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Belfast development group nixes housing proposal over community concerns

This social media call for feedback from the Rural Municipality of Belfast in southeastern P.E.I. sparked a flurry of discussion in late January. The development corporation has now abandoned plans to put housing on the site mentioned.  (Facebook - image credit)
This social media call for feedback from the Rural Municipality of Belfast in southeastern P.E.I. sparked a flurry of discussion in late January. The development corporation has now abandoned plans to put housing on the site mentioned. (Facebook - image credit)

The chair of the Belfast Community Development Corporation says the group has shelved plans to build affordable housing on land the corporation owns near Lord Selkirk Campground and the Belfast Highland Greens golf course in southeastern P.E.I.

Mark Booth said the corporation was working on a plan to build 10 one- and two-bedroom modular homes on the land to increase the stock of affordable housing in Belfast, but backed away in light of opposition from community residents.

"We were actually going through the whole due-diligence process when unfortunately, before we had all our ducks in a row, it was leaked out to the community," said Booth.

"We received feedback which, although positive on having housing, they're not too keen on where we were wanting to actually build the houses."

The land in question was a former driving range, and is adjacent to the community pool, campground and pioneer cemetery on Selkirk Park Road.

Rural Municipality of Belfast councillor Katherine Bryson says there was a big sigh of relief when the announcement was made.
Rural Municipality of Belfast councillor Katherine Bryson says there was a big sigh of relief when the announcement was made.

Rural Municipality of Belfast councillor Katherine Bryson, photographed in August 2023, says she supports affordable housing, but not in the proposed location. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Katherine Bryson is a councillor with the Rural Municipality of Belfast.

She said members of the public were coming to her with concerns about the proposed location, even though the council would have had no say in any development on the property because the municipality is still in the process of developing its official plan and development bylaw.

Until that's complete, the jurisdiction for development and subdivision permits lies with the provincial government.

"I'm certainly in support of affordable housing," said Bryson. "What I was in opposition to was the location of the proposed development."

Now that the development corporation says it won't be going ahead with that project, Bryson said members of the community have said they might have land that would be more suitable.

While he's happy to have made the investment in solar panels, Mark Booth said he's frustrated that Islanders who had systems installed before Aug. 7 won't be able to take part in the rebate program.
While he's happy to have made the investment in solar panels, Mark Booth said he's frustrated that Islanders who had systems installed before Aug. 7 won't be able to take part in the rebate program.

Mark Booth, who chairs the Belfast Community Development Corporation, is shown in a file photo from 2019. He says the area needs affordable housing in order to attract young families to live and work there. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Booth said the corporation had hoped to access government funding for the development, but using land the corporation already owned would have reduced costs.

He said the pre-fabricated homes the group was considering would have been between 700 and 800 square feet, "effectively just like a cottage but winterized," and would have cost about $200,000 per unit to buy, plus development costs for the land.

If someone comes forward with land that's available and economically feasible to develop for housing, Booth said the corporation would be willing to try to move ahead with the proposal.

But he said that sort of work might better be undertaken by a new local group, such as a housing association, whose aim is specifically to address the lack of affordable housing.

The proposed housing development would have been just up the road from the Belfast Highland Greens golf course, on land that used to be its driving range.
The proposed housing development would have been just up the road from the Belfast Highland Greens golf course, on land that used to be its driving range.

The proposed housing development would have been just up the road from the Belfast Highland Greens golf course, on land that used to be its driving range. (CBC)

He said the housing crisis "got to the state it is through generations. It didn't get here overnight. So it needs a big rethink on how we handle that."

Years ago, parents and community leaders in Belfast staged a successful fight to keep its kindergarten to Grade 9 school open because the area's population was dwindling.

If there's no affordable housing in the district, how can you possibly encourage young families to take up residence there? — Mark Booth

Now Bryson said the community is caught in a Catch-22 — there aren't enough childcare spaces to allow young families with two working parents to live in the area.

She said there are workers who are willing to move to Belfast, which would let daycares there expand, "but there's nowhere for them to live. So it's certainly an issue."

Booth agrees.

"We need more people. We need more young people, more young families in Belfast," he said. "If there's no affordable housing in the district, how can you possibly encourage young families to take up residence there?"