‘Lawyers lawyering:’ Holmes Foundry land boondoggle about to return to court

The former Holmes Foundry site has been derelict for 25 years now. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

It’s 17 acres of prime real estate at the key junction of Highway 402 and Front Street and it’s been an eyesore for 25 years now.

In fact, the weeds at the former Holmes Foundry site are so high this fall it’s difficult to see the two derelict buildings languishing on the Point Edward property.

Many have considered the site for big developments over the years, but walked away.

“The biggest issue for us is that we don’t know who has ownership,” says village Mayor Larry MacKenzie.

“There’s no question council wants to see it cleaned up and developed, but the legalities have been holding us back.”

Officially, a numbered Ontario company holds title to the property.

Chrysler shut down the foundry in 1989 and spent $7 million on an environmental cleanup. Local realtor John D’Andrea bought the land from Chrysler, but went to jail for defrauding a group of shareholders he had assembled.

Almost 10 years ago, the land was supposedly sold to the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, the group the village contacts whenever anything comes up related to the property.

“I think it’s fair to say the Chippewas of the Thames believe they have ownership,” says Doug Lasenby, a realtor and developer hired several years ago to do something with the property.

Now, the First Nation band is taking Chrysler to court in an effort to secure cash for further site remediation, said Point Edward clerk Jim Burns.

“There’s some litigation going on with the Chippewas of the Thames suing Chrysler, saying it wasn’t adequately cleaned up,” Burns said. “That’s supposed to be in the courts in a few weeks, but Lord knows how long that could take.”

“That thing is like Swiss cheese, it’s been poked so many times,” said Lasenby. “Everyone knows what’s wrong with it but there’s a gag order and no one can say. It’s very frustrating.”

Lasenby confirmed a proposal to build a Costco on the property went to council several years ago but was shot down when an audience member identified himself as one of D’Andrea’s shareholders and drew the ownership into question.

“This is a classic case of the lawyers lawyering and ultimately no one coming to terms,” said Lasenby. “It’s at a complete standstill until the courts resolve these outstanding issues.”

Meanwhile, Mayor MacKenzie said he hopes council can push for a better cleanup after the Oct. 27 municipal election.

“Maybe with some new faces on council we’ll take another look at it,” he said.