Common Ground lands in Chelsea, Quebec

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by admin on October 21, 2010

The Common Ground Usage Plan shows half its 110-acres dedicated to green space

The Common Ground Usage Plan shows half its 110-acres dedicated to green space

Developer hands in plans of proposed 110-acre Old Chelsea project to council

A working organic farm, large open greenspace, small shops along Old Chelsea Road, mixed housing to fit the price range of young singles, big-income families, even seniors.

The official proposal, complete with architect’s drawings and price ranges, for the Common Ground housing development, the second now slated for the former Hendrick’s farm at the entrance to Chelsea, has been officially handed over to the municipality for its approval. After dozens of consultations with residents and groups, not to mention articles in this newspaper, the development plans for 110 acres on the west side of Hwy 5 at Old Chelsea Road should not come as a surprise to many residents.

Still, it will mean a dramatic transformation of the pastoral landscape that greets Chelseaites as they drive home from the city. But developer Sean McAdam insists he and his partners, Carrie Wallace and Maurice Charlebois, have worked hard to preserve as much of that natural landscape as possible to retain Chelsea’s rural identity.

“I’m very confident (Common Ground) reflects the wishes of Chelsea citizens,” says McAdam.

Unlike the hugely controversial, neighbouring Chelsea Creek project which was initially advertised as Chelsea’s new “third village,” McAdam says Common Ground will be a “natural, contiguous extension” of Old Chelsea village, whose buildings will reflect the same look and feel.

Greenspace

Nearly half of Common Ground’s 110 acres will be dedicated to green space. Some 30 odd acres surrounding both sides of Chelsea Creek will be preserved in their natural state.

An environmental study conducted by Biofilia showed this area to be environmentally sensitive with important wetlands and plant and animal species. Residents will have access to trails to enjoy the creek valley and potentially access Gatineau Park.

While McAdam says this will please many residents and visitors, the centerpiece of the Common Ground project will be tucked behind the mixed stores and small apartments that will line Old Chelsea Road: a working 25-acre organic farm.

Having already established an agreement to lease the land to the Canadian Organic Growers, a charitable organization, the goal is to establish a centre for education and training on sustainable organic-farming practices.

McAdam says returning an agricultural purpose to the land will help protect Chelsea’s rural identity, one identified as a high priority in consultations with the public.

Density and pricing

An example of a design for a Common Ground home as designed by Doug Dawson

An example of a design for a Common Ground home as designed by Doug Dawson

All that green space is achieved by clustering buildings on the remaining land. While the planning document states density calculation “is immaterial to the question of whether the land is being used wisely,” McAdam says his plan puts density at about 1.5 units per acre, well below the maximum allowable two per acre.

Units will include shops with apartments above, small two-storey apartment buildings, modest and larger single-family homes.

Twenty-five units have been identified for downsizers and seniors priced at the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation affordability levels: mid-range apartments start at $250,000; “village mid-range single homes” at $350,000; and up to 25 “high end singles” start at $500,000, with pricing for different options in between. Three units have been slated as Habitat for Humanity projects to house low-income residents.

“Chelsea might actually attract young people and people from different demographic backgrounds,” says McAdam.

Retail and seniors

But if Tim Hortons comes calling, “he’ll just have to go to Les Saisons to get his coffee,” says the developer. No chains, other than for a small pharmacy or a bank, will be allowed in this neighbourhood. Instead, Common Ground aims for a true village setting, something like Wakefield, “where people can live, shop and work all within walking distance.”

This should be a further draw for seniors, whom McAdam hopes to attract with independent, modestly-priced units. There are no plans for a large serviced seniors institution, though he’s looking into buildings with shared services like a dining room.

Building covenant

Nor will Common Ground ever be called “The Vinyl Village” (as is the case with Wakefield’s condo project). The planning document outlines a strict building covenant attached to lot deeds that will control the scale (no higher than three storeys), massing and architectural feel of all buildings in Common Ground. That includes exterior cladding and even the paint colour.

“Yes,” sighed McAdam when asked about a business owner’s protest against municipal architectural bylaws, “I guess we will become the ‘pinky-purple police.’”

No one builder will impose a “cookie-cutter” feel on the development. Buyers purchase lots and can choose to use designs provided by Common Ground or use their own designs, provided they meet the building covenant, which will require homes to reflect “a village feel” similar to that of Old Chelsea and Wakefield.

Water and sewer

Another housing example

Another housing example

McAdam says with two-thirds government funding promised toward a sewer system for Old Chelsea, it’s an easy choice as a developer to connect Common Ground to that municipal system.

Connecting to a municipal waterline is another story. McAdam says current estimated costs of a proposed waterline running from Old to New Chelsea are “prohibitively expensive.”

A letter from the Ministry of Environment, included in his planning document, gives Common Ground initial approval to draw water from Chelsea Creek. McAdam says this is good for Chelsea residents on two fronts: drawing just two per cent of the creek flow will mean zero impact on groundwater levels and neighbours’ wells; and his system won’t require a dime of taxpayer subsidies.

When completed, McAdam says Common Ground will extend Old Chelsea village to create a “hub” of mixed housing, shopping, dining recreation, entertainment – responding to what residents have said through consultations, including the Vision Chelsea process, as well serving the two million visitors to Gatineau Park.

To see the complete Common Ground plans, go to www.thecommonground.ca.

Developer expects no backlash to centre village plan

Now that the final plans are in for the next big development project for Chelsea’s centre village, the question is: Will they receive the same kind of backlash that met the Chelsea Creek development announcement of 2008?

“No,” says Common Ground developer Sean McAdam. By maintaining 60 of the 110 acres as green space, he says he is confident his Common Ground project reflects residents’ wishes to maintain Chelsea’s rural character.

The other main reason: his development plans should come as a surprise to no one.

“This is such an important location to residents,” says McAdam. “From the very beginning we have been very deliberate about involving a wide cross-section of people.”

McAdam and partners Carrie Wallace and Maurice Charlebois have held “dozens” of public consultations in the past three years, and have worked closely with interest groups and the Vision Chelsea initiative to survey residents about what they wanted to see in terms of centre village development. “In a very real sense, this is their (the residents’) project.”

McAdam adds that he and his partners have been transparent about his plans for Vincent Hendrick’s farm from the get-go. The Common Ground project has been chronicled in this paper and on its own blog as the project progressed.

“Our view is that anything we file with the municipality is a public document,” says McAdam, adding that all those files are, and will continue to be, posted on the Common Ground blog.

The final planning document was submitted to Chelsea Planning and Sustainable Development committee Oct. 12 and was met with a “warm” reaction, says McAdam, who received a conditional approval for the project in May. This final document responds to the municipality’s request for 29 more conditions to met on top of the original 36 required of a PAE zoned development.

Of course, no development plans can ever be counted as “final”, when dealing with Chelsea municipality, but having done much of the legwork up front, McAdam says, if somewhat tentatively, that he “expects” his 110-acre project will receive council approval in early November. If it does, the municipality will hold a public consultation on the project at a later date.

The planning document can be viewed at www.thecommonground.ca.