This can be a beginning—a place to start. Something transformational. Something important.
The challenges stemming from the utter lack of affordable places to live for many in Prince Edward County are clear. The evidence abundant. They reach far beyond those directly impacted— it is our former neighbours, friends and co-workers forced to live in Belleville or beyond because it is what they can afford. When ordinary single-storey fixer uppers fetch more than $350,000 in the current market, a wide swath of the demographic who live and work in the County—are prohibited from owning a home. We are pushing folks out—and in the long term, wreaking havoc on the viability of our communities.
It is the dominant trend in the current real estate marketplace in the County. And like all trends, it won’t stand still. In the short run, prices are likely to move higher still— pushing out a larger share of our population— until the forces underlying the fundamental imbalance between supply and demand is broken. That will only happen with the onset of new supply. (Even a crash in Toronto real estate market won’t relieve this pressure—likely only serving to push down the curve of the damaging trend.)
We can empathize with the pain and hardship of leaving behind your home for no other reason than economics. But what does it mean for those who can afford to stay? This trend threatens schools, hospitals and other healthcare services. It is destructive to our roads, bridges and waterworks. We risk becoming an enclave of wealthy seniors living out our days watching the fabric of community erode away.
Yet there are faint glimmers of hope on the horizon. Residential development projects, long dormant, are beginning to emit signs of arousing from slumber. But even if earthmovers began carving roads this summer, it will be several years before these projects begin to cut into the lack of supply in the County’s residential home market.
One project—Wellington Country Village— could be up and ready much sooner, and promises to serve the need for smaller, more compact living forms within walking distance of the core of the village. It is an attractive and appropriately scaled development that could see 26 new buildings, each accommodating a single family or two or three residential units in the form of stacked duplexes and triplexes on the property that served as the Dukedome. It has sat idle for the better part of a decade. The property has been reimagined as a new vibrant and exciting neighbourhood.
But to do this sooner rather than much later will require the enthusiastic support and leadership of County council. There are good and important reasons for council to seize this opportunity and nurture it to fruition.
- The need is profound and long overdue. That much should be abundantly clear to everyone at Shire Hall by now. Each floor plan is about 750 square feet, which fits squarely within the market trend toward smaller living spaces—with unparalleled access to nature, services and amenities. This means more affordable living in this community.
- It is a community-based solution. The proposal is the brainchild of Wellington resident Anthony Lemke and his brother, Chris, a real estate developer based in western Canada. The project also enjoys the direct support of the Wellington United Church. Reverend Steve Spicer has earned the support of the congregation and the broader United Church of Canada to put their resources behind solutions aimed at making this community more affordable. Also, both Habitat for Humanity and Community Living for Seniors have expressed their support for this project.
- The proposal appears written with Wellington’s secondary plan close at hand. The newly minted document seeks to guide and inform development in the village. It was produced with the input and participation of the residents of this community seeking to ensure more infill development— utilizing the empty spaces in the village—while encouraging a mix of housing types and increased density.
To get this done, the proponents are asking for a greenfield— that is that the old rink structure be removed by the County and that the property be transferred clean and free of environmental liabilities. For some, this will pose a hurdle, yet they must bear in mind this property has been evaluated and rejected by at least three other developers. None could make the economics work.
There will be a cost to County taxpayers. But let’s be clear—there is a massive cost to be paid by this community and the broader County if we don’t succeed in changing our demographic and population trajectory.
This proposal is an offering to this community. Let us find the graciousness and good sense to accept it.