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.”