Hemmed in on the Heights

Terry Roberts
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It may offer a million-dollar view, but the lack of suitable land for development is causing frustration in Shea Heights

It's ironic that one of the best places for observing growth in St. John's is from Shea Heights, where vacant building lots are as rare as skyscrapers and the real-estate market is nearly non-existent.

In most areas of the St. John's metropolitan area, neighhbourhoods are expanding as residential development continues at a steady pace, driven by the oil industry and an influx of people from other regions of the province.

Shea Heights resident Harold Druken Sr. and others in the tight-knit community are frustrated there's no land for residential development. - Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

It's ironic that one of the best places for observing growth in St. John's is from Shea Heights, where vacant building lots are as rare as skyscrapers and the real-estate market is nearly non-existent.

In most areas of the St. John's metropolitan area, neighhbourhoods are expanding as residential development continues at a steady pace, driven by the oil industry and an influx of people from other regions of the province.

But the proliferation of new homes has bypassed Shea Heights, a close-knit community situated on the Southside Hills, overlooking the city. There's nowhere to build a new home and developers are not being drawn to the area because of the high cost of preparing land.

The storm sewer system is also in need of some major upgrades, and the steep road leading to the community is an eye-opener for first-time visitors.

Anyone wanting to buy an existing home also faces difficulty. As of this week, there were only two houses listed for sale, both asking premium prices. It's not uncommon for complete strangers to knock on someone's door and ask whether the homeowner is willing to sell, said Ted Parnell, a real-estate agent who spent his formative years in Shea Heights.

"The only way to acquire a house in Shea Heights is to buy an existing property, and right now there's nothing available," he said.

Wayne Collins is one of the lucky ones. He purchased a condemned house two years ago and will start construction on his new house this spring. His two sisters are also eager to move back to the community, but can't find anything.

"There's not one inch of land here for sale," Collins said.

It's a frustrating situation for residents who want to see their community grow, and they are already seeing the evidence of being hemmed in.

At St. John Bosco, the community's K-9 school, September enrolment for kindergarten is 15 students - six fewer than last year. In contrast, new schools or extensions are being constructed in places like Paradise and Torbay and Conception Bay South. Earlier this decade, Bosco was an all-grade school, and there are fears the school may be downgraded again.

Lifelong resident Peter Jordan said Shea Heights could become a retirement village unless various levels of government come forward with financial assistance for land development and infrastructure upgrades.

"We'd like the city and the government to have a serious look and see what the problems are and how they can be addressed," said Jordan.

Like many small towns in Newfoundland, it was a common practice for the next generation in Shea Heights to build or buy homes in their neighbourhood. But that hasn't been possible in recent years, unless people were lucky enough to purchase an existing home.

Jordan grew up across the street from his grandparents, with aunts and uncles and cousins not far away.

"We have a situation where we have people coming back from away, as well as getting married, and moving out of our community because they don't have an opportunity to purchase or build something here," Jordan explained.

According to the 2006 census, there were 2005 residents in Shea Heights, occupying 740 residences. The community became part of the City of St. John's in the 1980s, and there has been steady growth over the years.

But an inventory carried out by the city several years ago found that most of the 168 acres of land in the community had already been developed.

The area is represented on city council by Wally Collins, who admitted the issue of land availability is a challenging one.

"I'm working on it," he said.

St. John's South MHA Tom Osborne is also familiar with the issue, and said the province would be willing to cost-share municipal infrastructure if the city made it a priority.

"It's not a matter of partnership, it's a matter of the city outlining their priorities and coming to the province and receiving a share of funding," said Osborne, who applauded city councillors Ron Ellsworth, Frank Galgay and Collins for their efforts.

The city recently completed an estimate of the development cost for a 16-lot subdivision off Blackhead Road. The developer would have to charge more than $160,000 per lot just to recover costs, said Art Cheeseman, the city's director of engineering.

In other areas of the city, prices range from $65,000 to $100,000 per lot.

"There's a lot of rock involved," Cheeseman said.

The installation of water and sewer services for a new subdivision is the responsibility of the developer, and those costs are passed on to the buyer. So any new subdivisions for Shea Heights would have to be driven by private enterprise.

Harold Druken, a well-known community leader, admitted development will never happen under that scenario. That's why he and others want the governments to get involved.

"At least just put the water and sewer lines through," Druken said. "Let the people buy the land, build their homes and pay their taxes."

He said there's no desire on the part of city leaders to help Shea Heights, and he feels his community is being neglected.

