Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
16° Light Rainshower

A Village Feel

Developers return to tried and true models for living: the village and the campus

At a planning meeting last month, a proposal from Sterling Homes for a 250 tightly packed, smaller-footprint townhouses mixed with some detached houses was approved almost unanimously. 

The new neighbourhood will integrate into the existing village core. It backs onto the Millennium Trail and is tucked just behind Main Street. It will have higher than usual densities for the County, although it is not a high-density build. The townhouses stop at two storeys, to echo the existing vernacular. But the units have “skinny” footprints — and garages are tucked in back. 

Such a simple change, putting the garage in behind. The norm in cities, this design principle generally eludes suburban planners. It means houses sit closer together. Blocks are smaller, more walkable That makes the streetscape more welcoming. It creates a village feel. Precisely what makes Wellington so charming.

There is no site plan yet, but we can hope, based on these preliminaries, that some good design principles will be in play throughout. Maybe more dedicated greenspace, landscaping that allows for some common pathways — it’s hard to tell what might be offer in the sketches. There is one decent park. A couple of central commons would be nice. A development like this needs to emphasize shared spaces. 

The proponents promise affordability, though they did not give any numbers. But the housing mix and styles focus on entry-level housing.

They are not just being good citizens. The market in housing now really is made up of all those who have been priced out of it. 

You need to own a house already to be able to afford a house. Those trying to get a foot in the door simply cannot. Even rents are stratospheric. The math is very simple. Since 1998, house prices across Canada have gone up 8 times and incomes might have doubled. 

Would-be buyers and renters include those coming from the cities and those who already live here. Younger people, new immigrants, remote workers, downsizers, second-home seekers. 

That’s a lot of people, and a lot of different kinds of people. 

Apparently, they would all live here if they could. 

Developers are falling all over themselves to get new housing types built. Sterling is just one of many. They believe that the County is missing a population boom because it does not have enough houses for all the people who would like to live here.  All plan to hit the market by the summer of 2026. And all are creating along a spectrum of affordable housing types.

Take Cork and Vine. What Kaitlin imagined five years ago as a sprawling subdivision of 450 large, single-family bungalows arranged around a golf course is now 1500 gathered townhouses. Densities move from moderate to high. Designs promise laneway housing, rental opportunities, “coach towns” — linked townhouses facing the street with a coach house over the garage, again hidden in back on a laneway. Owners can choose to rent out the coach house or use it as a work-from-home studio. The plans are great — there are central greenspaces, flexible living arrangements. Prices are to start in the $400,000 range. 

Again, the market is talking. 

Take what is happening at Base31, which is now a giant construction site. I visited a couple of weeks ago, knee-deep in mud. Multiple diggers and bulldozers were at work in the rain. Huge pits were everywhere. Acres of waterworks infrastructure will be deep underground by, they hope, mid-summer. A year from now, another army, this time of construction workers, will be on site, housed  in  revamped barracks. They will bring the first phase of 7500 hundred homes, a 20-year project, to life. 

The Revitalization District will offer 300-400 living spaces and include unique styles — co-op housing, live-work arrangements, tiny homes. The team of planners and developers and placemakers behind the project — Alexandra De Gasperis of DECO Homes, Dennis Pieprz of Sasaki, Jack Rockport of Rockport Homes, Tim Jones of PEC Placemaking — are looking at every kind of housing, from artist’s lofts to that for seniors. An adjacent neighbourhood starts with a mid-rise, 4-6 storey rental apartment building of about 100 units, and about 350 smaller-footprint, stacked and linked townhouses across a range of styles. It’s becoming a familiar refrain.

Bringing different kinds of people close together is at the heart of Base31’s enterprise. Its new neighbourhoods are designed for workers, both seasonal and permanent, students, downsizers, artists, and hipsters of all stripes. The plans take their cues from the idea of a campus. The former Camp Picton was, after all, No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School. It had residences, dining halls, lecture halls, classrooms, a dance hall, a theatre, a library, an infirmary. 

A campus is one of the most dynamic places in the world. It speaks bustle, variety, intensity, concentration. A network of places for working, gathering, talking, creating, making, selling. A marketplace of ideas, made for people. As Tim Jones put it in a deputation to Council earlier this year, Base31 will offer “a steady supply of critical new housing, employment, and business opportunities that promises to be little short of transformational.”

Ours is an era of enormous change. The move back, to the village and the campus, might  suggest a secure port in a storm. Bringing different people close together is a tried and true model for living. 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 15 edition of The Picton Gazette
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