Note: This was the front-page story in the Hudson Gazette, March 25, 1998. It serves to remind Hudsonites what has changed and what remains the same. In 2000, Hudson had a population of 5,408, an annual budget of $3,595,183 and was running a surplus.
The fate of one of Hudson’s last remaining pieces of waterfront greenspace depends on whether there’s a market for single-family homes on the 60-acre site – or whether the owners will be permitted to rezone the area for multi-family dwellings.
The Hudson Gazette has learned that representatives of the owners of Sandy Beach met two weeks ago with Hudson Mayor Steve Shaar and others to discuss the possibility of zoning changes for the environmentally sensitive area.
Marc Hiligua, project manager for Nicanco Holdings Inc. confirmed his company is in the process of conducting a marketing study. “We are working on different schemes for the property,” said Hiligua.
Until the analysis is complete, he added, there won’t be a decision on how the land may be developed.
Any development will take into account the many trees on the property, said Hiligua. As we reported in our February 25th issue, an inventory of trees on the Sandy Beach site is being conducted as required by the zoning bylaw for the area which includes Sandy Beach.
Nicanco owns the tract at the foot of Beach Road, evaluated at $2,377,000, and the lot at 397 Halcro, evaluated at $423,000.
Once zoned for single-family dwellings on 40,000-square-foot lots, the town’s 1994 master plan made Nicanco’s holdings part of a new zone which would permit condominiums, semi-detached homes and townhouses.
Planning Committee chair Elizabeth Corker believes a development of single-family homes on the property would not be economically viable.
“At least 10 per cent of it is in the flood zone,” she said. “The developer has to give the town 10 per cent in greenspace.” Another 15 per cent would be required for roads and other infrastructures, meaning there would probably be room for about 30 homes. Septic systems could also be a problem that close to the Lake of Two Mountains.
“The only way they can make it pay is to go up,” commented former Hudson Mayor Taylor Bradbury. “Then they could have a common septic system.”
Multi-family homes would require a zoning change, said Corker. That would mean a public notice, a public information meeting and registration on the bylaw amendment. “Citizens would have their day in court…if citizens voted against it, it would not fly.”
Speculation about the future of the Sandy Beach property has raged ever since Blenkinship Farm was sold by the original owner’s heirs in the early sixties. The 60 acres at the foot of Beach Road is evaluated at $2.8 million, down from a high of $4.25 million a decade ago.
Over the years, Hudson residents have pressured the Town to purchase the property for public use. The last occasion was in 1994, when the site was suggested for the new Community Centre. The response has always been the same: it’s too expensive.
The Town came closest to acquiring Sandy Beach in the early 60s, ex-mayor Taylor Bradbury told the Hudson Gazette.
Council turned down a chance to buy the beach for $200,000. “For what?” asked Bradbury. An engineering study concluded that it was not worth purchasing just for the beach, he said. “We had Thompson Park and the Marina. We had water outlets. What good is it in wintertime?” he asked.
The property was eventually sold for $450,000. The latest registered owner is a Mr. Muhlegg, who originally purchased it through a company called Circo Craft. The land is still owned by Muhlegg through Nicanco Holdings Inc.
Ex-mayor Bradbury has a warning for anyone who thinks rezoning Sandy Beach will be easy. He gives as an example the Alstonvale Project, forced to a referendum before the zoning changes were approved in 1989. In that case, 574 acres were zoned for a golf course and single-family homes.
Ten years and a real-estate recession later, the Alstonvale development is on the verge of proceeding – but only after its owners agreed to the original zoning parameters.
Speculation about the future of the Sandy Beach property has been on and off ever since Blenkinship Farm was sold by the son and daughter of the original owner in the early sixties. The 60 acres of land lies along the waterfront off Beach Road. The current evaluation is $2.8 million, down from a high of $4.25 million.
The early sixties were probably the only time that the Town could have bought the land. The opportunity was turned down. “We could have got it for $200,000,” former mayor Taylor Bradbury admitted. “For what?” he asked. A study was done by a local engineer and the conclusion was that it was not worth purchasing it just for the beach. “We had Thompson Park and the Marina. We had water outlets,” said Bradbury. “What good is it in wintertime?” he asked.
The property was eventually sold for $450,000 to Claudette Boyer. About 12 years ago it was purchased by Hans Muhlegg, originally through Circo Craft, Muhlegg’s circuit-board manufacturing business. The land is still owned by Muhlegg through his company Nicanco Holdings Inc.
There are signs that the status quo may change. Recently, a study was done of the trees on the property. Then there was a meeting with the mayor of Hudson a couple of weeks ago. Project Manager Marc Hiligua told the Hudson Gazette that the the company is now in the process of conducting a marketing study. ‘We are working on different schemes for the property,” he said. Until the analysis is complete, he added, there won’t be a decisions on how the land may be developed.
The company owns two pieces of land. The larger piece off Beach Road is evaluated at $2,377,000. The smaller piece, at 397 Halcro, is evaluated at $423,000.
Hiligua stressed that the company will take into account the many trees on the property. “We want to see what we have there,” he said. He also said that the company’s intention was to make any development the “best possible” for Hudson. “It is a very beautiful property,” he commented.
The speculation continues. The land now is zoned for single family dwellings on 40,000 square foot lots. when the Town’s Master Plan was completed in 1994. It now is also part of a new PAE zone, a comprehensive development area (area for future development) which could be considered for other types of housing eg. condominiums, semi-detached homes, townhouses, among other things.
