Council Hears Royal Oaks School Rezoning Presentation

Posted to Moncton Free Press, February 6, 2012

Greg Coleman, Romspen Investment Corporation

Greg Coleman, Romspen Investment Corporation. Photo: Nancy Arsenault


A large number of citizens were in attendance at Council Chambers Monday evening as Council heard an application for the rezoning of land to accomodate the deevlopment of a new high school in Royal Oaks and the extension of the existing development in the area.

The area proposed for rezoning is well outside the City's serviceable area, and almost on the City's northern boundary.

Following this public presentation the public will have 30 days to send letters of concern before the public hearing.

What has to be done:

- the servicable bourdary has to be amended

- there has to be an amendment to the zoning bylaw to allow the rezing to happen

- the existing agreement with Royal Oaks has to be revised to reflect that plan.

Presentation by Greg Coleman, Romspen Investment Corporation

"I just want to remind everyone that we're here to talk about rezoning (not) to talk about the decision to relocate the high school," said Coleman. "The decision to relocate the high school is a decision that has already been made by the province."

There is a binding agreement, and the province does not require the rezoning in order to build the school, he said.

One of the issues in the rezoning is whether the rezoning will create any additional costs to the city. There have been "rumours" flying about, he said, but he suggests that "in the short term" there will not be any infrastructure costs. The existing Royal Oaks infrastructure for water and sewage will be sufficient for the school.

Also, "the school will not create significant additional traffic in that area," he said.

In the long term, those infrastructure costs will be incurred only if development takes place in that area, so there is a balance between future costs and future revenues.

The argument in favour of development:

- first, in view of expected infrastructure costs, if the City expects help with those costs, it should cooperate with the province

- second, "my original proposal" was not only to move the existing school, but also to repurpose the existing building as "offices and apartments" and a public park. "I am excited about that project," he said, but in return for taking on that project he expects the city to support the rezoning.

"There has been a flurry in social media and other media about the application," he said, but having talked with "hundreds" of people over the last year, he believes the public is in favour of it.

There is no suitable 30-acre downtown site, he said, and the proposal includes a way to revitalize the downtown core. Given that most students are already bused, the public should support the project.

Jim Scott

The primary component of the master plan are as follows:

- cultural context, including servicing

- recreational context - Irishtown nature park is a very important asset to the development

It is near the existing Royal Oaks, and the high school can be placed within the existing infrastructure, except for some water upgrades.

"What we're asking for is to extend the service area north," to create one master plan area.

Key is the environmental plan, including not only recreation, but also stormwater. The most important part is to preserve the park, as some of the headpond from the park extends into Royal Oaks.

Today, drainage from the site is through the golf course. "As we extend to the north we will be working within the context of the greenways that are there," which means stormwater will need to be dealt with.

This would be within the context of a greenway system - all existing parks are within the greenway system - and also are the hiking trails. The school will also be located within the greenway system, and the school would have its own park space "that's going to become an academic gateway to Irishtown Nature Park."

"We've begun to work with the Nature Park Committee as to how we would do that... they have a nature facility that they're working on... together we'll see how we can develop one great facility."

If this will be made a very large development, he said, this will be as much as possible a development that does not compete with the existing Moncton market. Focus groups have been conducted to identify what sourt of development is missing from the community.

Finally, he said, the phasing plan is exactly the same as the infrastructure plan. Even without the rezoning, there's an additional eight years of work that is to be done on the existing site. So the school can be phased in with that.

The rezoning, he said, provides us all with an opportunity to negitiate on what the costs will be for improvements on roads such as Elmwood Drive.

And "then we'll move forward, we'll move forward above the school, and beside the school." We were asked by the city to look at a 25-year cost benefit anlaysis, he said, so they looked at the possible outlay over that time. There would be water, sanitary and infrastructure projects involved.

For example, the intersection of Trans-Canada Highway at Elmwood Drive has to be looked at; this is a project already under way.

