Condo project is for right church but wrong pew

By Taylor McClure – Special to Brome County News

St-Paul’s Church in Knowlton is currently working with architects and real estate promotor, Reed Bousada, to get a new condo project off the ground. The church first approached the Town of Brome Lake in 2020 with the idea to sell their land with interest and some capital of the sale going towards its long-term survival and maintenance. When the plan was presented during a public consultation in Aug. 2021, the community expressed concerns about the project and the town council sent it back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan that will be accepted within the community.

“It’s not a developer issue, it’s the church that wanted to see if there was a way to get money from somewhere because churches are dying everywhere in Quebec and in Canada. They wanted to see if they could get money out of their piece of land,” said Gilbert Arel, director general for the town.

The church worked with a local resident with experience in development to come up with a plan and approached the town to see if it could be feasible. “We said it will take a change of zoning and that it’s up to the citizens in the zone to contest or approve the plan and we left it at that,” explained Mayor Richard Burcombe. “We had an information meeting and a number of citizens concerned by the project showed up and showed their disproval. Consequently, we had to go back and forth with the promoter and we finally told him he would have to get the concerned citizens on board for approval before the town goes ahead with it. It’s in his hands.”

The original plan included a building with around 20 condos to be built on church land, but citizens became concerned with the impact of the project on the environment and the landscape of the area. “The environment was one of the issues. There is a slope towards the brook, the cutting of trees, and also the fact that there are no condos there so people are asking why are we building condos here?” explained Arel.

“It is well located, but at the same time, it’s in a patrimonial heritage corner, where the museum, the courthouse, the six buildings of the museum, the old town, which was the old post office before are located,” added Burcombe.

Burcombe mentioned that the promoter could probably find another place to build the condos, but the whole purpose of the project is to support the church, which held its first service in the community in 1843. “The sale of the land was for the long-term survival of the church. The money would go to the diocese in Montreal and the interest would be given out to the yearly operations of the church and if there are any major repairs they would be able to dip into the capital.”

While the project is interesting, Arel emphasized that it is not a strategic dossier for the town itself and at the end of the day it comes down to what the citizens want. “The promotor is reviewing his plan and has now reduced 15-20 condos to 12-15 so the building will be smaller than the original plan. They’ve been working with the architects on another sketch and he is knocking on doors and talking to people who are against the project to try to convince them that it’s a good project. We are still waiting for the promoter to come back to us to show us that it is socially acceptable.”

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