I continue to tell everyone. We just want our land, have it evaluated by the Land Value Appraisal Committee and have a reasonable and fair compensation for it. It’s about the memories and time we spend with our family back there. What started as a deal for three acres of land quickly turned into the Town of Carman expropriating all seven acres and has left us backed into a corner in our own house. We don’t even own the land on our driveway right now.”
The entire situation began in 2013 when the Hetheringtons were approached about possibly selling some land for a personal care home. Vicki and Steve were adamant the land was not for sale at the first meeting but were intrigued by the idea of a new personal care home and decided to hear the details from the group working on the project.
“Calvin Smith and Les Vanderveen came and sat at our table and within 15 minutes it was no longer would you be willing to sell us this land, it was we will leave you with four acres,” Vicki explained. “We asked certain questions, specifically, why build it here when you can build it at the hospital? There are two parcels of land right next to (the hospital) that you would never have to worry about being bottlenecked into a small portion or worry about a main road. Smith said the landowners by the hospital were being too hard to deal with and the talks with us faded out. When in reality, they never even approached the landowners by the hospital.”
The Hetheringtons then began to think that maybe things had gone away, as they didn’t hear from anyone about the plan until 2014.
“The next time we heard from them Smith called and wanted to know if they could survey our land,” she said. “Steve gave them the go ahead to survey, what we thought, was the 3.3 acres that they needed for the PCH.”
“I come home one day and the surveyors are on my deck,” she added. “I phoned Calvin and asked what they were doing as they had no business being that close to our house and they should be on the land where the PCH is going, he said they’ll be done soon and not to worry about it.”
The two then found out Nov. 15 of 2014 that the crew was not just there to survey the 3.3 acres, they had actually done all seven acres behind the couple’s property right back to the river.
“Later that month we get an email saying they are no longer wanting three acres, they want all seven, and sent us an intent to purchase the entire seven acres,” Vicki said. “We were told we need to sign it by December 1. It was the one and only offer that we received and it was for all seven acres at $700,000, which is a lot of money, but we did not want to give up the extra four acres. That was supposed to be ours, for our family.”
While Boyne Care Holdings said the plan was always to secure the seven acres, the Hetheringtons said that’s not how it was presented.
Boyne Care Holdings, the Town of Carman, and the R.M. of Dufferin began holding meetings in different communities around the region to spread the word of the newly proposed personal care home, where according to the Hetheringtons, misinformation began being spread.
“My friend went and asked how many acres they needed and was told three acres, she rebuffed that she heard they were taking more than was needed, and she was then informed that it would be the entire seven acres. At another meeting someone asked if the group had acquired the land and they said it had not been acquired but it wasn’t a concern because they didn’t need to have the land to proceed, and they were in discussion with the landowners.”
Vicki and Steve feel they were sent the intent to purchase in November so that if any questions arose about the property the group could say they were in discussions with them, but really nothing was happening and the couple was left in the dark the whole time.
“A little while later, Steve and I, our lawyer, Bob Mitchell, Calvin Smith and their lawyer finally got together and I taped the conversation because I wanted to know exactly what was happening and all we wanted to know was why they need all seven acres because the original design was for three and everything fit comfortably into what they wanted,” she added.
Vicki alleged they were even shouted at after they asked what the seven acres were for. After another year of worrying and canvassing their neighbourhood looking for support from community members, things started coming up again in 2018.
“Les Vanderveen with the planning committee wanted to negotiate with us to get the deal done, which is what we want, but for the original 3.4 acres,” said Vicki. “They wanted to know if we’d be in agreeance to 90 feet from the water and the street, and in the letter of intent they gave us, it had a roadway of 66 feet, so they were going to give us 140 feet by 240 feet, with a 60 foot road all around it.”
Vicki says they were then asked if it would be possible if they allowed them to drill two or three holes by the river to check the stability and see if they could push their building back.
“They didn’t just drill two or three holes, they drilled all of them,” said Steve. “Right there we knew they were counting on taking all seven acres. They wouldn’t have drilled all of the holes if they weren’t planning on taking it right from that point, even back to when they were having the land surveyed.”
“Then we were told by Les that we needed to give them offer on our property, which isn’t how business transactions are made,” added Steve. “That didn’t make a lot of sense to me, we own the land, they should be making us an offer. In our eyes, he wanted an offer on the three acres and if we didn’t make it a good offer, they would take all of the land.”
Steve and Vicki both believe the deal should have always been for the initial three acres, and that a life lease was never needed at the location.
“If I think the land is worth more and they do, the Land Value Appraisal Commission can come in and determine the price of the three acres,” he said. “This could’ve been done five years ago but it always came back to the seven acres. And it always came back to us making an offer and we definitely shouldn’t have to make an offer. It was our land.”
