By Andrea Tomkins –
There were a lot of friendly faces at the Highland Park Lawn Bowling Club’s annual Strawberry Social and fundraiser on Saturday, June 24. Friends and neighbours gathered at shaded tables to chat and enjoy homemade strawberry shortcake and lemonade. The conversation however, was about more than just the great weather or their secret shortcake recipe. The Lawn Bowling Club, which has been located at Golden and Byron for over 100 years, is currently reeling from a massive City of Ottawa tax hike. The club’s annual property tax bill quadrupled – from $2,700 in 2012 to more than $12,000 after its most recent assessment by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).
The assessment is being appealed and a verdict is expected in the fall. In the meantime, club members, with the help of Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, are weighing their options: sell to developers, sell to the City of Ottawa and lease it back, or find some other way to make up the shortfall, which may be a challenge for a club that has 72 members, many of whom are senior citizens.
“The critical question is, how are they going to pay their taxes,” says Kitchissippi Councillor, Jeff Leiper. “I think it is absolutely critical that we save that piece of green space.”
According to the Councillor, the path forward is a “daily discussion” in his ward office, and although it’s still very early in the process, a number of different scenarios are being considered – including heritage designation, although it wouldn’t defray the taxes.
“I do think it is incumbent on the City to try to preserve that greenspace,” he says. “It would be very understandable if the Club chose to sell that very desirable piece of real estate and if they do, I think we can all anticipate the kind of intense development that would probably take place at that site. So, both from the perspective of maintaining a critical recreation opportunity for a demographic – largely senior – that we don’t maybe serve as well as we could, and from the perspective of maintaining green space that would get ‘infilled’ at a fairly intense rate, I do believe it’s important for us to save it.”
The future of the lawn bowling club may be uncertain, but what is clear, however, is the club’s place in the hearts of its members.
Ruth Gillespie, Connie Stinson and Muriel Tremain (pictured above): “For me the biggest thing is that we have a club that’s very committed to the neighbourhood. We worry about the taxes that are going up and we may not have a place,” says Connie.
Bob Thomson, member: “We’re a non-profit organization, we have reasonable membership fees – $225/year for active members, $150 for new members for the first year – but our tax bill has just gone up from $2700 to just over $12,000 because they’ve declared this land to be residential even though for the last 105 years it’s been recreational. And so we’re in the process of having discussions with Jeff Leiper and the City. Our problem is that we own the land and we’re a non-profit. All the other lawn bowling clubs are on City land. We are probably going to have to have more fundraising events. We have money for the moment in our reserve fund, but this building is old and there are some problems with the foundation.”
Gary Partington, President: “We are generating some revenue from the signage on the fences of sponsors of our club, and that helps immensely, but we need even more than the money that generates. The 70 members that we have, the amount of increase to cover the taxes alone would be $140 per member and that would be beyond the means of a lot of the members. We can’t increase the fees. We’re looking at the possibility of selling the property to the City and getting a lease back. That is a historical decision, one that we’re not looking forward to having to make, but if the options are to sell it to a developer or sell it to the City, I think that the latter is the option that we would prefer to pursue at this point in time.”
Clarice Steers, member of the board, event co-organizer: “The Strawberry Social is a very important fundraiser this year. We’re a small group, so when taxes go up so much, it’s hard to make up the difference. The Granite Club has been hit with the same thing. They have 600 members but it rings a death knell for us unless something can be done. We’ve appealed, and with some luck, there can be an adjustment. We can fundraise, but just a certain amount.
“You can imagine the developers are really looking hard [at this property]. It would be a shame to lose this beautiful little bit of green space that we have. We don’t have a whole lot in Westboro anymore. Anybody who lives in Westboro knows that taxes are horrendous but I don’t think anyone really thought it would go that high.
“I have lived in Westboro for seven years, I moved from Oakville. This was a big move for me. Living in Westboro and discovering this club has put me in touch with the community. I get to know people, I meet them on the street and the grocery store. I feel that I belong to the community because of the Club. And the nice thing about the Club is that you don’t have to be very sports oriented, but it’s nice because you [are active] and do it outside and of course, our summers are so short. I love to be outside, and it’s so easy. We draw teams and play and have a good time.
“When you have young children you get to know people in the neighbourhood because of the children and their activities, but when you’re a certain age you have to make your own connections. I’m a widow, so it’s that much more difficult. I feel like I can walk down here, and I feel very comfortable and in a safe environment. I just feel good, and every time I go home from lawn bowling in the evening I think, ah, you’re a pretty lucky lady.”
Photos by Andrea Tomkins. Quotations have been edited for length and clarity.