Witless Bay developer furious after council quashes project

Daniel MacEachern
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

The developer of a housing project quashed by Witless Bay council last week says he’s considering legal action.
The town council denied a rezoning application for a small housing project planned by architect and designer Gary Churchill, capping four years of bureaucratic squabbling that Witless Bay’s recently elected mayor calls the most divisive issue he has seen.

A portion of the East Coast Trail goes along Ragged Beach in Witless Bay. The town council has voted against a small housing development in the area.
— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Churchill said people opposed to his project spread lies about what he wanted to do, which began with a single piece of land he bought four years ago while he was still working in Ontario, but grew into a plan to build several more homes near the East Coast Trail and Ragged Beach (Note: Click and drag the 360 panoramic image above to see a full view of the area).

“I came home to try to do something good for the province, the best that could be possibly done,” he said, adding his development would never have disturbed either the trail or the beach.

“I’m an environmentalist, and this stuff got spread far and wide that I was going to destroy the East Coast Trail. They put out a petition and had people sign it, walking along the beach, and said, ‘Would you be in favour of someone destroying this beach?’ that kind of stuff. So there never was a fair playing field here.”

Churchill said he’s not sure what he’ll do next.

“I’m seeking legal counsel right now,” he said, but added even if he were able to get the courts to overturn the decision, it would be futile to bring it back before the current council.

Witless Bay Mayor Sébastian Després said the rezoned area would have taken in much more than Churchill’s property, and the town was concerned about opening the door to much more development, as well as expropriating land necessary to widen an access road.

“Another consideration was the overwhelming opposition to the project,” he said.

“It’s not a small clique, as the developer might intimate,” Després said. “It’s a very large proportion of the residents of Witless Bay (who) actively petitioned council and the provincial ministers in charge of the portfolios to help protect what has been recognized as a provincial concern.”

Ed Vickers, head of Friends of Ragged Beach, a group opposed to the development, applauded council’s decision.

“They actually looked at the project, as opposed to trying to bull it through, like the previous council,” he said. “We took the position right from the beginning that you can’t have a development in the middle of the woods with no way to get in there. You have to start with access and go forward, and the process that was used, in our view, was rushed through.”

Vickers said Churchill incorrectly assumed he’d have the right to develop his property the way he wished.

“We took the position that as a town we have a right to protect our culture and our rural areas, and that sort of thing. So it was a battle of perceived rights.”



Twitter: @TelegramDaniel


Geographic location: Witless Bay, Ontario

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • guitslinger
    March 26, 2014 - 01:18

    I just read the very well put comments from highschooler,one of the main arguments used by all those opposed to this abominable project has been that the beach area needs to be saved so that our children and their children's children and future generations have the whole area kept unaltered and as pristine as it has been for many generations so far.We want future generations to look back at our generation fondly and with appreciation and respect as conscientious stewards of the environment and all the flora and fauna.If we were to stand by and do nothing and let Churchill and those of his ilk commit such dastardly land rapes it would be a poor and shameful legacy to leave behind.Most of those committed to this cause have children of their own,so the children of this area are of the utmost importance to us and are a good part of why we are so steadfast in our stand against this disgusting fiasco. It's a huge comfort to know that young people as caring about environmental issues as Highschooler are going to be the custodians of the local natural areas when we have shuffled off this mortal coil. Good on you!!!

  • highschooler
    March 24, 2014 - 15:37

    I am a teenager, i go to school here. Reading this article and these comments makes me stop and think. Who are you forgetting? Can't think of it... I'll tell you. It's us, the children and the teens. Think into the future, for us. if development proceeds, there will be no going for a walk on the beach with your dog, there will be no skipping stones with your cousin, there will be no "mom i want to go pick some blueberries". You have the power to decide the future of witless bay because us children, we are the future. Do you really want to see the place where your family grew up, where traditions were made, tears were shed, laughs we shared, destroyed. This is the present day. In a developed place where we can't walk through the trees or have a bon fire. This may seem crazy. You may think that I am too young to understand but i have an opinion that I want to share. And although i cannot vote or speak to the council i can still have an opinion. Open your ears to us, the children of witless bay because we the children, are the FUTURE.

