Goal includes preserving 60 per cent of land
Development and conservation, strange but workable bedfellows according to developer Gail Penney, executive director of Penney Group.
She’s hopeful that by using innovative techniques, 60 per cent of the land in The Villages of Seven Lakes project, which is currently under construction, will be preserved.
“It’s a 634 acre, conservation-designed community,” Penney said at the Tim Hortons in Porters Lake. “People in this area wanted to have people who work in the Eastern Shore also be able to live here.”
Penney said young people in the community have few options for housing. She’s hoping Seven Lakes will become a destination for a variety of homebuyers.
“The first aspect of conservation design is looking at the land and determining what aspects need to be protected,” she said. “We’re building nature reserves and putting our houses around that, clustered together, creating little villages.”
The development also features innovative waste water systems, which replenish the ground water safely.
Construction on the first model home will begin in March and phase one homes will be for sale soon after.
Penney said, despite the distance from downtown Dartmouth and Halifax, this isn’t sprawl.
“This is a vibrant, complete community, it’s not a farmers field,” she said. “It’s also a designated growth centre, it has Metro X service.”
Traffic concerns are being addressed by upgrading intersections surrounding the development, including Alps Road, in order to mitigate gridlock.
Penney said they own additional lands in the area, and are hoping to develop more areas within the next two decades.
“We’re hoping to repeat this design on our neighbouring lands,” she said.
One major obstacle for Penney is the Regional Plan Plus 5 Review.
“The regional plan is looking to put an end to all of that, the RP plus five will severely limit our ability to do this again, so we’re getting involved with that dialog,” she said.
Through the regional plan, HRM is hoping to restrain rural growth to 25 per cent in favour of encouraging people to live in more urban areas.
“Within the growth centre, you cannot put in a new development, unless there’s been a public road in place before 2006,” she said, pointing to a map of the area. “This land over here is within the growth centre, but there’s no public road, so you can’t develop it.”
The seven lakes development will have one public road with several private roads extending from that, maintained by a condominium corporation, which will also maintain the wells and septic systems.
Jeffry Haggett, Urban Planner on the Seven Lakes project said they did exhaustive environmental studies to determine which areas were ecologically sensitive.
“There will also be large parks throughout this, that will benefit the entire community, including one large enough to be a soccer field,” Haggett said.
The development is also getting some praise from The Ecology Action Centre an environmental activist group.
Jocelyne Rankin, Water Coordinator with the EAC said the organization isn’t ‘backing’ the project, but she’s happy to see a developer going above and beyond to protect the natural environment.
“This development also has put a lot of effort into wetland restoration and ensuring there are sufficient groundwater supplies,” Rankin said. “There have been a number of cases where new developments have built where there isn’t enough groundwater to supply the needs of those homes, it costs homeowners quite a bit of money to access drinking water services.”
Rankin said the Seven Lakes development is taking proper steps to make sure they won’t run in to similar problems.
She also applauds the fact that no individual home in the development has lakefront property; something she says will protect the lakes from at least some human footprint.
“There should definitely be a priority on developments that take place within the core of the city, we don’t want to see sprawl, we want to see densification,” she said. “We recognize that not everyone wants to live in a urban neighbourhood, and according to HRM’s regional plan, Porters Lake is an attractive location for growth.”