GoFundMe page helping Manotick woman save her home

By Jeff Morris

From the Manotick Messenger

Tears snuck out of Wendy Richards’ eyes as she talked about the love and support she has received from her community.

“I can’t believe how kind and thoughtful and generous people have been,” she said. “Even people I have never met. This community is amazing.”

A GoFundMe page, started by Richards’ neighbour, Nicola Rutherford, is to help her offset legal costs as she prepares to save her heritage home. Richards, who lives in the house alone, operates a house cleaning business and also volunteers with Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Wendy Richards stands in front of her 1880s Manotick home that was propped up and saved by the Manotick and Barrhaven fire departments after excavation by a developer made her home unsafe and forced her to evacuate. Jeff Morris photo/Manotick Messenger

In September, Richards’ life was turned upside down. Her house, on Currier Street in Manotick, was almost turned upside down as well. Literally.

“I came home from work one day, and all of my trees were gone,” Richards said. “The trees were on my property. I told the man to stop, and he said he had an order to cut them all down.”

The order to cut the trees down came from developer George Saade. He owns the Manotick Main Street property that was formerly the Manotick Wine Cellar. His property backs onto the side of Richards’ property.

“George was there when this happened and said I had told him to cut them down,” she alleged. “He never spoke to me about cutting down my trees, and I didn’t give him permission to cut them down.”

A total of 17 trees were cut down by Saade’s arborist. Richards’ house was built in the 1880s, and speculated that some of the trees may have been almost as old as her home.

“I contacted Manotick Tree Movers to get an estimate of replacing the trees,” she said, adding the estimate cost her more than $300. Manotick Tree Movers arrived on her property on Sept. 30, three days after the trees were cut down. The estimate came in at $25,000.

If September ended on a bad note for Richards, October was going to be much worse.

Saade began excavating behind his building on Oct. 9. Richards said that in two full days of excavating, he was respectful of her property line, which she said is four feet, three inches from the side of her house.

On Oct. 13, Richards received a call from her neighbour, Sonny Eve, who told her she should return to her home. Richards said Eve told her he did not believe there were any permits for the work because of the lack of fencing.

“I called the City of Ottawa and they told me they would get someone out to look at it within four to five business days,” Richards said.

The next day, Richards said she received another call from Eve. This time, the situation was more urgent.

“Sonny called me and told me the backhoe was about a foot from my house,” she said. “I came right home. The excavation was, in some spots, within 12 inches of my house. There was a 12-foot drop right beside my house.”

Richards said as bad as the situation was, it could have been worse.

“They just missed the Enbridge gas line,” she said. “I can’t imagine what would have happened if they had hit it.”

With her house about a foot from a 12-foot drop, Richards worried about her house collapsing into the hole. She called Ward 21 Councillor Scott Moffatt, and she also contacted the Ministry of Labour.

The next day, the Ministry of Labour confirmed that there were no permits and shut down the site. The Ministry also confirmed that the excavation had gone into the footings of the foundation of the house. They issued orders to fix the excavation, as it had created an unsafe condition. The City of Ottawa, meanwhile, issued an order for an engineering plan to stabilize the area they dug out.

On Fri., Oct. 16, the Manotick Fire Department evacuated Richards from her home.

“A volunteer firefighter drove by my house and saw how unsafe it was,” Richards said. “He called the Fire Chief of Operations. They came knocking on my door telling me I had to evacuate immediately because it was unsafe and the structural integrity was at risk.”

The Manotick Fire Department called in the Barrhaven Fire Department, because they had the proper equipment to deal with the situation.

According to Richards, the Barrhaven Fire Department arrived and cut down the remainder of a tree stump to give them the room they needed to work. The firefighters drilled multiple two-by-fours into the home with a tarp system to divert water away from the home, the soil and the foundation. The city was informed by the Manotick Fire Department that an engineer must come out the next day (Saturday, Oct. 17), and that it could not wait through the weekend.

With an engineer, a building inspector and the police on hand, a backhoe driver employed by Saade pushed gravel up against Richards’ home to help stabilize it.

Saade was blunt when he spoke to the Manotick Messenger about the excavation.

“What she is saying is not the truth,” he said. For all of the other questions asked to him, he gave a clear and concise answer of “No comment,” adding that the situation would be resolved in court.

In an earlier interview with Kelly Egan of the Ottawa Citizen, Saade claimed that Richards asked him to cut down the trees. He also said all of the excavation that was done was on his side of the property line. Saade told Egan the wanted to build a 45-degree slope and a retaining wall to address a wet basement. He also said he was misled by someone at the City of Ottawa about how high a wall needs to be to obtain a permit.

Saade confirmed with the Messenger that the excavation and a planned retaining wall was to prevent flooding in the building’s basement. He also told Egan that he would never remove his neighbour’s land, and that he still owned another foot of the property.

Richards said the stress of the situation has been taxing.

“I’m probably the only person in Manotick happy that we’re in lockdown with stay-at-home orders,” she said. “My business is shut down so I can’t work right now, but I needed the time to step back and take some time off. It was really difficult to deal with this and all of the phone calls while I was working.”

Richards has lived in the home for the past 21 years. She said that since the excavation her home “doesn’t feel the same.” She has also taken a financial hit because of what has happened. She had a local realtor come in an assess the situation, and she was informed that the value of her property is down $95,000.

The GoFundMe page to support Richards’ legal costs can be found by going to GoFundMe.com, and in the Search bar, enter “Wendy Richards.” There is also a link to the page on the Manotick Messenger Facebook page.

“It’s to help Wendy cover her legal bills as now she faces a difficult, lengthy and expensive battle to ensure her home stays safe,” Rutherford said.  “Meetings with the lawyer have already begun, so the funds will be used immediately and support her throughout the litigation.”

Richards has already had discussions with lawyers about the damage done to her home and property by the excavation.

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