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Future use of Oakdene property owned by Open Arms a hot topic at Kentville council

An ask that Kentville council reconsider proposed  Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and Land Use Bylaw (LUB) changes to allow for a site-specific development agreement at 118 Oakdene Avenue in the future didn’t get beyond the approval of the agenda at the Dec. 10 meeting.
An ask that Kentville council reconsider proposed Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and Land Use Bylaw (LUB) changes to allow for a site-specific development agreement at 118 Oakdene Avenue in the future didn’t get beyond the approval of the agenda at the Dec. 10 meeting. - Sara Ericsson

KENTVILLE, N.S. – Language is lacking that would pave the way for Open Arms – or any other property owner that might come along – to secure a development agreement through the Town of Kentville for 118 Oakdene Avenue.

And recommendations for changes that would remedy this lack have been met with mixed reviews in council chambers.

A matter relating to municipal process was brought to council’s attention in a document submitted by Beverly Gentleman, director of planning and development for the Town of Kentville, for the Nov. 13 council advisory committee (CAC) meeting.

The R-2 zoning in place for the parcel of land in question limits the current development potential to a two-unit residential dwelling.

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Open Arms, a registered charity, has publicly shared plans to construct a 60-unit housing project featuring affordable options on the former Kentville Christian Reformed Church property.

Gentleman’s recommendations asked that council “approve a site specific amendment to the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and Land Use Bylaw (LUB) to allow by development agreement the redevelopment of these properties” and host public meetings regarding the proposed amendments.

Gentleman identified additional tax revenue as a budget implication for allowing more options for redevelopment at the site, and stated the development agreement process involves public participation.

The ensuing council debate at CAC Nov. 13, however, concluded with the defeat of a motion calling for a public meeting on the matter.

Deputy mayor Cate Savage later filed a request for council to reconsider Gentleman’s recommendation, only for the item to be removed from the CAC agenda Dec. 10 after a motion tabled by Coun. Craig Gerrard at the onset of the meeting was passed.

Oakdene resident Penney Wheaton, who owns the house formerly connected to the church at 118 Oakdene Avenue, said affordable housing “has a stigma, unfortunately, and people have already started telling us ‘you need to sell your home.’”
Oakdene resident Penney Wheaton, who owns the house formerly connected to the church at 118 Oakdene Avenue, said affordable housing “has a stigma, unfortunately, and people have already started telling us ‘you need to sell your home.’”

“It is my opinion that it is in the best interest of this town not to allow any special one-off exemptions to any developer, let alone a fellow councillor. To say this issue is controversial is an understatement,” said Gerrard.

Coun. John Andrew, executive director of Open Arms, declared a conflict of interest and recused himself prior to the discussion.

The motion’s defeat Nov. 13 was met with strong public backlash and Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow said Savage recommended council reconsider the motion because she “also felt we made the wrong decision.”

At the Dec. 10 meeting, Savage said she felt a public meeting on possible rezoning was warranted since “a meeting of this magnitude can bring different ideas, different opinions from the public – and, in my world, that makes sense.”

Gerrard’s opposition to this was supported by Coun. Cathy Maxwell, who said the second vote “looks very suspicious.”

“What cannot be put on [the land] are clustered buildings, and [these] are the concern because we already have clustered buildings in that area,” said Maxwell.

At the Dec. 10 meeting, Snow said council “made an error” in defeating the Nov. 13 motion since public meetings are democratic and non-binding, and the mayor stated her support for leaving the item on the agenda.

“It’s not about winning or losing – it’s about democracy, and public engagement,” she said.

Also present at the meeting was Oakdene resident Penney Wheaton, who bought the church house formerly used with the now-vacant church at 118 Oakdene 10 years ago.

She said she feels rezoning and later-development should not move forward because she fears it will negatively impact her property.

“I know the struggles of being a single mom, but I’ve worked my tail off to have a good property – and now this could be right in my backyard,” said Wheaton.

Wheaton said a path behind her house already used by many people and it could become much busier if development happens. She also worries about security issues at her house, with her backyard in close proximity to the path.

She said even with no development firmly in the works, the proposed housing project is cause for concern from her point of view.

“It has a stigma, unfortunately, and people have already started telling us ‘you need to sell your home,’” she said.

With files from Ashley Thompson.

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