BY MICHAEL PRENTICE Carleton Place used to be a sleepy little town on the banks of the Mississippi River a world away from Ottawa. It’s not that way anymore. An expanding ribbon of asphalt between Ottawa and Carleton Place is set to be complete within three years, reducing the commute time for buyers impressed by small-town living and speeding the way to more affordable housing prices.
The highway improvements makes the town a more attractive place to live, and more attractive for big retailers, says Carleton Place mayor Paul Dulmage. He points out that a surge of big box-store construction is now taking place just off Highway 7 on the outskirts of town. It will include a Home Depot, Rona, Staples and Wal-Mart “I’m not sure the expanded highway will make a whole lot of difference in the time to get to and from Ottawa in off-peak hours,” says Dulmage. “But it will make travel safer, and it will make for an easier and faster journey in peak hours.” Quality of life is what brings people to live in this area, he says. “We have so much parkland and so many nature trails. It’s a lifestyle that is not easily duplicated.
What sort of existing home can you get for your money in Carleton Place? You could have bought a restored 1870s heritage home for $219,500. It was on the market for four months, and sold for the full asking price. Or a meticulously restored 1875 Victorian home sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River. The large, three-bedroom house on Moffatt Street was bought recently by a Canadian diplomat for $480,000 after being on the market for less than three months at $499,900. More modestly, a modern, three-bedroom bungalow at 308 Bridge St. in Carleton Place sold in two days earlier this month for the asking price of $189,900. Couch, a REMAX agent with offices in a magnificently-restored 1830s home in Carleton Place, says homes in all price ranges are being lifted by increased demand.
Pauline Aunger agrees. She is a Royal LePage real estate broker whose territory includes Perth, Smiths Falls and the Rideau Lakes. “The new highway will not just make Carleton Place closer to Ottawa. It will put the whole of Lanark County nearer,” says Aunger. “We are already seeing lots of people commuting daily between Lanark County and Ottawa.” The real estate market is busy, and prices have continued to rise in the past year, says Aunger. Newcomers find that small-town living is much more affordable than life in the city, she adds.
It’s cheaper to buy existing homes in and around Carleton Place than in many parts of the national capital region, says the mayor. “It depends where you look, but you could pay $329,000 for a house that might cost $450,000 in some places in the region.” Statistics support his view. The average price of 228 homes sold in or near Carleton Place last year was about $185,000 compared with an average for the greater Ottawa region of $246,000. In more rural areas near Carleton Places, prices are higher. The average sale price last year was $230,000 in Mississippi Mills and $222,000 in Beckwith. Home prices in and around Carleton Place rose last year by about six per cent, in line with increases across the entire Ottawa region. Barbara Couch, a leading real estate agent in Carleton Place, believes it’s too soon for the coming highway improvements to have had a significant impact on house prices.
“Historically speaking when a commuter town such as Carleton Place gains better access to a divided highway, ultimately reducing commuting time, the demand for homes in that community escalates, as do property prices.” The four-lane, restricted access highway, now under construction, will extend from the outskirts of Carleton Place for about 20 kilometres to the 417 interchange, west of Scotia-bank Place. It is due to be completed in 2010 at a cost of $106 million. The highway will open in stages over the next three years. The commute time from the heart of Ottawa to Carleton Place now takes about 30 minutes, if road and weather conditions are good and traffic is light. For hockey fans attending an Ottawa Senators game at Scotiabank Place, it’s about the same distance home to Carleton Place as it is to downtown Ottawa. The drive from the 417 link to Carleton Place now takes about 15 minutes under ideal driving conditions.
For those working in Kanata’s technology hub, it’s already closer and quicker to get home to Carleton Place or Almonte than to east-end Ottawa or the Quebec suburbs. While Carleton Place is already within comfortable commuting, the highway improvements will now make other, more isolated towns a logical choice for people who want to escape big-city living. These include Perth, perhaps the prettiest and best-preserved town in the Rideau Lakes area. It has many heritage homes, some dating to the earliest European settlement of Eastern Ontario. The asphalt link may also bring new residents to Smiths Falls, a community recently devastated by news the Hershey chocolate factory will be closing.
For five years, an upscale neighbourhood of new homes has been taking shape in Carleton Place, just steps from nature trails, parkland and the Mississippi River. The first phase, of 66 homes, at Stonewater Gate is now almost complete and the second phase, Stonewater Bay on the Mississippi, is set to have an additional 200 homes. Homes in all price ranges are being lifted by increased demand. The development is by Sienna Homes, which previously had built a reputation by erecting large custom homes on two-acre lots in Dunrobin, a mostly-rural part of Kanata, where some of the region’s largest mansions are situated.
Sienna Homes owner Margret Gallo recalls the skeptical reaction of friends and associates when she planned homes for Carleton Place. There were also wary folks in town. “News of prices of our homes’ was not well received. There were those who felt the prices were too high,” says Gallo. “It took 18 months for people to understand what we were doing. If we had not been building homes of quality and style, we would not have come. Sienna Homes has raised the bar in Carleton Place.” Costs and, therefore, new home prices are about the same as similar developments in Ottawa, she says. Prices in Stonewater Bay on the Mississippi range from about $240,000 for a townhouse to $260,000 for a semi-detached adult-lifestyle bungalow. Sienna also has large single homes on the water costing close to $600,000.