From cucumbers to cul de sacs

Home construction to begin soon at former Sprung Greenhouse property

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on January 21, 2009
The former Sprung Greenhouse is now in the initial construction phase for the Brookfield Plains 400-unit housing development. - Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Homes will start going up in the coming weeks on a controversial property that was once home to a notorious greenhouse, and was later at the centre of a bitter ownership dispute between St. John's and Mount Pearl.

Once the final permits are in place, likely by February or March, the heavy equipment and tradesmen will move in to begin Phase 1 of Brookfield Plains, said Eileen Skinner, a partner with Brookfield Plains Inc., the company behind the project.

Homes will start going up in the coming weeks on a controversial property that was once home to a notorious greenhouse, and was later at the centre of a bitter ownership dispute between St. John's and Mount Pearl.

Once the final permits are in place, likely by February or March, the heavy equipment and tradesmen will move in to begin Phase 1 of Brookfield Plains, said Eileen Skinner, a partner with Brookfield Plains Inc., the company behind the project.

Phase 1 consists of 58 single-family homes.

"The controversy hasn't hurt us at all," Skinner said, noting that a dozen homes have already been pre-sold, with an average purchase price of $318,000.

The company plans to build 400 homes and some commercial units on the 86-acre property, which was home to the Sprung Greenhouse in the late 1980s. The greenhouse became an economic disaster, with the province pumping millions into the ill-fated venture.

Two years ago, the cities of St. John's and Mount Pearl engaged in a highly charged battle over ownership of 320 acres of land located off Commonwealth Avenue in Mount Pearl. The dispute included the Sprung property.

Mount Pearl argued since the property was on its boundary, and access was only available from Commonwealth Avenue, that it could better provide services and the municipal boundary should be changed. St. John's countered that awarding the property to Mount Pearl would weaken the St. John's urban region at the expense of the capital city.

A special commissioner appointed by the province sided with St. John's, saying the capital city should maintain ownership.

Skinner and her partners purchased the land from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. in late 2006. It was later rezoned from agricultural and rural land use to residential low-density and open space by the City of St. John's.

Mount Pearl owns a strip of the land along Commonwealth Avenue, which is zoned commercial. The company has to deal with both cities when it comes to obtaining permits and other issues, said Skinner.

"We're very sensitive to the emotions that were generated by this debate, and we're doing our best to work collaboratively with both cities," she said.

Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms said council has moved beyond the issue, and is doing all it can to ensure the development moves ahead. But he suggested that people who buy homes in Brookfield Plains may someday rise up against the City of St. John's, much like they did in Southlands.

Southlands is also situated on the outer reaches of the capital city, and residents have long complained about the level of service they have received.

"There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when people moving into that area will see a benefit if they were part of us instead of St. John's. You never know what those citizens might do somewhere down the road," Simms said.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe described Simms' comments as outrageous. He said residents of Brookfield Plains will receive the same level of service as any other part of the capital city.

"My message to people who buy in that area - it might even be myself one day - will be 'welcome to the capital city. You will be an important part of the city and you will be well serviced by the city from all of the various departments.'"

troberts@thetelegram.com