Compared to a lot of major projects, plans for a 763-unit development to be built in Minnow Lake was approved last year with relatively few objections.
The reason was developer Interpaving was willing to build a new road – Silver Hills — to accommodate the housing. Silver Hills will offer improved access to major arteries such as The Kingsway and Barrydowne Road. Unlike other developments proposed for the area, the 80-acre Silver Hills project would improve traffic flow in Minnow Lake, according to the traffic impact study. And the city would get a wide new street, with sidewalks and a bike path.
But the development comes at a high cost for Mathew Heindl, who has owned his Bancroft Drive home for 40 years. Heindl, 69, was told last year at one of the public meetings on the project that his house would be expropriated to make way for Silver Hills Road.
“They told me, 'We're taking your house,' ” Heindl said. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. No asking – they're taking it.
“And I said, 'How long?' and they said a year to a year and a half ... I told them I do not want to go. I hope to die here. I mean, I'm not a spring chicken any more.”
And so began Heindl's experience with expropriations, a process by which a municipality can take ownership of private property when it's deemed to be in the broader public interest.
Repeated attempts over the last week by Northern Life to interview someone from the city's real estate department were unsuccessful. However, while the city's website doesn't have information on how often homes in Greater Sudbury are expropriated, there is a section on how the process works.
“It is the responsibility of the city to purchase property at a fair price while ensuring that your rights and interests as a land owner are fully protected,” the website says. “An offer will be presented to you based on the market value of the real estate, including reasonable legal and appraisal costs, and any costs or damages that may be incurred as a result of the taking.”
While that sounds fair, Heindl said that has not been his experience thus far.
“The city hired someone, and they did an (appraisal) and it's horribly low — it's the same price as my property is being taxed on,” he said. “I've spent over $60,000 on the inside – a new bathroom, a new kitchen – everything's new. But they're not interested in that.”
While he didn't want to say publicly how much he has been offered, Heindl said it's not nearly enough to buy a similar home, let alone pay for his moving and other expenses.
“I've spent a lot of money on the house and the land. I have a gazebo, I put a new deck, I put in the trees. It's my bit of heaven on Earth,” he said. “I planted every tree here, now they're 35-40 feet high. And it's all going to be bulldozed down.”
At the price he's being offered, he would either have to take on a new mortgage or move into a smaller apartment.
“Even older homes (in the area) are going for $225,000 to $250,000,” which is far more than the city is offering for his three-bedroom home, he said.
“I'd just like to buy an older home again – but without a mortgage. I'm close to 70. So if I have to go, I want to pay cash for the new house. I'd like to be able to go from one to the other without expenses or a mortgage or anything like that. I'm too old for that now.”
It's a close-knit area, he says, and it's important that he be able to stay in the neighbourhood where he knows everyone and they know him. For example, when the development was at the planning committee for a decision, he said 10 of his neighbours got up to speak on his behalf.
“I knew I couldn't speak — I've got high blood pressure — and even though I didn't speak, after that meeting, I got a nosebleed,” Heindl said. “They're putting me on extra blood pressure medication, because every day I'm thinking about it, that I'm leaving my home.”
More recently, he said the city improved its offer for his home “a tiny little bit.” But it's far from what he needs to maintain what he has now.
“It's better, but it's not going to buy me a home in the area.”