Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Man Who Will Plant Trees

In February, 2008 a local land developer offered my wife and I $10,000 an acre for 21 acres of land we have that borders a County Refuse Transfer Station. It had been laying fallow since we bought our little berry farm in 2006, and being as hard pressed as I am to clean up the old place and make the farm and greenhouse profitable I saw the sale of the land as an easy way to pay off all our debts... including the rest of the mortgage on the farm... and build us a new house.

The plans this developer showed me were for a small little industrial part with acre-sized lots for small businesses, such as plumbers or mechanics or the like. The plans had neat little lots and shops... street lights... a water and sewage system . Although I didn't really want to give up the land, we were struggling and it seemed like a plan that would benefit the whole village by bringing business out to the area. Anyway, with the land against the "Transfer Station" (itself a bit of an eyesore), I thought it wasn't a bad idea.

But the developer missed closing date after closing date: October 31st became January 31st became March 31st which became May 31st. When he came to see me before the last closing date I told him quite clearly that if the sale hadn't closed by July 31st, I would no longer be interested in selling the land.

The truth is that our little berry farm and greenhouse has done well enough to make us believe we can now pay the bills... and if we work a little harder and gain a little larger customer base, we may just do all right by this little business.

About 10 days before the final closing date, the developer came to me with a cheque for $150,000 and a promise to pay the remaining $60,000 within 90 days of July 31.

That day, he also told me that he no longer had plans to build the little light industrial park. His plans had changed to housing an auto wrecker and to store pipeline pipe on the land.

I was flabbergasted; for the rest of my life I would have to look out the window of my home and see not only the Transfer Station but an auto wrecker and oil field and pipeline pipe.
When it came time to accept his offer, I simply couldn't do it. In the year since agreeing to the deal I have come to love this little piece of land between a tiny village and the County Refuse Station. It isn't much. There are no grand vistas... no stunning trees... no running water... not much... but 6,000 saskatoon berry bushes, a few acres of raspberries and a 75 year-old house that is constantly falling apart. But for the time being it is ours to look after. The thought of giving it over to pipe storage and an auto wrecker was simply too much.

After the closing date passed, I made an appointment with a lawyer (yes, I now have a lawyer) to ensure that I could finally put an end to this deal and be legal about it. We paid back the developer's deposit (even though we didn't have too) and put a formal end to the deal.

The developer is livid. He says he is going to sue me.

I ought to be sad. I will not be able to build a new house for my family... at least not for a while. I will have to keep spending all we make just paying the bills... and I will have to work harder and longer than ever. But standing out in that field now makes me happier than I have been in a long time. I see the aspens and poplars I will plant along the edge of that Transfer Station swaying in the breeze in 20 years. I can taste the strawberries I will plant in the field next to the house. I can see my kids and their kids jumping on a trampoline... skating on a rink... or just lying on the ground looking up at the summer clouds.

We are probably aren't going to get that new house for a long time yet... but I feel fine... just fine!

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