The St. Paul’s Church condominium development project continues to face scrutiny from Knowlton residents, as questions over traffic flow and lack of consultation pour into town hall.
John Lawson, a longtime resident, has his reservations with the proposed project. He also happens to live less than 100 yards away from the condo development site. Lawson told Brome County News that he was surprised when he first caught sight of the plans last summer.
“When I thought about it, I thought, this is really a bit of a monstrosity. This is a 20-condo complex. It looks like, I call it a Floridian-style complex, but actually except for the colour, it’s very reminiscent of Bromont and it’s very out of character,” he said.
Lawson was referring to the original plans drawn up by the condo promoter, Reed Bousada. The project has since evolved into a 12- to 15-unit complex, in an effort to quell the concerns raised by residents in the neighbourhood. However, he isn’t satisfied with the alterations.
In a phone interview, Lawson added that he isn’t anti-church or anti-development. He just doesn’t believe the town, the promoter or the church have spent enough time fleshing out the details of the project. He also wasn’t persuaded by a concept video released by Bousada.
“The thing hasn’t been thought out well and let’s face it, I mean, the whole thing is about money. There’s plenty of land in the village where you can build places for people wanting to downsize,” he said, calling Bousada’s video an attempt to put lipstick on a pig.
Bousada has already reached a purchase and sale agreement with the church. The sale came out to $1 million. The church received an up front payment of $25,000, which St. Paul’s Reverend Tim Wiebe used to invest in a new audio and visual system to livestream services.
In January, Bousada told Brome County News he only wants to build in that location. He wants to support the church, which has felt the effects of the pandemic and has seen a drop in congregation numbers. He said it’s his attempt at saving the church from closing down.
But Lawson, who has decades of experience as a businessman, isn’t convinced by Bousada’s stated intentions. He noted that the $1 million agreement pales in comparison to what Bousada stands to gain from a high-class condo complex for the town’s financially blessed population.
“Whoever has heard of being able to build something where the costs of the land are less than well, what? Three, four per cent of the total value of the project, so I think that the church in some ways is being duped,” Lawson said, estimating the promoter could make tens of millions.
He’s also concerned with potential condo owners listing their future property on Airbnb, bringing more visitors into Knowlton. He also claims that there hasn’t been a real and thorough study on the effects the development project will have on the local flora and fauna.
Lawson said it also begs the question as to what will happen if the church does eventually shut down. Will the church be converted into a condominium, as well, he asked, adding everyone involved in the project is walking a thin line. But there are people in favour of the project.
“I have a pretty neutral opinion on the project. I haven’t seen the latest version but I think they’re going to adapt it to make it work and I’ve told people who come in all up in arms that the project won’t work if it’s not a good project,” said Camlen Inc. co-owner Cam Brown.
The furniture store sits just down the road from the church. Brown isn’t worried about a potential uptick in traffic in the area. If it ends up being a dozen units in the building, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a significant increase in cars on the road, he explained.
Le Shack co-owner David Dawes also welcomes the development project. His jewelry store has been around for more than 45 years. And in that time, Dawes noted that he hasn’t seen any major projects to beautify the downtown core, or attract visitors to Knowlton.
“It might bother [residents] with the height or blocking their view, but I mean somebody’s going to build something somewhere and it’s going to block somebody’s view and if we start saying no to these things then we’re never going to get anything done in the town,” he said.
Brome Lake Mayor Richard Burcombe told Brome County News that Bousada will have until the next town council meeting to table the development project, but it has to be accepted by everyone living in the neighbourhood and affected by a possible change to the zoning bylaw.
“They have until the next council meeting to come forward with the approval of the concerned citizens,” Burcombe said in a
phone interview. “And failure to do so, then council will have to look at the project as a whole right then and decide what to do.