"We have got the wrong end of the shaft for a long time," Druken said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: Shea Heights, St. John's, Paradise Newfoundland Blackhead Road

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Recent comments

  • expat
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Let me get this straight. There is plenty of undeveloped land in Shea Heights, plenty of space. The issue is that it's expensive to develop, yes? SO what the residents want is government to foot the bill so they don't have to bear the costs themselves? Get real. If you want to build there, dig in your pocket and build. But don't expect the taxpayers to subsidize it for you.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Shea Heights is the jewel of St. John's with a view people would die for. If Shea Heights were in ANY other city it would be developed, read: gentrified in a heartbeat.
    Fortunately,Shea Heights is such a tight knit community that people do not want to leave nor sell their properties. It's nice to see that the folks of Shea Heights are holding on to their properties for future generations,as opposed to letting it fall prey to greedy developers and realtors. My advice to any homeowner is simple: if you like what you've got, do not sell-it cannot be replaced as easily as a realtor would have you believe.

  • Gerald
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    The residents of Shea Heights want water and sewer in. There are many areas in the City of St. John's now that have water trucked in, or who are still on well water. The City should take care of these residents before they put in new water / Sewer lines in Shea Heights.

  • Timmy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    FIRST !

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    If it's that rocky, then houses would have to be built close together. It wouldn't be economical to put in the services for monster lots. Something has to give, it's not like Shea Heights is pastoral land.

  • Ann
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Since when is it right for tax payers to foot the bill for sewer lines that are not its responsibility? Get real. Next, there would be complaints of sprawl; too many houses, too close, too many families using the schools, etc. Your problem is called rocks.

  • Sam
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    I'm not sure what the complaint is. Where you decide to live is your choice but if you do so knowing what you're building on, then you do so at your expense.

  • floyd
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    A breautiful site, standing in Shea Heights overlooking the Harbor/city/St. Johns. The area should be develped as a tourist attraction.

  • Peter
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    For clarification of those who feel the residents of Shea Hghts are looking for a free ride,that is not the case.Rather its a committee of citizens who thru observation and research have realized that there has been and continues to be assistance given to many parts of our city and province from the different levels of govt in such matters.Our goal is to try and access some of those funds to bring down the costs of purchasing a building lot to the same level as all other areas of the city.Its not that we are looking for handouts rather equal representation and treatment as nfld is with our federal govt so that we as a community can continue to grow in the same capacity as the other parts of our fair city.

  • Graham
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    You reap what you sew (and where you sew it).

  • expat
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Let me get this straight. There is plenty of undeveloped land in Shea Heights, plenty of space. The issue is that it's expensive to develop, yes? SO what the residents want is government to foot the bill so they don't have to bear the costs themselves? Get real. If you want to build there, dig in your pocket and build. But don't expect the taxpayers to subsidize it for you.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Shea Heights is the jewel of St. John's with a view people would die for. If Shea Heights were in ANY other city it would be developed, read: gentrified in a heartbeat.
    Fortunately,Shea Heights is such a tight knit community that people do not want to leave nor sell their properties. It's nice to see that the folks of Shea Heights are holding on to their properties for future generations,as opposed to letting it fall prey to greedy developers and realtors. My advice to any homeowner is simple: if you like what you've got, do not sell-it cannot be replaced as easily as a realtor would have you believe.

  • Gerald
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    The residents of Shea Heights want water and sewer in. There are many areas in the City of St. John's now that have water trucked in, or who are still on well water. The City should take care of these residents before they put in new water / Sewer lines in Shea Heights.

  • Timmy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    FIRST !

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    If it's that rocky, then houses would have to be built close together. It wouldn't be economical to put in the services for monster lots. Something has to give, it's not like Shea Heights is pastoral land.

  • Ann
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Since when is it right for tax payers to foot the bill for sewer lines that are not its responsibility? Get real. Next, there would be complaints of sprawl; too many houses, too close, too many families using the schools, etc. Your problem is called rocks.

  • Sam
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    I'm not sure what the complaint is. Where you decide to live is your choice but if you do so knowing what you're building on, then you do so at your expense.

  • floyd
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    A breautiful site, standing in Shea Heights overlooking the Harbor/city/St. Johns. The area should be develped as a tourist attraction.

  • Peter
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    For clarification of those who feel the residents of Shea Hghts are looking for a free ride,that is not the case.Rather its a committee of citizens who thru observation and research have realized that there has been and continues to be assistance given to many parts of our city and province from the different levels of govt in such matters.Our goal is to try and access some of those funds to bring down the costs of purchasing a building lot to the same level as all other areas of the city.Its not that we are looking for handouts rather equal representation and treatment as nfld is with our federal govt so that we as a community can continue to grow in the same capacity as the other parts of our fair city.

  • Graham
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    You reap what you sew (and where you sew it).