  • Peter
    March 22, 2014 - 03:51

    Mr. Churchill and his supporters who have used personal attacks should be ashamed of themselves. I have met Mr. Vickers and he is one of the most reasonable people one would wish to meet.. Mr. Vickers stayed with the facts of the issue throughout the battle and facts won out over bullshit and personal attacks that are often the recluse of developers trying to get their way, attack the people in a small town as backward and ill informed. It is not easy to come forward and challenge a town council and a developer and congratulations to Mr. Vickers and Friends of Ragged Beach for their passion in defending their community. Wanting to protect a community and its rural culture is not a bad thing as developers would claim. Our children will thank Mr. Vickers for his efforts, .long after Mr. Churchill is forgotten. The fact that the majority of the development was Crown Land and not private seems to be forgotten. Who is really lying?

  • guitslinger
    March 21, 2014 - 20:49

    Churchill tries to garner sympathy from anyone who is gullible and naive enough to believe him and his contention that he's a nature loving protocol son who has returned to the bosom of his motherland and that his plans are totally above board and honorable.I would like for someone from the Telegram to ask Churchill what kind of honorable person would entertain for one minute,the thought of going ahead with a money making venture that would most definitely cause at least 6 long-time local townspeople to have sizable tracts of their land expropriated just for the access road alone?Churchill's dogmatic tenacity to fight for his own way even at the expense and considerable inconvenience of many others makes one very skeptical about his contention that this is solely his own venture.The very fact that he's furious about this and vows to keep flogging the proverbial expired mare -or stallion- makes one suspect that there is still much more to this than he is willing to share with us.I firmly believe that he is only one part of a group of investors who have undertaken this project as a get maggoty rich quick scheme and who planned on building this exclusive seaside Shangri-La and flipping it faster than an IHOP cook can flip a pancake.Of course this is only speculation on my part-but I suspect that Churchill et al know a bit about speculation.

  • Rosanne
    March 21, 2014 - 20:27

    I applaud the democratic justice and ethics that prevailed in this case. To imply that Newfoundlanders do not promote development or prosperity because they do not blindly allow someone to develop without regard for future impact is naive and insulting. Check other municipalities across our great country and you will see strict guidelines and lengthy proceedings before an area is rezoned or developed. The town council was doing the job they were elected to do - and doing it properly. Besides the fact that the beautiful town of Witless Bay should be proud that there are so many citizens willing to protect its environment for future generations, they should first commend The Friends of Ragged Beach, other supporting groups, and its Town Council for a job well done!

  • seanoairborne
    March 21, 2014 - 14:09

    Witless Bay!!You got that right!

  • jean
    March 21, 2014 - 14:03

    That's pretty funny Darlene. You fell for their lies- the guy's a Newfoundlander and was planning on lots twice the normal size so houses cant be "squashed in"- shows what an effective lie campaign they spread

  • Don II
    March 21, 2014 - 12:10

    Another despicable and unethical practice in Newfoundland and Labrador is when Town Councils intentionally zone land to stop development, reject real estate development applications and refuse to allow the original land owner to develop his/her privately owned land, probably because they do not like him/her for some stupid reason. However, the Town continues to send property tax and water and sewer bills for land that the land owner is not being allowed to develop by the Town! Over time, the frustrated private land owner gets fed up with paying taxes on land that he/she cannot develop and is forced to sell the land at a financial loss. In many cases it is the Town that ends up owing the land and once the title is transferred to the Town, all objections and land use zoning restrictions and impediments to developing the land magically disappear! The title to the land may be transferred to some person or corporation from the Town and the formerly rejected real estate project gets approved by the Town for itself to develop or a project on the land is approved for a well connected buddy who wanted the land all along but did not want to spend any money to buy it from the original owner! The Government of Newfoundland just sits back and allows this abuse of authority and land grabbing racket to go on unchallenged!

