“I can’t do that now,” Glenn Littlejohn told The Compass last week.
The mayor made the remark to illustrate the influx of new people to the town in recent years. And as far as he is concerned, the newcomers are as welcome as the flowers in May because they are all helping the Conception Bay North town become one of the province’s fastest growing municipalities.
He says the new citizens are made up of retirees, young people with young families, professionals and people returning home from Alberta. You name it, there is a great cross section of people from all ages and all walks of life.
“They may be working at the Carbonear General Hospital or in St. John’s, but they are choosing to live in Bay Roberts,” he says.
Admitting his town doesn’t have the same selection and variety of services that can be found in larger centres, Littlejohn says, “but people can get basically what they want here. And most people like the rural way of life and the amenities, facilities and services we do have to offer.”
The six new residential building applications approved at Bay Roberts’ last regular council meeting Aug. 17 brings to 61 the total number of residential building permits approved to date this year. That’s the same amount approved for the whole of 2009.
Pointing out last year was a record year for housing starts in the town, Littlejohn notes the town already reached that figure, and still has four months to go in the year.
While the building boom continues, Littlejohn says his town is competing with other larger towns.
“We are practically next door to St. John’s,” less than an hour’s drive from the capital city, he adds, and away from the urban sprawl that has exploded from Kilbride and the Goulds through Mount Pearl, Paradise and Conception Bay South.
The mayor recalls one year a few years ago when C.B.S. had 240 housing starts. “We had 50 housing starts that same year, but on a per capita basis, we were building as many new homes as they were — that’s pretty amazing.”
People are not building small homes anymore, he says. He estimates the average new home now going up in Bay Roberts runs from $150,000 to $175,000. Multiply that by 60 (new houses) and you have between $9 million-$10 million dollars worth of new residential construction. “The building supply companies are going flat out,” the mayor says.
The price of building lots “has gone through the roof,” the mayor says. “Ten years ago you could pick up a (100 foot by 100 foot) building lot for $10,000. Now you’d be hard pressed to get that same sized lot for $30,000. Everybody is trying to get in on the land bonanza.”
He says the housing developments vary from three- and six-lot developments up to 30-35 lots, as can be found in Phase 3 of Valleyview Subdivision.
Littlejohn says he knows of people who have built two and three new homes, all valued in the six-figure range, kept them for a couple of years and have made money each time they resold them. He knows of one home that is going for half a million dollars.
“The market is still booming. It’s a great thing to see, and it’s creating some pretty exciting times.”
“They may be working at the Carbonear General Hospital or in St. John’s, but they are choosing to live in Bay Roberts,” - Mayor Glenn Littlejohn
While development may be great for towns like Bay Roberts, Littlejohn admits it does not come without challenges for council — like trying to keep up with the ever-increasing demands to provide infrastructure to support such unprecedented growth.
And as important as they are for a municipality, a town cannot be solely made up of residential and commercial development. “You’ve got to have balance. It’s important that you have recreation facilities, heritage areas, and green spaces complementing the residential and commercial. You need all of it together. And that’s the great challenge we face,” Littlejohn acknowledged.
To achieve that delicate balancing act requires proper zoning he says. “You have to draw the line somewhere, and not everyone is going to be happy. It hasn’t been easy, but (council tries) to do it as best we can and we work at it hard every day.”
He says the town has developed a new municipal plan, which is now in the hands of the Department of Municipal Affairs for approval. Expansion of land is part of that plan. “We’re trying to open up new property in places like the New Found Lane area,” he says.
On the business side, Littlejohn says council approved 10-12 new commercial operations this year. That number includes new ventures starting up in existing buildings and commercial structures under construction.
Referring to the town’s “golden mile,” the strip of commercial development between the west end of Water Street and Birch Hills, Littlejohn says, “there’s not a whole lot of land left there for potential commercial developers to access.” That’s why the town wants to develop “a business park” off Veterans Memorial Highway.
Admitting the proposed park has been slow in getting off the ground, the mayor says it’s hoped the purchase of land in the area will be finalized in the next 60 days.
While some informal talks have taken place, he believes they will lead to more concrete negotiations in the near future.
There are less than 25 acres to work with there now, the mayor says, but he hopes eventually they will be able to obtain up to 60 acres of land for development in the area.
Littlejohn says he read the ideal situation for a municipality would be to have 60 per cent of its tax base commercial and 40 per cent residential.
“Right now Bay Roberts is about 70 per cent residential and 30 per cent commercial.”
He would like to see it closer to an even 50-50 ratio.
“That’s the goal we have to reach,” he says, “and that’s why it’s so important to attract new commercial development that will help create a solid foundation for our community.”
With Bay Roberts strategically positioned between Long Harbour and St. John’s, Littlejohn sees no end in sight for development and growth, not just for his town but the entire Conception Bay North area.