In Conversation with Base31

(Phil Norton/Special to the Gazette)





Alexandra De Gasperis is Vice President of DECO Homes, an arm of legendary Ontario builders TACC, and one the partners at PEC Community Partners, the consortium behind the redevelopment of the former Camp Picton, or No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School.

Tim Jones co-owns PEC Placemaking, another partner to the redevelopment. Together, they spoke to the Gazette about their plans for what is now known everywhere and only as Base31.

Ms. De Gasperis is effusive both about her company’s development plans, and about the County itself. “I’ve long been in love, we have visited over and over again, for birthdays and anniversaries, for years. This place is pure magic!”

She and her family rented a house in Wellington during the pandemic, and Ms. De Gasperis sighted an opportunity. “There were coffee shops and restaurants that could not stay open, and I soon learned it was because they did not have enough workers.”

It did not take this scion of a family of developers long to glean that there were not enough workers because there were not enough houses.

Ms. De Gasperis sees affordable and attainable housing as the centre of the Base.

“We need housing quickly and we need housing that is attainable.” She is emphatic on this point: “This is not being imagined as a resort destination.”

Two Projects that Intersect

“There are two beasts we are dealing with. The revitalization of the Base, and the 700+ acres slated for development.”

Alexandra De Gasperis

Both sites present major community-building opportunities. Ms. De Gasperis, who sits on the Ontario Arts Council, had worked with Mr. Jones, who was CEO of Artscape in Toronto for 20 years, on various projects to do with “creative placemaking,” a concept Mr. Jones’s work has made an indispensable part of sophisticated community design.

Those included Lakeview Village, a master-planned urban community on the shores of Lake Ontario in Mississauga. That project’s high density, explained Ms. De Gasperis, is part of what makes it affordable.

Mr. Jones brought the sale of Loch Sloy Business Park, the former Camp Picton, to Ms. De Gasperis’s attention shortly after her Wellington days.

“It was its rich, living history that made the County such a draw in the middle of plenty of other development opportunities in Ontario,” he says.

That still-visible fabric of Loyalist history, alongside the centuries-long Indigenous stewardship of the land on which the County sits, as well as the striking artistic, agricultural, entrepreneurial, and collaborative culture here, have combined to attract an array of talent and resources to the project.

A Multi-Faceted Revitalization

Mr. Jones, for his part, has a 20-year relationship with the County. He finally gave in and bought a house in Picton two years ago. His efforts are focused on what the team calls the Revitalization District, the collection of barracks and warehouses now undergoing a spectacular restoration as event and cultural spaces, which will compose the center of future development.

“All roads will lead to Rome,” says Ms. De Gasperis, who imagines a network of trails, bike paths, and green spaces connecting a constellation of villages spiraling out from this center. “We are planning integrated hamlets and villages on the site, just as you find in the rest of the County.”

“People do not want and cannot afford large, 40- or 50-foot frontages here. We want housing people can afford,” she continues. There are no plans for a sprawling suburban development.

Building will be spread over two or three decades and involve the construction of 5,000-9,000 homes. “But those numbers are subject to change,” cautions Ms. De Gasperis. “The end total could be 7,000.”

The first phase will be completed in the next 3-5 years. It will put rental and other kinds of mixed-use commercial and attainable housing in the Revitalization District and in an adjoining, entirely new village. Up to 800 units across the two sites are projected.

The Revitalization District alone will offer 300-400 units and include unique and affordable kinds of homes.

“We are even looking at certain kinds of tiny homes, in addition to townhouses, semi-detached and singles,” says Ms. De Gasperis, speaking of the combined projects.

The team is looking at every kind of housing, from artist’s lofts to the requirements of aging in place. Plans include a mid-rise, 4-6 storey apartment building.

Density and walkability mark every plan, in the Revitalization District as well as in the new village-like neighbourhoods that will connect the huge site. 

Waterworks Plans

To get going on the first phase, major infrastructure is needed, and quickly. Luckily, Ms. De Gasperis has enormous resources on which to draw. The TACC Group is one of the most prominent large infrastructure builders in Ontario. Nonetheless, she stresses, “we cannot build a single house unless we have water on the site.”

To that end, the developers have worked closely with the municipality. “Our very earliest conversations were about how we can bring water up to the Base and deal with wastewater. We have kept a close eye on the master servicing plan(s) the county is currently undertaking, and the important engineering studies it has commissioned.”

“The county is doing a great deal of work, and has done a great deal of work, to make sure it can upfront the services that will be required to develop this site.”

To “upfront” means ensuring all the services required for development – water, and basic infrastructure like roads and sidewalks, as well as police, schools, ambulances — are pre-paid through a regime of development charges.

On its end, the County identifies the key infrastructure projects required to support development at Base31, as well as other growth in Picton, through what is called a Master Servicing Plan.

All required new infrastructure will then be included in a Development Charges By-Law, a regime through which developers pay the majority of the cost of the infrastructure they need, typically at the building-permit stage.

The developer assists the County by “upfronting” the cost of this new infrastructure through private funding arrangements.

The developer pays these charges in advance, to ensure the infrastructure it requires, such as roads, sewers, watermains and sidewalks, can be built without the municipality going into debt. Later, those upfront payments are credited back to the developer. In the end, the developer carries roughly 75 per cent of the costs to develop.

“It’s an incredible tool for municipalities to be able to use,” notes Ms. De Gasperis. “The County won an award for its work on using Upfronting Agreements to fund infrastructure for new development in Wellington.”

The consortium is hoping for a decision on the Regional Master Servicing Plan by the end of the year. The County is considering running a pipe under the Millennium trail to bring water from Wellington to the Picton Reservoir by the end of the year.

Like everything else underway here, it’s quite a project. An official plan amendment application should arrive at Shire Hall this fall.