Keeping Sandy Hill safe from dormitories

Christine Aubry

This house on Blackburn Avenue sold over asking in less than a week. Neighbours are anxiously waiting to see if a family will be moving in.

If you own a home in Sandy Hill, the following scenario may be familiar to you—There is a house on your street that is in its original state, on a large lot. One day a For Sale sign appears on the front lawn. You and your fellow home-owning neighbours panic! And for good reason—these are exactly the kind of properties that attract developers; their low sale price (relatively speaking, of course) and their potential for expansion make them ideal for student housing. Before you know it, that single-family home is being converted into a large, boxy, metal-clad, multi-unit building with up to 16 bedrooms. Meanwhile, the City is continuing its review of zoning and bylaw rules with respect to rental housing. For the latest information, visit

This was a concern on our block of Blackburn Avenue this summer. There had been rumours around for months that a certain house would be going on the market. We all waited with bated breath, until one day, the sign went up. Offers were being accepted five days later.

It was a constant parade of potential buyers, and a few curious neighbours, despite what seemed like a high asking price. From the open window of my house next door, I heard them—the men in suits discussing height and depth. I texted my husband, “Do we do it?”

We love our house, we have great neighbours, and we have zero desire to renovate another home. But we felt we had no choice. I called local real estate agent, Lynda Cox, and within a few hours, we had entered the bidding war.

With both relief and skepticism, we received the news that our offer was not accepted but that the house sold to a family. Unfortunately, we on our street know all too well that sellers have been deceived; as the saying goes, “Buyers can be liars.”

We are not the first, and likely not the last, willing to make an unexpected financial investment in order to save a property. Neighbours banded together to purchase the carriage house that now houses Bettye Hyde Early Learning Centre and the Children and Adolescent Family Centre of Ottawa. And everyone in Sandy Hill has heard of Leanne Moussa, who found investors to purchase the Anglican church that is now home to allsaints Event Space and the Working Title Kitchen and Café.

Blackburn Avenue resident, Marilyn Whitaker, recalls a heated Action Sandy Hill Annual General Meeting where someone suggested that if people were not happy with the situation in the neighbourhood, they should consider purchasing properties themselves.

Marilyn and her husband Richard took that advice to heart. They left the house they had lived in for over 40 years and purchased a property on the same block where sat a cute house that needed work. In its place, they built themselves a new house that was intentionally designed to blend into the neighbourhood, with the same colour of brick as the house next door and a beautiful front porch.

Marilyn also recalls their real estate agent telling them that Sandy Hill had an unusual number of homes selling to buyers from outside the region. Anecdotal evidence suggests many homes are being sold to families whose children attend the University of Ottawa.

I have spoken to several other homeowners who fear they may have to do the same when that house next door goes up for sale. Because the Province and the City of Ottawa have failed to stop unbalanced development and preserve the character of our neighbourhood, despite herculean efforts by our community association, Action Sandy Hill, it seems the only way to save the ‘hood, as they say, is to put our money where our mouth is.