Wolfville Ridge residents say rezoning would change community’s character

Signs posted calling for Agricultural, Rural Mixed-Use zoning to be maintained

KIRK STARRATT kirk.starratt@saltwire.com



SaltWire Network



A group of Wolfville Ridge residents are concerned that a proposed rezoning would change the character of a predominantly agricultural community. There is a proliferation of signs along Ridge Road calling for Agricultural and Rural Mixed-Use zoning to be maintained. Property owner Travis Mills, of Wolfville Ridge, has applied to the County of Kings to rezone 4.5 acres — the southern portion of an 11.2-acre property at 1299 Ridge Rd. — from the Rural Mixed Use (A2) Zone to the Rural Commercial (C4) Zone. The rezoning would permit structure the use of an existing on the site for storing construction materials and for office space relating to the applicant’s construction company. These uses aren’t allowed under the current A2 zoning. The County of Kings planning advisory committee gave a positive recommendation to the rezoning in October and council voted unanimously in favour of first reading in November. The matter will now go to a public hearing on Dec. 6 before council considers second and final reading. OPPOSED TO REZONING Speaking on behalf of concerned area residents, Sheron Hatt Atwell, a neighbouring property owner, said they aren’t discouraged to see the matter proceed to a public hearing. She said the fact that most area residents are opposed to the rezoning would hopefully persuade council to vote against it at second reading. Atwell said the basis of the opposition is that Wolfville Ridge is an agricultural community and residents don’t want its character to change. They think the rezoning would set a bad precedent for the area. Atwell said the residents have nothing against the applicant, but they don’t agree with what is being proposed because the community isn’t an appropriate location. She couldn’t imagine why a business would want to locate there given the level of negative response. She said one positive aspect is that the controversy has united the community in a way it wasn’t before, and this has given the residents hope. “It is giving us a really good reason to keep pushing and fighting. It’s a great inspiration to us to do that,” Atwell said. She said many community members have invested their lives in their properties and their families are deeply rooted in Wolfville Ridge, in some cases for generations. People don’t want to leave, but the possibility of a major change in the community’s character has some considering it. However, she said people such as her and her husband are retired and “don’t have time to start over.” She said it isn’t just what the applicant has proposed for the property that has area residents worried, but what could potentially be located there under C4 zoning. There are many other uses permitted. Atwell said she thought agricultural land was protected in Kings County. The concerned citizens would like to know why farmers aren’t being allowed to build homes on their agriculturally zoned land while a non-agricultural business can seemingly so easily be considered for a rezoning. She said the potential intrusion of security lighting that would be required for the facility is a concern to area residents, as is increased truck traffic to and from the site, and increased noise. She said residents have gone door-to-door in the area to help raise awareness of the rezoning application and have distributed flyers about it. Atwell said the group of residents is questioning the public process surrounding planning applications in general. They found it difficult getting questions about the rezoning application answered through the municipal planning department. She said people feel that they aren’t being properly notified or fully informed; that they haven’t had an adequate opportunity to voice their opinions, or that their voices don’t matter. “That seems to be a common thread through everyone’s situation,” Atwell said. She said the residents would be writing to council and to the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing to express concerns and urge them to make policy changes. ABOUT THE PROPERTY AND APPLICATION The existing building on the subject property, approximately 16,000 square feet, was originally used as an equestrian barn with an indoor riding area. The barn most recently contained three apartments. According to an Oct. 11 report to the planning advisory committee, one of the residential units was illegal. Because of this, the municipality faced ongoing enforcement issues in the past. The applicant recently purchased the property and has completed structural and aesthetic renovations to the building. As part of the renovations, the owner removed all three residential units and, with their approval, moved the tenants to other nearby accommodations he owns. Travis Mills said he believes subject his intended use for the property is probably the least invasive and disruptive there could be, even considering its former use as apartments. He pointed out that the land is currently zoned A2 (Rural Mixed Use), and some of the potential uses under that zoning could also be troubling to area residents. Mills said he doesn’t plan to do much more with the subject property and barn than what he has already done. He said he lives next door and grew tired of looking at the run-down barn, so he decided to buy it and fix it up. He doesn’t think there is anyone better to own the property than the person who lives next to it. Mills said he is a developer with a focus on affordable Annapolis housing projects in the Valley. He said he keeps his costs as low as possible and passes those savings along to his renters with below-market rates, something he takes great pride in. The newly renovated barn is largely being used for storing building materials for his construction projects. “The barn was modelled after another developer I know who uses storage space to buy bulk,” Mills said. “I buy bulk to keep my costs down and store it in the barn.” He said he also wants to have some offices in the front of the building for himself and three others involved with his business. Mills said these would be for their own use and wouldn’t be rented out. Mills posted a sign in front of the former barn with his name and contact information for anyone who is curious or concerned to get in touch. He said he is aware that there is concern among community members over the rezoning, but a call from the media was the first instance of anyone reaching out to him to ask about it. He said perhaps he has become “the face of change” in the community in terms of development. Mills said he recognizes that there are many more potential uses allowed under C4 (Rural Commercial) zoning, but he doesn’t plan to do anything with the property other than what he has already proposed. He said that where he goes as a developer, buildings tend to follow, but he doesn’t have any interest in residential construction on Wolfville Ridge. He has built 75 units in Wolfville and is currently building 48 in Kentville. “They can paint me with whatever brush they want and turn me into some stone-cold developer that all I want is money, but they’re just wrong and anyone that knows me knows better than that,” Mills said. Regarding concerns over heavy truck traffic being generated, Mills said there was a lot of activity on the property while renovations were taking place. However, he said there wouldn’t be nearly as much traffic going forward. GOING TO PUBLIC HEARING At first reading, Coun. Jim Winsor said council is “hearing a very engaged discussion in the public domain on this item.” He hopes there is some separation between the public hearing and second reading so that what is said can be treated meaningfully and given full consideration by council. Area councillor Peter Allen said he would vote in favour of first reading so the rezoning application would go to a public hearing. “I’ve heard endless comments, and there’s a common thread that people are against it, so I think it’s important that the public have an opportunity to speak one way or the other,” Allen said.