Proposals to build three four-storey apartment buildings in the heart of Rothesay are about to test the town's support for growth and its judgment of what is "aesthetically pleasing" and suitable to the town's distinctive character.
Those values are enshrined in Rothesay's new municipal plan that went into effect last year.
It vows to protect traditional Rothesay neighbourhoods — think single detached homes set back from the street on generous leafy lots — while increasing housing density along Hampton Road, which is being promoted as a pedestrian-friendly commercial corridor.
The three projects that are subject to public hearings this month would add roughly 120 rental units between 95 Hampton Rd. across the street and one block south of Sobey's and Hillcrest Drive across from Rothesay High School. That's a stretch of road 1.4 kilometres long.
Brett Taylor told council there's a need in town for housing that allows seniors to age in place. He made his pitch last Tuesday for a 36-unit apartment building at 95 Hampton Rd., between Scott Avenue and Clark Road.
He said his Magnolia Lane apartment buildings behind Cochran's Country Market have been a good fit for his tenants, who have developed a social network and look out for one another.
The buildings are largely occupied by retired people, he said.
And they're happy to be able to walk to almost everything they need.
The most contentious part of his proposal seemed to be a requirement coming from town staff.
They're demanding that Woodland Avenue, which now ends in a cul-de-sac, be extended to Hampton Road at a cost of about $100,000, to be paid by the developer.
WATCH | Why Rothesay's mayor says the town needs more high-density housing
Traffic has become a sensitive topic in the Kennebecasis Valley, with Hampton Road often choked for several blocks after schools let out.
Joanne Godfrey, a resident of Woodland Avenue, said punching Woodland through to busy Hampton Road would encourage drivers to cut through her quiet street to get around the traffic jams.
"I see the people who try to avoid the lights [at Clark Road]," said Godfrey.
Innis McCready, another homeowner on Woodland Avenue, said the new apartment building would change the feeling of the place where he and his wife raised five children.
He said he's worried that if the project goes ahead, it will lower the value of nearby homes.
Acceptance of the projects is not a foregone conclusion, and height can be a deal-breaker.
A proposal to build two six-storey apartment buildings that would have added 96 units on land off Holland Drive was rejected last year after town councillors raised concerns about their size.
The projects on the table now are each being judged on their own merit.
Developers must also provide a stormwater management and landscaping plans, and report on whether and how their buildings would cast shadows.
The earliest council could start reading the required bylaw amendments that would rezone the properties multi-unit residential would be May 9, with final readings and approval possible at the following town council meeting on June 13.
Nevertheless, the town's mayor said the locations of the projects do fit Rothesay's municipal plan, which designates two areas for higher density.
"They're either at the periphery of single-family home neighbourhoods – so for example, up along the highway – or they're in the commercial area," said Mayor Nancy Grant. "And the reason for that … is to protect the single-family home neighbourhoods from high density."
"So that's one reason. The second reason is to create a pedestrian-friendly main street," she said.
Grant said the town began working on that back in 20212 with Hampton Road.
"And you can see the changes there," she said. "So the boulevard, the sidewalks, the bike lanes, the benches at frequent intervals to accommodate pedestrians and pedestrians who live there. And they then can have the advantage of what we like to call the complete neighborhood, so that they can do their business … they can go to restaurants, coffee shops, retail, all without leaving the neighbourhood.
"And the third reason why Rothesay has developed the plan is that it serves the town well. It prevents urban sprawl and makes the service provision by the town more cost-efficient.
Randy Ashe, a resident of Monaco Drive, said he's concerned about all three projects, especially Mark Hatfield's proposal to build near Oakville Acres.
"That's the one that's going to affect me most," he said. "Instead of me sitting there looking at the sky and the trees, I'll be looking at the second, third, fourth floor of this apartment building."
Ashe has been in his home for 34 years. He moved to Monaco Drive in 1988 when the area was known as Fairvale. It was amalgamated into the Town of Rothesay in 1998.
"Fairvale was basically the poor cousin of Rothesay but at least they had control over what was happening. Now you've got Rothesay taking over all five villages that were here. Now Rothesay is basically deciding that it's going to preserve the heritage areas and buildings, none of that will be developed. And all the [new] stuff will be pushed into old Fairvale."
The affordability formula
While Rothesay's municipal plan calls for more housing options to suit non-traditional families and seniors, there's no set quota for building affordable units.
According to the town, Luke Moffett is asking for a density bonus in exchange for promising more affordable units.
Rothesay's definition of affordable uses a formula based on monthly rental rates at or below 30 per cent of the median total income of a lone-parent economic family.
Based on data from Statistics Canada in 2015, that amount is established at $53,376 in Rothesay.
Brian White, director of town planning and development, says that formula is only used when an affordable housing program, recognized by the federal or provincial governments, is not in place providing governance, regulation and monitoring.
"Affordable housing is a federal and provincial mandate," said White. "We only step in when developers can't access a federal or provincial program."
However, there is a requirement, he points out, for new builds to comply with the barrier-free design building codes. That means one barrier-free, or accessible, unit for every 20.
White says the projects under consideration now have been years in the making, starting with the developers purchasing property. Now market forces have helped to push those projects forward, he said.
When asked to put the scale of current proposals in some kind of context, White reflected on his past decade in the job and said the past 12 months have been exceptional.
"This is a period of unprecedented potential development in Rothesay," he said.