In the first five years the primary concern is water; water pressure needs to be developed. An the intersection needs to be looked at (though the road itself, he said, is adequate).

Next in the 5-10 year window the primary project would be "the downstream problem", not so much in Royal Oaks. No work would be needed 10-15 years out, but 15-20 years work would be needed along the south end of the area (along the highway).

"We certainly understand the purpose for the service-area boundary," he said, noting it is intended to contain sprawl. But "it is not intended to be a tool to limit economic development." If it were simply competitive with existing projects, it would be expected to be rejected, but when looking at 1400 units, it's an "opportunity that doesn't come along every day."

Both Fredericton and Halifax placed high schools in the outer area, he argued, and these both resulted in significant development, which in turn improved downtown.

Council Member Paulette Theriault thanked the citizens that were present at the meeting. The preservation of the existing high school, one of few heritage buildings left in the city, was first and foremost, and she wants "to make the best of a difficult situation."

She presented the historical context of the file, beginning with the release of the January 2009 plan. The city's own consultant, Jim Bezanson, found the cost of repairing much less than was originally described. City Council unanimously asked the province to preserve the school, and the case received national attention.

The result of consultations by the Heritage Board was the O'Shaughnessy Report, and the board agreed to try to preserve at least some of the attributes of the school. After the change of government, the students vacated the school. Council unanimously passed a motion in December 2010 asking the government to implement the O'Shaughnessy report.

In the winter of 2011, she said, the Heritage committee organized a stakeholder meeting and worked with external consultants to explore the possibility for the redevelopment of the high school. This was presented to a special meeting of local MLAs. Later in the year Coleman met with the Heritage Board to discuss the possibility of a new plan.

A meeting in Fredericton with the minister followed, where once again the city asked for the preservation of the school. In July, the province announced its decision to locate the high school in Royal Oaks. But this project is about more than Royal Oaks - it is about preserving the heritage properties and redeveloping downtown.

In its final decision to relocate the high school," she said, the province agreed to work with the Heritage Board. Again, she said, "the Heritage Board had to make some incredible compromises." The province has put in place an RFP committee composed of members from the heritage community. The school is but one of several heritage buildings that will have to be readapted.

"There are no guarantees at this moment," she said, but the Royal Oaks project is about collaboration and hope for the redevelopment of the heritage building.

Merrill Henderson noted that "We have heard from the media that city staff are not being very cooperative with the project." But the project is being treated just like any other rezoning application. "Mr. Coleman said we should cooperate and move forward," he said, asking Coleman to reiterate that there is a binding contract with the province. And the province can go ahead without even asking us, he noted. But there is no contract to redevelop the existing school.

"We proposed a land exchange," said Coleman, to trade 35 acres in Royal Oaks for the existing school, but the province preferred to separate the two. "We're still strongly committed to doing something about it and I hope we're the successful bidder in the RFP."

When pressed, Coleman admitted, "I feel that you've been cooperative," and said "I don't feel any of those stories or comments (in the Times & Transcript) came from me."

Council Member Steven Boyce noted that he had heard "traffic on Elmwood Drive would not be impacted, and asked city staff to verify this. He was told there is already an existing issue and "there will be problems with traffic" as determined by an engineering study. "I just wanted to make it clear to all presenters, if you're going to provide us with information, be careful of the words you use. Clearly there will be an impact."

When we do cost-benefit analyses, he said, we should be clear about the work that needs to be done. Whether we think about it now or not, some time down the road there will be pressure to upgrade Elmwood drive in the event that this project is successful.

We were also told by Mr Scott, said Boyce, that water upgrades would be needed in any case, and this should not be confused with the project. But while the work is in the 5-year capital plan, it has been deferred, and existing growth does not create a need for a new pump. But if the school is thrown in, that changes the calculation. The water upgrade would be necessary immediately if the province connects to the public system.

"How can we possibly be assured," asked Boyce, if the upgrade to Moncton High School will go ahead. There's no way of guaranteeing that if the city approves the rezoning, the upgrading of the school would take place.

