It seemed a moment for the history books.
Two years almost to the day after a consortium of four major developers purchased the former military base, Camp Picton, Council’s Planning and Development Committee voted 10-3 to approve their Official Plan Amendment application.
The vote, which must be ratified by Council, clears the way for large-scale residential and commercial redevelopment of the 255 hectare site. Up to 7500 housing units will be built over the next two decades.
The meeting featured deputations from County Planner Stephen Willis of Stantec, and Eric Turcotte, of Urban Strategies, for Base31. Comments came from PEC Community Partners’ CEO Tim Jones, the Department of Illumination’s Krista Dalby, and the Royal Hotel’s Greg Sorbara, among others.
The first phase will include a 100-unit apartment building and 350-375 smaller-footprint, stacked and linked townhouses across a range of styles, designed for affordability.
The developers at the Base envision not just new housing, but shops, art galleries, a museum, bars and restaurants, and amenities such as parks, schools, community centres, a library and a post office, to serve Picton and the County as a whole.
The Base’s representatives stressed the creation of “a cultural and economic hub that is secondary and complementary to downtown Picton.”
The approval puts in place an Interim Servicing Agreement for temporary water and wastewater infrastructure estimated to cost $7.45 million. Mr. Jones pledged $10 million to the project on behalf of his partners, noting “water service will be in place before next spring.”
Buildings to see running water in the next few months include the Sergeant’s Mess Hall, the Drill Hall, Hangar 1, and the collection of buildings that line the entrance to the site, including the Reception office and Melt Gallery.
The Interim Agreement will hold until public water and wastewater infrastructure is established at the site in accordance with a completed Regional Master Servicing Plan, anticipated about May 2025. At that point the private and temporary infrastructure at the Base will become part of Public Works if it fits the region’s MSP.
While the Base’s developers are committed to building just 5 per cent affordable or attainable housing, Planner Mr. Turcotte stressed that in addition to rental units, they will build a range of housing types expressly designed to enable first-time home buyers to break into the housing market.
Building begins early in 2025 with completion a year later.
In his comments to the committee, Mr. Jones noted that the Base’s community partners made a long-term commitment to Prince Edward County. “We are here not for five or six years and moving on to the next project. We are here for the next 30 years and beyond.” The development promises to become “a major source of long-term, stable growth for the County,” he said. A steady supply of critical new housing, employment, and business opportunities promises to be little short of transformational.
“This is one of the most comprehensive housing strategies, and one of the largest economic development initiatives, the County has ever seen.” In this, the second year of the Base’s operations, 40,000 people visited, 64 per cent from outside the County. Quite something for a historic collection of military barracks with no indoor plumbing.
Extensive discussion at the three-hour meeting addressed councillors’ concerns around input into the detailed design phase of draft subdivision agreements, drafting an area-specific development charges regime, and the County’s incomplete transportation and regional water servicing plans.
The amendment’s proponents stressed that they plan to collaborate with the County as they always have, and that they were keen to create upfront financing agreements for all required infrastructure.
The Royal Hotel’s Greg Sorbara, acknowledging the complexity of the issues still to be faced by the developers and the municipality together, noted, “these are champagne problems. They are the problems that come with economic growth and development.”
A key concern was competition between Picton Main Street and the Base31 Revitalization District. Base31’s planning documents stress that commercial space at the Base will need to be carefully calibrated to avoid creating competition. The proponents stressed their intention to enhance existing opportunities and amenities, not threaten them. One strategy is creating complementary options rather than duplicating what Main Street offers. Long term, more visitors and residents will sustain both the Base and Picton’s Main Street.
While the meeting’s outcome was not exactly hanging in the balance — with most councillors strongly in favour and only three, Chris Braney, Corey Engelsdorfer, and Janice Maynard, opposed — the stakes were high. As Councillor Phil St. Jean put it, “Nothing less than the economic future of the County is before us.”
“I cannot tell you how impressed I am,” he continued. “I’ve seen many developers come and go in my time at the County. They build their houses and they depart. That is most certainly not what is happening here. Base31 offers not just housing, but economic development, and not just economic development, they are building a whole community.”
Mayor Ferguson was wholehearted in his support. “The partners have demonstrated they have the drive and imagination to make the site unlike anything else in eastern Canada, if not Canada.”