  • Jerry S.
    March 21, 2014 - 11:32

    We still have seniors in Conception Bay South who are still unable to have access to water and sewer from a serviced road 8 meters away. (hook up in place and all) All this, because a neighbor's reluctance to grant access over a 3 foot wide "ransom strip" which was strategically left after a previous councils approval for the development a sub-division (LeeWood pl) that didn't even come close to meeting the municipal requirements, but was somehow approved. That was almost 20 years ago, and still dealing with the repercussions!

  • Pam Frampton
    March 21, 2014 - 11:11

    The story doesn't say anything about it being set in "Witless Bay, Ontario." What you are seeing at the end of the story on our website are the two geographic locations "Witless Bay" and "Ontario" mentioned in the story.

  • Andrea
    March 21, 2014 - 10:43

    Mr. Churchill wanted council to expropriate land from current landowners, has no respect for the decision of an elected government, and is calling the people of the town a bunch of liars. Too bad it fell through, I'm sure you would have been a great neighbour.

  • William
    March 21, 2014 - 10:40

    Where is Witless Bay, Ontario, and why is it here for the location.

  • Scott M
    March 21, 2014 - 10:17

    Finally a council that won't bend to a land developer .Thank You. There are something's much more important than the developers wallet , Save your I'm doing good for the province speech somewhere else . I've seen your game before , How does it go? Oh We got approved, now we need to amend some bylaws for variance's is your next step right? Last time I checked theres no shortage of Property's for sale in NL!!. The only reason your mad is the lost $$$ in your pocket. You could care less about the area and the environment.

  • Emotions
    March 21, 2014 - 09:39

    A lot of emotions in the comments. It appears he has a piece of land with no access. How can he get to it? Does he expect council to build a road and maintain it? Does he expect to be allowed to build a road on somebody else's land to get to his land? If the neighbours didn't want me there, how would I enjoy living there? He bought land that he can't build on and can't get to so I guess now it's worth nothing. I guess he should have checked this out before he bought the land. Too late now!!!! To Don II ... he doesn't have access to his land. How can he do anything with it? All over the province, somebody else decides how you can develop your land. They are called councils.

  • aiden carey
    March 21, 2014 - 09:19

    story from back home

  • Marie
    March 21, 2014 - 09:08

    Depres should check his facts as it was NOT a large proportion of the residents of the Town that signed the petition. It also contained a VERY LARGE amount of outsiders who really have no business interfering with the Town's development. I followed this story closely as have strong ties still to the community despite moving away years ago. I personally do not agree with the large scale of the development near the ecological reserve HOWEVER I do think this gentleman should have been allowed to build on his private property as should the other private property owners down there. There should have been just enough crown land allowed to let them access it with a dirt road that the owners could have maintained. No other crown land permits should have be allowed for the others in the community looking to make a profit off of this man's back should he had built the road. There are a lot of tree-huggers who have the misconception that all development is bad and a lot of them live down in Gallows Cove. They have always fought ANY development anywhere in that area. Witless bay has NO industry worth talking about so unsure where this new council thinks the monies are going to come from to support and build upon the infrastructure. Development is inevitable as so close to town. This new council is filled with a bunch of throw-backs to the 60's that want to see a horse and buggy go though the town singing Kumbayah. It is interesting to note that the council is now comprised of some of the original members of the help save ragged beach-speaks loudly of conflict of interest to me. Same councillor also made the motion to stop the development according to town minutes as this is okay? I am not anti-development. I am for smart development that does not leave the community in the dark ages. Churchill probably has a case against this crowd as smacks of conflict all over the place.

