In a recent letter to clients, Markton Properties said that “due to certain economic conditions and much analysis” it is unable to proceed with its current plans for The Artisan, which was to be located at the corner of Armstrong Street and Hamilton Avenue, across from the Parkdale Market.
Company officials had declared the project – which uses a rendering of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, holding a coffee cup, as its logo – a hit in May after quickly selling 30 units in the proposed 54-unit building. Sales started months before Markton applied to rezone the light industrial land for residential uses and significantly ease the height restriction.
Observers say that deviates from the normal business practices of other Ottawa condominium builders. It also prompted some to take a closer look at Markton’s track record.
“This is an unproven developer,” said the councillor for the area, Christine Leadman.
“It is some guy who owns a piece of property (and) is speculating.”
In the letter, Markton said it never cashed customers’ $5,000 deposit cheques for their condos, priced between $169,000 and more than $1 million.
Homebuilders are allowed to start collecting deposits before they’ve secured all their required municipal approvals. However, legal and industry experts say it’s uncommon for developers to start selling units prior to initiating what would likely be a lengthy rezoning process.
The request for a 10-storey height limit would have been opposed by the community and decided by a city council that rarely approves developers’ density proposals in full.
Attempts to reach Markton officials last week were unsuccessful. In an interview with OBJ earlier this year, company principal Doug Edwards rejected suggestions The Artisan was a speculative project as “complete and utter rubbish.”
“The overwhelming response we’ve had both from people who have expressed interest in our units and the community at large validated this project,” he said.
When asked what would happen if someone purchased a ninth-floor unit and the building height is ultimately capped at, for example, eight storeys, Mr. Edwards criticized community opponents of the project as out to “grind personal axes.”
He later said Markton is not actually a builder, but rather specializes in sales and marketing as well as “vision.”
The recent letter to customers said Markton is “wholeheartedly” pursuing new plans to “increase the overall scope of the project” so it can capture economies of scale.
Markton said it’s “engaging the principal party” of the self-storage facility immediately to the north of the development site and hopes to “conclude an agreement for these lands in a matter of weeks.”
The owner of the self-storage property is Spencedale Properties, a firm led by Mr. Edwards and Gerry Lalonde, who is also involved in The Artisan.
Land registry records show Spencedale Properties acquired the self-storage land in 2000. On Sept. 23, 2008, a $2-million mortgage with C.A. Bancorp G.P. Inc. was registered against the property. Markton registered a $2-million mortgage that day with the same financial institution against the Artisan property.
Less than a year later, in May 2009, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Lalonde unveiled plans to turn a former Renfrew school into 40 luxury condos during a presentation to the local chamber of commerce. At the time, they projected construction on the units – which were to cost between $250,000 and $400,000 each – would begin that September and be ready for occupancy in spring 2011, according to a report in the Renfrew Mercury.
Spencedale successfully rezoned the property this past April, but has yet to file a plan of subdivision, a town official said last week.
“They still have a bit of work to do to turn it into a condo development,” said Mike Asselin, Renfrew’s director of development and works.
Spencedale ran into regulatory hurdles with municipal officials in Ottawa when, in 2008, it asked the city to amend its official plan so it could build a new subdivision within the airport’s operational zone at 2911 Prince of Wales Dr., on the Rideau River south of Fallowfield Road.
The Ottawa Airport Authority fought the proposal because it feared residential development would result in complaints from new homeowners about planes landing and taking off that would ultimately lead to restrictions on the airport’s operations.
City council rejected the proposal, but the decision was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
A city spokesperson was unable to comment on the project last week. In May, there was conflicting information about the status of the project.
OMB records suggested a settlement was reached, but the city said the matter still rested with the board. Mr. Edwards, meanwhile, said final studies were underway in preparation for a plan of subdivision application.
Back in Hintonburg, a bicycle accessorized with a wicker basket and leather saddle bags sits inside the darkened Artisan sales office, located in a 1940s-era lowrise industrial building on Hamilton Avenue. Artisan customers were promised that there would be 10 of these handcrafted Pashley bicycles available for their use to run errands or cycle along the Ottawa River.
A sign on the door said the sales office is now open by appointment only. A trademark black-and-white municipal development application sign has been erected around the corner, suggesting Markton submitted a rezoning application over the summer.
However, a city spokesperson said the file has been put on hold.
“The city has not heard from this developer in quite some time,” said Barre Campbell.
Coun. Leadman said the project is a reminder that homebuyers should research their developer before making a commitment.
“There are a lot of speculators coming out because of the demand in the area,” she said.
“They see the level of intensification, they see what the city is approving and they come in thinking they can do anything.”