Eventually, Steve and Vicki gave an offer to the town for their land, at $1.3 million for the 3.3 acres of land initially wanted.
“Les then came back to us and said Mitchell has taken everything off the table and there was no more negotiating, and that they would be expropriating all of the land instead,” Steve added.
“We’ve been told from the start that our land was not worth a thing, that it was worthless,” said Vicki. “There is a development right across the river from us and ours is in better shape, plus we’ve got the pool, the park, the golf course. Our land is a very desirable piece of land in Carman.”
The two believe expropriation was always the plan and the groups were never planning to actually reach deal with them.
“It even said in the inquiry, that should a price not be able to be negotiated by the Town and the owners than the Land Value Appraisal Commission would determine the final purchase price,” Vicki said. “So if they didn’t like our offer and they weren’t willing to give us a price they should’ve called the LVAC to take care of it. The fact that this didn’t happen is almost criminal.”
“The town and the group were banking on us saying we don’t need the land and that we would give it to them cheap and we didn’t, and that’s when they got spiteful and childish,” Steve added. “All we wanted to know is why they needed all the land, when everything they wanted to build fit easily into the 3.3 acres they initially wanted.”
The Hetheringtons say the Personal Care Home Project, along with the future assisted living building, both easily fit into the 3.4 acres.
“We were giving them enough for a future assisted living facility, inside of the 3.3 acres,” Steve said.
The Hetheringtons know it looks like they may never settle the dispute fairly, but they are hopeful the Town will give back their 4.4 acres, as it isn’t necessary for the project that was proposed. As for the life lease building that is going to go on the extra portion of the land, Steve says it’s a terrible idea.
“It’s just so sneaky,” Steve said. “This isn’t how anyone does business but there needs to be some trust. A life lease building, in my eyes, is private sector on private property with private investors.”
The proposed life lease building would be owned by Boyne Care Holdings, a non-profit agency. They are forbidden by law to make a profit on such a facility and fees to residents can only recoup costs carried by Boyne Care Holdings.
Steven and Vicki say they’ve lost trust in their municipal representatives and say the system itself is unfair.
“I don’t believe what they are doing is fair and they are using the power of the government to do as they please.”
“We got 1,000 signatures on a petition and they just ignored it,” said Vicki. “The town is talking, the area is talking, we’ve been attacked by people in public and online because people don’t understand what is actually happening and they’re being told misinformation by people who are supposed to be a part of the deal. It’s very upsetting because if people actually knew how this entire thing went down they’d be sick, and I pray it never happens to anyone else.”
The couple state they have been approached by councilors off the record and were told that if they would have made a deal at the start they wouldn’t be here today.
“They continue to say that we’re being difficult and not negotiating, but we weren’t. We never even had an offer given to us other than the $700,000 for all seven acres, and we have all the paperwork,” said Vicki. “There was never a deal made on the 3.3 acres.”
“$700,000 for 3.3 acre and we would’ve definitely taken that, the problem is, there was never a single deal made for the 3.3 acres,” added Steve. “They just came and took the land, that was it. That’s the big myth and lie. Our lawyer has been trying to find this offer and he’s said, there hasn’t been one. So where did this idea of an offer come from? If we would have dealt with the 3.3 acres right from the beginning, this would all be done.”
The couple hopes the land will be subdivided and returned, as once people start to learn about the proposed life lease and the cost of entrance, maybe more will come forward with their concerns about the project.
“The Town of Carman and R.M. of Dufferin bully and push projects through with the power of the government and people just say, well there is nothing we can do. This is a way bigger deal than they thought it would be and we pushed back and they didn’t like it,” Steve said. “If we would have known what we know now, back then, we would have gone to every single meeting and raised a ruckus at all of them to let people know exactly how this was being done.”
“Our land is incredibly important to us,” Vicki added. “We have had weddings on our land, we use it with our family, our grandkids, we skidoo there, quading, we go for walks, we’ve had friends use the land to take family pictures. It’s so much more than just a piece of swamp land as the council likes to call it. It’s just about keeping what is ours, what we worked hard for.”
Expropriation happened earlier this year and a cheque for $265,000 for the seven acres was sent to the Hetheringtons. It’s a cheque the duo doesn’t plan to cash any time soon.
Steve and Vicki don’t plan on stopping the fight to get their land back any time soon, but they will be eventually be meeting with the LVAC to discuss a more fair price for the land that was expropriated.
Both feel it would be a simple subdivision and things could be easily repaired. Until then, they urge citizens to be more vigilant when dealing with their local council.
The Hetheringtons provided emails from their lawyer confirming no offer was ever made to the couple on the initial three acres of land.

The Hetheringtons say this image proves Boyne Care Holdings could place the buildings on a smaller footprint (not including the life lease facility) leaving the Hetheringtons four acres. (SUPPLIED IMAGE)

 

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