Moncton council opts to go against staff, anti-sprawl policy for proposed subdivisions

·4 min read
A rendering of the proposed Eastgate Village off Elmwood Drive in Moncton with a mix of low- to high-density housing.  (ELCE Developments Inc/Submitted - image credit)
A rendering of the proposed Eastgate Village off Elmwood Drive in Moncton with a mix of low- to high-density housing. (ELCE Developments Inc/Submitted - image credit)

Moncton councillors brushed off staff recommendations and policy against sprawl Tuesday as they voted to allow proposed subdivisions along Elmwood Drive to move ahead.

Two back-to-back votes were on plans from separate developers that envision about 1,000 new housing units and a private school near Irishtown Nature Park.

Neither vote granted final approval for the projects but offered a sign that councillors may grant approval in the future.

Staff recommended denying both plans, saying they violate the municipal plan and a community emissions reduction plan adopted by council last month.

"I want development today," Coun. Shawn Crossman, who represents the area, said before voting in favour of the plans. "Developers need to spend their money today, not 20 years down the road."

He said the city has spent decades hoping for development in that area.

ELCE Developments Inc/Submitted
ELCE Developments Inc/Submitted

The first proposal from ELCE Developments Inc. calls for a mixed-use development called Eastgate Village with 956 residential units, a private school, daycare and a market. It's proposed on 144.6 acres of mostly forested land west of Elmwood.

A separate plan by landowner Harry Wynberg Jr. calls for an unspecified number of houses on 39 acres on the east side of Elmwood near Castleton Drive.

Both proposals require the city to expand its urban boundary, an area inside municipal limits serviced by water and sewer lines. Areas outside cannot connect to city water and sewer systems. The boundary set in the municipal plan is meant to discourage sprawl.

City of Moncton/Submitted
City of Moncton/Submitted

Bill Budd, the city's director of planning and development, repeatedly described the plans as "premature." He said a transportation study of the Elmwood corridor about to begin and a city-wide land-use plan set to be completed next year.

Budd said so far the land-use study suggests there is enough land within the existing urban boundary for 16,100 new housing units expected to be needed to meet population demand over 25 years.

A sewer line along Elmwood would need to be upgraded to support any more than 100 homes, council was told. Budd also said the city is seeking legal input on how the plan calls to flow stormwater runoff through ditches on private property.

Budd said the city has spent millions on infrastructure to service areas within the boundary yet to be fully developed.

"If you keep opening up the urban boundary, you'll never complete your neighbourhoods," Budd said.

A study given to council suggested the Eastgate plan would provide the city with annual tax revenue of close to $2 million over a 25-year period. Budd said it didn't account for the cost of replacing infrastructure in the future.

Traffic was another concern with Elmwood already busy near Granite Drive. Widening Elmwood, adding traffic lights and the possibility of a new highway interchange at McLaughlin Drive were mentioned by Budd.

'Fly in the face' of city policy

Mayor Dawn Arnold voted against both proposals, saying they "fly in the face" of city policies.

The municipal plan says when adding new areas to the urban boundary, the minimum should be 12 housing units per acre, though the Eastgate plan would only have 7.3 per acre when excluding the school.

Arnold echoed comments from other councillors that approval sends a bad message to developers working on projects within the existing boundary .

ELCE Developments Inc/Submitted
ELCE Developments Inc/Submitted

ELCE Developments Inc., which lists Serge Dibonaventura and Bill Hennessey as directors in corporate records, plans to relocate Eastgate Academy from Riverview to the site.

Several people wearing Eastgate shirts were at city hall but did not comment after the vote.

The proposal from Harry Wynberg Sr. dates back about three decades and has stalled at several points because of concerns related to water and sewer lines.

Its history covers multiple pages in a staff report to council. It says the developer promised to pay the city $111,990 for a water line installed along the property in 1997 but withheld the payment pending subdivision approval.

A rezoning approval was given in 1998, but the landowner did not sign an agreement and the approval expired.

City of Moncton/Submitted
City of Moncton/Submitted

Council deferred allowing development on the land in the early 2000s following objections from neighbouring landowners about an overloaded sewer line and flooding.

The Wynberg property was going to be included within the urban boundary when the municipal plan was being updated nearly a decade ago, but it was removed because of of unmet requirements.

A sewer line was installed through the property by the city in 2018, but an easement agreement was never signed by the landowner. The landowner, now the son, asked for the city to reconsider the plan in 2019 which prompted its return to council on Tuesday.

While an hour and a half was spent on the Eastgate plan, council voted to move ahead with the Wynberg plan after about 14 minutes.

Both proposals will go before the city's planning advisory committee Sept. 28, and public hearings will be held Oct. 17, which could be followed by final votes.