  • Lena
    March 21, 2014 - 09:06

    The decision reached by the present council echoes the wishes of a huge majority of local residents; it does not quash development per set, it simply makes it clear that the cost, both financial and environmental, of any such development will be factored into the equation. The true cost of this particular development was simply too high. The developer is angry because his plan was denied, but proponents of responsible development should rejoice that the duly elected government of this community has made the right decision under the circumstances. We should all be following their lead.

  • Lena
    March 21, 2014 - 09:05

    The decision reached by the present council echoes the wishes of a huge majority of local residents; it does not quash development per set, it simply makes it clear that the cost, both financial and environmental, of any such development will be factored into the equation. The true cost of this particular development was simply too high. The developer is angry because his plan was denied, but proponents of responsible development should rejoice that the duly elected government of this community has made the right decision under the circumstances. We should all be following their lead.

  • Anna
    March 21, 2014 - 07:55

    Maybe a few members of this council might run for St. John's council next time. We sure could use a few people who actually consider what damage might be done to the city rather than build a high rise on every corner. ie waterfront, Duckworth street - old fire station

    • Brian
      March 21, 2014 - 12:01

      Anna - the development on Duckworth at the old fire station is, I believe 4-5 stories high - hardly a high rise.

    • Brian
      March 21, 2014 - 12:30

      Anna - the development on Duckworth at the old fire station is, I believe 4-5 stories high - hardly a high rise.

    • seanoairborne
      March 21, 2014 - 14:06

      "we sure could use a few people (like old worn out Shannie Duff) who actually consider what damage might be done to the city"by getting into the twenty first century and leaving the last century behind!

  • Joan Bell
    March 21, 2014 - 07:51

    Witless Bay

  • Don II
    March 21, 2014 - 07:49

    The negative message now being sent to land developers and job creators who were planning to buy land in Newfoundland and Labrador to develop is: "Forget it!" The situation in Newfoundland and Labrador is summed up by the comment: "Vickers said Churchill incorrectly assumed he'd have the right to develop his property the way he wished." In Newfoundland and Labrador, somebody else will decide how you can develop or not develop your own private land! It sounds like in addition to invading the Crimea, Russian President Putin also invaded Newfoundland and Labrador!

    • No
      March 21, 2014 - 10:01

      The message is to check with council to see if you can do what you want to do with a piece of land before you buy it. The exception is Danny, who can buy land and have it rezoned later with no problem.

    • Don II
      March 21, 2014 - 11:18

      The message is not only that you should check with your local Town Council to see if you can develop your land, the message really is: "Do not try to develop your own land because the small town cliques and Town Councils will stop you with the help of the Government of Newfoundland!" I know of numerous cases where Town Councils gave "approval in principle" for real estate projects and then waited until the private land owner had spent thousands of dollars in surveys, engineering, planning consultants and contractors and then the Town Council changed their minds and rejected the application. The land owner then had to spend more money for a lawyer and appeals. Land development in Newfoundland is a real risk because it appears that there is some deep rooted aversion to change and progress here! I have spoken to some Town Councils which want to maintain everything in "their" town the way it was since 1910! If Town Councils and the Government are going to continually deny land owners their rights to develop their land then the Government and Town Councils must financially compensate the land owners for the loss of value of their land and for lost future income caused by the stoppage of real estate development. The Government and Town Council attitude in Newfoundland is virtually communism in disguise! The message is going out that Newfoundland and Labrador does not want to change or develop and that negative message is being heard by people who would have money and would have otherwise invested that money in the Province except for the stupid land use and anti development policies that will ruin many real estate development opportunities. Who benefits from stopping development in a place where development is badly needed? It appears that there is some hidden agenda, perhaps a dependency on Government grants for funding walking trails or for protecting so called heritage sites going on behind the scenes that is stopping real economic development progress.

  • Brenda
    March 21, 2014 - 07:34

    I am so happy and relieved that the Witless Bay Council made the correct decision regarding this housing development near Ragged Beach and the East Coast Trail. This area has been part of our lives for over fifty years, enjoying the beauty of the surroundings, just sitting on the beach for hours, berry picking, catching caplin, bomb fires, picnics, etc. What a disappointment it would be to give up such tranquility for a modern day housing development and higher volumes of traffic and noise.