"Let's not talk any more about the existing Moncton High because there's no guarantees," said Boyce.

Boyce also questioned the statement that there is a good number of people in favour of the redevelopment. Additionally, he said, that there is a legally binding agreement goes beyond information that has already been presented. There might be an agreement between the province, he suggested, but it might be conditional on something. "It is not conditional on rezoning," responded Coleman.

Daniel Bourgeois, questioned the assertion that they would sell 1200 more units than exist. "You are asking us to pay for the connection to expand to the northern part of your development... we are the ones you are asking to gamble." And though there would be more taxes, there would also be more expenses for police, fire, garbage, and the rest.

How can this projection be made, he asked, when over the last two years only 200 units have been sold?

In other cities, said Coleman, the developers pay the cost. "If you're prepared to charge every developer a devloper fee," he said, "I would pay it."

The 200 units at Royal Oaks were sold almost a decade ago, said Coleman, and the previous owner ran into financial difficulties. If we look at similar development, such as Fox Creek, we would say that Royal Oaks, run properly, would sell 60-70 units per year.

It was noted that the city has already taken over ownership of the "roller coaster" main street in Royal Oaks and will have to spend a hundred thousand dollars reparing it. The previous developer built service conduits under it, and didn't fill them properly.

Another concern, this raised by Brian Hicks, revolved around what happened last time the province decided on a rural location for a school, and the city was taxed with millions of dollars of expenditures it had allocated for other work.

Moreover, given that Romspen already has permission to develop 800 homes, why rezone now? Why not wait until there's a clearer need? Then the city would have revenue coming in and could afford to look at infrastructure.

"We can't stop the province from building there," said the Council Member, "but there's nothing that says we are required to provide services to it... I want to see some guarantees from the province that if we provide services, there will be dollars, not just promises."

But, in response, argued "If we don't go through the rezoning process, we don't go though the development agreement process."

He also noted that a lot of development will also take place outside city limits. It would like saying "let's put the downtown centre on the border between Moncton and Dieppe."

"Let's remember, he said, eleven years ago we had a developer come in and say the Beaver Lumber lands would be like Disneyland north."

Pierre Boudreau, meanwhile, noted that Romspen has an excellent reputation as a developer. "I am encouraged by the fact that you are interested in our city," he said. "Where the school will be situated is a fait accompli, ladies and gentlemen... It doesn't matter what the city of Moncton thinks, wants or wishes, nothing's going to change their minds."

And he noted, "When David slew Goliath with the slingshot, he was exceptionally lucky. I don't think the City of Moncton can expect to have similar luck."

Until Pierre Boudreau spoke, said Council Member Nancy Hoar, "I thought we lived in a democracy."

Hoar asked whether the proposal had taken into account the desires of existing landowners south of Royal Oaks to develop, especially as these owners had been put off previously by the lack of infrasructure. She was told that it was considered, but not necessarily with this application.

She also raised the concerns of the people who had already bought homes expecting a certain zoning to be in effect. In response, she was told that existing homes would not change zoning, but if they expected that there would be a park behind them, they may need to check with the office. "I don't think that's very comforting to people who have already purchased," said Hoar.

"I do hope that any person who has any interest out there at all should look into it, because I do think that people will be surprised by what's in their back yard," said Hoar.

"I don't know why we are even going though all this," said Hoar, "but we have basically been threatened by the provice that if we don't go along with this they won't give us money for other projects."

The Northrope Frye high school took $13 million from other projects, noted Deputy Mayor Kathryn Barnes. City staff couldn't tell her how much the proposed project would cost.

"I thought the school should remain in the city centre," she said. "I did not think this was the proper site." The city made generous concessions to Royal Oaks, including giving 200 acrees of treed land in exchange for 80 acres of less useful land.

"At the hearing, I hope people will be here to express their views."

The City Manager noted that the costs implicated by the school and the rezoning amounted to about $25 million, but the city is now negotiating with the province and the developer to defer some of the costs. Council will be presented with a number of scenarios.


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