Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
July 18, 2024
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On the Cliff

Developers are everywhere. Are they mad?


They are everywhere. It seems every other week another major development application, a “draft plan of subdivision” proposing hundreds of new “units” appears at Council. 

Understandably, residents are concerned. Who are all these people supposedly champing at the bit to live here? Are all these developers mad? 

At last count, Marcia Wallace, our CAO, counted up 8000 proposed units  — apartments, townhouses, sprawling, two-storey single-family residences — in the advanced stages of a lengthy, costly and cumbersome planning process. “Not the tire kickers,” she said. “The ones that are serious.”

The count was to support the County’s application to Ontario Infrastructure for $18 million, to come from a fund for precisely what we need: development-related new infrastructure. 

So far so good. But any number of things could derail all the plans, put a halt to building, and jeopardize the financing agreements and development charges the County is depending on to keep up to date with the infrastructure it needs. 

There is a lot of uncertainty. 

One thing is clear, though. Even relatively mild population growth will support the new housing, which was needed yesterday. 

The County’s 2023 Housing Plan identifies several critical issues, including: an aging population with little choice in new housing; a housing stock that is not only not keeping up with growth rates, but has been depleted by seasonal vacation rentals; housing prices disproportionally higher than elsewhere in the region; one of the lowest vacancy rates for rental housing in the province; growing housing insecurity for low-income residents; and a 1000-person strong waitlist for subsidized housing.

Never mind that the County is also experiencing rapid population growth, particularly in households with families, with a daycare waitlist of 400 to prove it.

There is an urgent need for a variety of affordable housing models, including shared, rental, co-op, and elder support, as well as subsidized housing, worker housing,  and publicly funded emergency housing. The Housing Plan says we need over 1000 new homes (266 new affordable studios, 200 one-bedroom, 240 two-bedroom and 52 three-bedroom homes).

This urgent need for affordable housing might be the best thing to have happened in the County in a very long time. 

Not only is there a productive overlap between affordability and the large-scale economies of energy and land required to address climate change, but the two things combined, affordability and density, have proven over and over again to lead to the very best, most vibrant, and thriving neighbourhoods: ones that are walkable, complete, interesting, and companionable places to live. 

This particular combination, an urgent demand for affordable and worker housing in an already thriving and beautiful location, has attracted, not just any developers, but the consortium behind Base31. PEC Community Partners plans to build 12 neighbourhoods over the next 20 years up on its cliff, a “constellation of villages” to complement and add to the ones we already have.

Moved to wonder by the nonstop pace of activity at the Base, I went back to the planning documents the partners submitted to the County just last year. These are available on the County’s planning portal. I re-read the Area Concept Plan prepared by Sasaki, a world-renowned planning and design firm. 

The goals, or “pillars,” of the plan include 1. to create housing types to suit a wide range of income levels, lifestyles, and ages; 2. to connect people to parks, gardens, trails, and the surrounding natural areas through “green fingers;” 3. to expand opportunities for education, employment, and new business to create economic vitality and a four-season economy; 4. to provide much-needed community and family amenities in Picton and beyond; and 5. to deliver new infrastructure for mixed-use commercial/residential neighbourhoods. 

This is a lot more than a plan for a new subdivision. Such proposals generally limit themselves to explaining why they must shrink the lot sizes (“setbacks”), cut down all the trees, not build a park, require private roads, and possibly provide some sidewalks. 

The Base31 plans envision not just housing, but an ambitious “Revitalization District,” which, as we know, already features “the adaptive re-use of historic buildings, transformation of the landscape and significant investment in placemaking, public art, programming, site activation and food and beverage.” 

The transformation presently underway — the arts, culture, and commerce rapidly unfolding in the old barracks and warehouses of the the former Camp Picton — is just the first piece of a multi-phase grand plan. Next up is housing. “In just the next 5 years, assuming favourable market conditions, and the timely delivery of necessary infrastructure, our project will phase in approximately 500 to 800 units.” 

That number is pretty close to what the Housing Plan identifies as immediately necessary. That is why the County has applied for a Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator Order (CIHA) to support the first phase of building at the Base, which will bring rental apartments and a series of smaller townhouses to both the Revitalization District and an adjoining new neighbourhood.  

The partners at Base31 are staging a timely intervention into life in the County. They have purchased one of the last available places for large-scale building, situated within the borders of Picton, where development is being concentrated, and yet high on a cliff, completely out of sight. You will not see all that is happening there unless you want to see it. They have spotted an opportunity, not just to build much needed housing, but to build a whole new kind of place to live, one that at once protects and enhances the County’s rich heritage, both natural and cultural, and promises to bring it into the future. It’s an unprecedented undertaking, at once imaginative and practical. It promises to give shape to an earnestly held and shared commitment to the idea of community. 

I, for one, want to be a part of it.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 24 edition of The Picton Gazette
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