    • Brian
      March 21, 2014 - 11:58

      What's a bomb fire?

  • Darlene
    March 21, 2014 - 06:05

    Really ..you wanted to do good ...by go back to Ontario and do good there instead of trying to rip off people here with half million dollar homes...wake up ..we don't want houses squashed into each other...we don't want mainlanders on our turf...simple...now go home...cheers

    • Christopher Chafe
      March 21, 2014 - 11:21

      It is attitude like yours that makes me ashamed to be a Newfoundlander!

    • Brian
      March 21, 2014 - 11:56

      Wow Darlene a little harsh there hey.

    • Marie
      March 21, 2014 - 13:44

      You are not from there as stated below in a comment but you have an opinion on whom is welcomed there? "we don't want mainlanders on our turf" And there lies the problem with this entire situation. People with NO business having a say thinking that they somehow do...Don't assume to speak for the people of Witless Bay who have NO issue with welcoming outsiders into THEIR community. Now YOU go home...cheers.

    • Erin
      March 22, 2014 - 08:40

      Hey Darlene, maybe you should get your facts straight before you assume anything. Mr. Churchill is not a mainlander, he grew up in Downtown St. John's and is just as much a Newfoundlander as you are. And by the way all those homes would have pumped money into the economy of Whitless Bay maybe the anti social tree huggers, the residents, and the council should consider that.

  • Mike
    March 21, 2014 - 05:35

    "Friends of Ragged Beach" are a bunch of anti-social tree huggers who want to be left alone in Gallows Cove. I say let them, but take away their snow clearing and garbage collection and they can form their own council. They are a bunch that manipulated facts and managed to get most of the new residents to believe their lies and vote for them and are now, unfortunately, members of Witless Bay's council.

    • Caroline
      March 21, 2014 - 09:20

      There was an election in Witless Bay and the people of the town cast their votes as they saw fit. There was manipulation of "facts" all right, but it certainly did not come from the newly elected council members. I have been present for council meetings prior to that election, when it was clear that the will of the majority of Witless Bay residents was not being carried out. Today's council reflects the will of the people, and sends a clear message that while development is welcome, it must be fiscally sound and not the result of political cronyism. Approving developments that cost the town more in improvement expenditures than they will pay in increased tax base isn't sound management, no matter who the developer is.

    • Darlene
      March 21, 2014 - 10:11

      Wow Mike a little harsh there hey...I'm not even from there and I love it ...so what is the problem...all those people pay taxes so why take their services...pretty petty comment..I have to say it was and is a beautiful place to bring the family for an afternoon out...instead of staying home and playing on the old xbox and teaching your kids the real value of life...by get off the couch and go take a look at the place ..that's if you can...have a great day...cheers

    • J Vic
      March 22, 2014 - 09:32

      I agree Mike, this was a case of manipulated facts by the people of Gallows Cove for the most part. Their objective was to keep the Cove to themselves and not let anyone else move in. Churchill's development was for 3-5 building lots, not a major subdivision.. Crazy what a group of crazy fanatics can do when they want... The nonsense about protecting the bird sanctuary, lies, lies, lies.. If this is the case the people who live in Gallows Cove that care so much for the sanctuary should at no cost to anyone only themselves forfeit their house and property and move out of Gallows Cove and let the "poor Birds" be. But we all know that it has little to do with the bird sanctuary, it is self serving, as Mike stated they are anti social and want Gallows Cove for themselves, if they had their way they would shut down the ECT, to keep the traffic out of their neck of the woods.. Friends of Ragged Beach... PFFT!! Oh, and Brenda.. I wouldn't have anymore "Bomb" fires, that might be viewed as an act of terrorism. A Bonfire on the other hand may be more applicable on the beach...