Saint John developer argues against time limit for proposed development

The proposed site of Cambridge Estates, on the end of Cambridge Drive in Millidgeville in Saint John's north end. (City of Saint John - image credit)
The proposed site of Cambridge Estates, on the end of Cambridge Drive in Millidgeville in Saint John's north end. (City of Saint John - image credit)

A Saint John developer told Saint John city council Monday just how difficult it has been to move ahead with projects in a world of supply chain problems and administrative delays.

Kemal Debly of Barsa Ventures was in front of council seeking a bylaw amendment to allow construction of an apartment complex in the city's north end.

The project is planned for Cambridge Drive, off Boars Head Road in Millidgeville.

Debly described the delays he has faced in recent years in response to council discussions about whether a sunset clause should be placed on the project.

The clause would set a time limit on completing construction, something councillors have done for other projects to discourage speculators from seeking rezoning only to make the land easier to sell.

Debly said he understood why the city is nervous about real estate speculation, but asked them to consider some of the things he has faced.

'Barbed wire collar around my neck'

"Do you know when I applied for this rezone? Two years ago, no fault of the staff of the City of Saint John. They've been super to deal with," Debly said.

"We had a cyberattack, we had a pandemic, we had a change of personnel in planning at that time due to personal reasons — I've been two years getting here. I'm really happy there wasn't a sunset clause on the application."

Debly said this approval was just the beginning.

"When I get approved here, I now have to apply to the province for a certificate of approval from [the Environment department]. It could come in five weeks, it could come in 10 months, while I sit subjected to an hourglass while the sand slips, while my money sits out there," he said.

"I'm asking to go forward with this without a barbed wire collar around my neck."

Debly said supply chain problems have added another layer of complexity and uncertainty to the business.

Connell Smith/CBC
Connell Smith/CBC

He said he built 14 homes last year and things were going great, when an unexpected supply problem stalled everything.

"I couldn't get electrical panels for nine months. I had seven homes sitting, 100 per cent complete, with no electrical panels," he said.

Debly said, with no electrical panels, it was impossible to get an occupancy permit.

Councillor concerned about fair treatment 

Coun. Gerry Lowe said he knows the developer and doesn't doubt Debly has every intention of completing his project.

But he is concerned about maintaining a perception of fair treatment.

"I don't want someone from B.C. or Ontario saying why aren't you doing it to local builders? That's my biggest problem," Lowe said.

Connell Smith, CBC
Connell Smith, CBC

City manager John Collin pointed out this development would have a sunset clause, which would require Debly to complete the road into the site for the new development in three years, at a cost of an estimated $1.2 million.

"If the sunset clause is not satisfied then the rezoning does revert back to what it used to be," Collin said.

"For him to achieve the sunset clause, he will have to invest well over $1 million into the project. That's the skin in the game, if we can use that expression," he said.

In the end, city council approved first and second reading of the rezoning, without placing a sunset clause on completing the project.

Collin said staff and city council will tackle the question of how to ensure sunset clauses are applied fairly when they meet for a strategy planning session in early December.