Property glut: vacant lots surround parkland Saint John wants developed

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Property glut: vacant lots surround parkland Saint John wants developed

Saint John's plan to sell off a piece of Rockwood Park for development is meeting heavy skepticism, especially from a neighbour who says there's already a glut of vacant properties surrounding it.

The city's growth plan, released this week, lists 10 city properties which could be sold to increase the tax base. It includes a section of Rockwood Park on Sandy Point Road, which the city tried to sell in 2011 while Ivan Court was mayor. The city abandoned the sale after facing fierce opposition from residents.

"I was rather disappointed," said Richard Powell who lives next door to the Sandy Point property.

"I thought it had been put to bed," he said. "We had decided to put it back in the park."

The thought of developing parkland never sat well with Powell when the issue was first raised. What bothered him more was the idea of an apartment complex being erected next door. But Powell said the prospect of selling the property makes even less sense now.

No demand

"There is no demand, really, right now for these properties," said Powell.

Across the road from his home are six vacant lots and within 2.5 kilometres there are two housing developments with more than 20 vacant lots.

"Most of them have been on the market for five or six years with very little movement," said Powell.

Powell also owns four apartments in the uptown and thinks developing on Sandy Point Road contradicts the city's existing growth strategy.

"Putting apartment buildings out here is definitely contrary to what Plan SJ is about, which was to grow the centre of the city," said Powell.

Darling: Reaction premature

Mayor Don Darling said the negative reaction to the Sandy Point property may be premature, since the city has only begun to look at it.

"We'll certainly, as we move forward, have a look to see if this is something," Darling said. "If there's no market, if there's no potential, if no one would want to develop them, then I guess that would say that we may not be successful."

Gayle Maxwell's real estate agency has represented one of the nearby housing developments that hasn't been gaining traction. Despite views of the Kennebecasis River and close proximity to both the Saint John Regional Hospital and Rockwood Park Golf Course, Maxwell said none of the 20 vacant lots at Fieldstone Estates have sold since last August.

But Maxwell doesn't think the addition of another housing development in the Sandy Point area would be a bad thing.

"We do have to be on top of our game in new development for our city," said Maxwell.

Competition could help

Maxwell said the new home build market is still recovering after a slowdown in 2008. She said more competition could be just what the area needs.

"Sometimes competition brings in … more people to that area," Maxwell said.

What Maxwell thinks the city needs more than anything is to lower its property tax rate. She said high-end buyers are being lured out of the city when they see the tax rate.

"I think that if the city were fairer with the property taxes we would see an increase to the population in the city of Saint John."

Darling agrees property taxes need to come down, which is what he wants to address with his plan.

"I think we do need to lower taxes," Darling said. "But also know that the fundamentals in place right now are making it very difficult to do that for us."