Developer still waiting on Chelsea, Quebec

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by Mark Burgess on July 29, 2009

July 29, 2009 – Several adjectives are applicable when describing the 110-unit Common Ground development proposed for Chelsea, Quebec at the old Hendrick farm bordering Hwy 5 and Old Chelsea Rd.

 

Chelsea, Quebec developer Sean McAdam points to the site where his proposed Common Ground development would sit in Old Chelsea

Chelsea, Quebec developer Sean McAdam points to the site where his proposed Common Ground development would sit in Old Chelsea

Developer Sean McAdam has done his best to ensure this.

His vision could be called dynamic or multi-faceted; its details in turn agrarian, natural, commercial or sporty.

One that McAdam insists doesn’t apply is “controversial.” At the moment, though, the development might best be described as stagnant.

McAdam himself could be called patient or prudent. He chooses his words carefully. He has learned a thing or two from his 13 years as a Chelsea resident and from his two previous Chelsea Park housing developments. He may have learned even more this past year, when neighbouring projects Chelsea Creek and the Meredith Centre were met with fierce resistance and resolved only through quarrelsome referenda.

But despite his aversion to controversy, or his wariness of choosing the wrong word, McAdam is not yet cynical. His enthusiasm for Common Ground has not been stymied by its current, nebulous state.

“If there isn’t a demand for an organic farm in Chelsea I’ll be very surprised,” he said. Still, there is no movement from Chelsea Municipality on his proposal.

McAdam made his presentation to Chelsea’s planning and development committee a year ago this month. After receiving feedback from various community groups, he submitted his plan in October. A lull in action ensued, while Chelsea Creek and the Meredith Centre soaked up municipal energy and attention.

Common Ground is to have 110 units on 110 acres, featuring mixed residential housing, an extension of businesses near the Old Chelsea Rd. entrance and possibly cooperative housing for seniors and farmers.

Using “cluster housing” it will dedicate 56 of those acres to organic farms – partnered with Canadian Organic Growers – and green space with ski and walking trails that could lead into Gatineau Park. An open-air market with parking would provide a selling point for the yields.

That is, if it comes to fruition in its current incarnation. McAdam spent a good deal of energy soliciting public feedback on the development through a blog and community meetings before making his presentation, but he now finds himself beholden to more of the same a year later as he waits for Chelsea’s centre village visioning process to run its course.

The process, which will be launched in earnest this fall, is a community consultation seeking to develop a plan for Chelsea’s next 20 to 30 years, to be incorporated into the master plan.

“The visioning process is a very good idea,” McAdam said. He’s attended meetings and said he’ll be paying close attention to the public’s input over the coming months.

But he’s wary of its timeline. When asked whether a public consultation on this scale – particularly one that comes on the heels of debates over community identity – could morph into an unruly beast, McAdam is surprisingly blunt.

“We’re developing in Chelsea,” he said. “I have every expectation that things will become more complicated.”

Chelsea’s Director of Urban and Sustainable Development, Stéphane Doré, sees the visioning process as an opportunity for McAdam to build community acceptance rather than a hindrance.

“If (the development) respects the vision and character of the community I think it has every chance of being accepted, maybe with modifications,” he said.

The visioning process committee’s spokesperson, George Claydon, said McAdam has been supportive of the process’s early stages.

“Sean has always been a big supporter and I know he thinks it’s in his best interest to listen to what comes out of the vision to make the development smoother,” he said.

McAdam is confident that Common Ground is in line with what nearly “every conceivable interest group” wants, so he would be very surprised if it was incompatible with the visioning process.

“My concern is more about timing than it is about content,” he said.

Claydon understands that McAdam doesn’t want his project on hold indefinitely.

“The fall is one deadline (for the visioning process) but we want to do this right,” he said. “We are looking at the fall. But then there’s this whole process after this where the municipality builds it into a master plan, and I have no control over this.”

Doré said it’s not unusual for large developments to take several years to meet municipal approval.

What might be lost in the event of endless delays, McAdam said, is the project’s scope and inclusiveness.

“It might not be practical to accommodate all these interests if it’s a process that drags on much longer.”

Plans for neighbouring Chelsea Creek development, for example, were first presented over five years ago and have seen a number of different forms since. And shovel has yet to hit dirt.

McAdam’s hope is to be planting the gardens by next spring. If that’s impossible, it will be time to “take a pretty hard look at the plans.”

Not fighting words but as close as he’s willing to get, for now.

Common Ground can be found online at http://chelseamatters.blogspot.com/.