The chairman of Hudson’s Consultative Town Planning Committee, Elizabeth Corker, points out that a development of single-family homes on the property would not be economically viable. “Probably at least 10% of it is in the flood zone,” she said. “The developer has to give 10% in green space.” Adding to that another 15% which has to be set aside for roads and other infrastructures, there would probably only be room possibly for only about 30 homes. Septic systems could also be a problem.
“The only way they can make it pay, is to go up,” commented Bradbury.
“Then they could have a common septic system.”
To have multi-family homes would, however, require a zoning change. That would mean a public notice, a public information meeting and registration on the by-law amendment. “Citizens would have their day in court,” said Corker. “If citizens voted against it, it would not fly.”
There are echoes of another development project at the west end of Town, the Alstonvale, project which had to go to a referendum before the zoning changes were approved in 1989. In that case 574 acres were zoned for a golf course and single-family homes. That project , the brainchild of a group of mainly local residents, then stalled, but is now on the verge of going ahead after two thirds of the land were purchased last year by local developer, Daniel Rodrigue (Constructions de Luxe Contemporaine). By keeping within the framework of the original project, no by-law amendment is required for that development.
Bradbury, who remembers well the divisiveness of the Alstonvale referendum, warns that the town” may have trouble with the citizens” if there is a by-law amendment for the Sandy Beach property.
A number of citizens over the years have asked the Town to purchase the property for public use. The response has always been the same: it’s too expensive. The site was also suggested as a possible location for the Town’s new Community Centre when the Town decided to apply for a Federal/Provincial infrastructure grant in 1994, but again rejected it as too costly.
The Sandy Beach area is now used by residents to walk their dogs and has become a popular spot for teens to hang out during the summer.
Rumours abound with respect to looming development at Sandy Beach, especially among the nature mavens and dog lovers who stroll the locale’s peaceful walking paths. They worry whether they will soon be losing their favourite doggie exercise arena to a stretch of new condos, some semi-detached structures, or maybe even a nursing home. The privately-owned but easily accessible slice of waterfront property tucked away in town feels like a public park to many of these Hudsonites.
“This is all speculation,” stated Liz Corker, Chairperson of our Town’s planning committee, when the query was put to her by phone.
“There was a meeting between the owners and the mayor, but that’s all it was. Nothing formal was presented.”
Corker, who often takes her Bernese Mountain dogs to Sandy Beach, stressed that Sandy Beach’s owners have every right to develop should they want to. “It’s private property after all.” Corker said the area is currently zoned for single family dwellings but Council will consider plans for an alternative, whether it be condos, semi-detached housing, or even a nursing home.
“But, it’s such a shame,” remarked Judy Dobbie one sunny morning last week. Dobbie is one of the dozens of dog-walkers who enjoys daily sojourns along Sandy Beach. “They’ll probably put up expensive and gaudy condos that no average aging Hudsonite can afford. Hudson is losing all its pockets of charm. And that’s why I live in Hudson! I need these nature walks to lift my spirits.”
Other dog-owners have echoed her sentiments. They wonder where they will go should both areas, Alstonvale and Sandy Beach, be developed. Behind Mount Pleasant? Down Maple?
Sylvia Nelham, real-estate agent at Remax Realties, doesn’t see any problem with lack of local recreational greenspace. “There are still many areas for dog-lovers to enjoy,” she countered. What Nelham does see is a definite need for alternative housing in Hudson to accommodate our aging population. “A development along the Hudson Club model would be a terrific idea for seniors. The problem with Hudson Club is that it is too far away from Town for seniors who want to be able to walk everywhere.” Nelham thinks Sandy Beach, with its lovely waterfront, might be just the location to build a good mix of affordable and/or prestige housing.
Jasmine Ellemo, agent at Sutton, agrees. “I can see a need for more facilities for the elderly. The Boomers are aging, you know.” Ellemo would not comment on the viability of such a facility at Sandy Beach, however.
When reached at home, Gordon Drewett, chair of the Town’s environment committee, did express reservations about building homes at Sandy Beach.
“It’s not the best place to develop,” he said. “I’d be very concerned with the water down there, the water going out, I mean. They’d have to be on their own system. One would hope the owners will think very seriously about this problem.”
Drewett chuckled over the idea of development happening any time soon at Sandy Beach. “Look at how long it has taken Alstonvale to get going – and it’s not a sure thing yet. There are still some T’s to be crossed and I’s to be dotted. “I would be amazed if two major developments like this got the go-ahead at once.”
Counselor Corker’s take was slightly more cautious. “I imagine that if plans were submitted for development at Sandy Beach while development was in progress at Alstonvale, Council and Hudson citizens would be less inclined to approve anything.”
Both Corker and Drewett agree that if any development were to happen, at either site, it would likely only be take place in stages, extending over years.
When asked to comment on the potentially adverse environmental effects of such widespread development, Corker reminded the Gazette that the owners of Sandy Beach and Alstonvale have to turn over 10 percent of the land to the town should they decide to develop. “This is greenspace for the Town. The developers have to give it up.”
“But, this is all speculation, anyway,” Corker repeated. “We’ll will have to wait and see.”
It seems the dog-lovers of Hudson might have earned a reprieve for the moment.