Blockhouse Hill Listening Session Met With Ongoing Public Concerns

(Photo: Tiffany Pope)

More than 150 people packed the Lunenburg Fire Hall on September 14 for the Town of Lunenburg’s first public engagement session on the Blockhouse Hill Design Project.

The goal of the first of four sessions was to give the community a chance to voice their feedback on the proposed project.

Town council awarded MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects a design proposal contract for a new housing development in June.

But many community members felt these decisions happened without their input and felt there should be a public vote – or plebiscite – to determine the outcome of their much-loved green space.

The group Friends of Blockhouse Hill have circulated a petition signed by more than 700 residents of the Town of Lunenburg – more than a third of the total electorate – asking Town Council to “stop the process to sell and develop the lands on Blockhouse Hill until the Town establishes that a majority of Town of Lunenburg residents support the sale and development of the land”.

The night’s session, titled “Listening”, began with the Town of Lunenburg’s heritage manager Arther MacDonald and senior planner Hilary Grant showing images of the development boundaries and ensuring the public that the proposed development would not affect Sylvia Park or Back Harbour Trail.

(Photo: Tiffany Pope)

They then introduced Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple partner Brian Mackay-Lyons and acclaimed architect and conservator Julian Smith.

Mackay-Lyons started off the evening with an air of hope, stating: “Any outcome is on the table, anything is possible. Your input will shape the future of Lunenburg […] We hope this participatory process will give us the chance to have a win-win-win outcome.”

He assured attendees the Town Council has not made any decisions yet.

Smith then addressed one of the primary concerns shared over the past months: how will this development affect Lunenburg’s UNESCO World Heritage status? Blockhouse Hill is within the buffer zone of Old Town Lunenburg’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning any design must “complement” the area’s heritage.

Smith shared a success story of working on a buffer site of the Mount Vernon UNESCO site in Washington and spoke about challenges faced in UNESCO sites Quebec City and Venice, Italy – with the latter being an example of residents superseded by tourists to the point where it is no longer an affordable place to live. He stated this was not the goal for Lunenburg, but rather their goal was to: “protect Lunenburg’s authenticity, integrity, and sustainability”.

The crowd dutifully listened, but the next portion of the event made it clear many were not convinced. 

Project architect Miranda Bailey launched breakout sessions by posting three questions for breakout groups to discuss over the next 30 minutes. A consultant from the Brian MacKay-Lyons team joined each table. The following shows the three questions and a summary of the public’s answers, which took the bulk of the 2-hour engagement session.

 1. What are the elements that make a good community?

Participants shared that a good community should have connected green spaces with natural beauty, diverse demographics and cultures, a variety of services, be affordable to local wages, be accessible, inclusive, respectful, kind and caring, offer physical and mental safety and good health and wellbeing, and have a responsive government that instills trust in its constituents.

2. How do you envision using public open space?

Participants shared many ideas here: beautiful views, a tranquil space, some suggested ideas such as a skating oval, labyrinth, free activities, all-season programs for all ages, and outdoor multi-use venues that can be used actively, such as for events, and passively, such as for walking through or reading a book.

3. What are some challenges and opportunities our consultant team should be aware of?

This question got to the heart of why people came out. Affordability and environmental impacts, such as potential drainage, flooding, issues of building on a hill, and impact on local flora and fauna, were resounding challenges.

Mackay-Lyons said there are advantages to building accessible housing on a slope, showing a graphic of how it would preserve people’s views.

People also remained concerned about Lunenburg’s heritage conservation and the implications to UNESCO status.

Others thought we should look beyond those parameters, with one group sharing: “UNESCO designation overlooked Indigenous and Acadian history. Now’s the time to factor that history in. We should take active steps to reconcile with First Nations, acknowledging not just the Indigenous culture, but the fact that it was removed.”

The Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple team said they are approaching the project cautiously, and any discovery, such as an ancient burial ground, would halt development.

Some groups felt this was inadequate and opted for: “Option 4: Do nothing. Leave the site be for the joy it brings to residents and the affordability the campsite offers to working-class residents and visitors.”

Others were more optimistic about the potential project, saying that it was “an opportunity for Lunenburg to showcase ourselves as world leaders in design,” and a potential opportunity to provide more dense living spaces for those who do not need or can afford a large Victorian home, which could attract more young people.

People questioned how affordable these high-profile living spaces would be, saying the percentage of affordable housing stated on the RFP is negligible and not that affordable, and suggested developing other parts of the town, such as those where abandoned lots sit.

Nancy Rogers struck a chord with the room when she stated to applause: “We want to be heard. Would you please listen to your community?”

Mackay-Lyons and Smith took notes throughout the night while council members in attendance listened. So, the session did what it set out to do. The next few months will determine how the Town and the architect team will incorporate the community’s feedback.

Mackay-Lyons and Smith shared closing reflections that people wanted a healthy community that preserves its past while looking to the future and that “we have to determine if we develop at all or develop carefully.”

Mackay-Lyons believes they can develop while still preserving green space and heritage. The team asked people to draw a map of “their” Lunenburg, with the images collected at the end of the session. They said they may consider providing similar exercises to local high school students to hear from more diverse age demographics.

The next session, Visioning, is October 19 at 6 p.m. at the Lunenburg Fire Hall, and, as Mackay-Lyons stated, will focus on the “if, where, and what” of the proposed development. The group will also host a booth at the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market.


One response to “Blockhouse Hill Listening Session Met With Ongoing Public Concerns”

  1. thom barclay

    So Town council won’t listen to their voters but the architects want to talk to the kids at Parkview to see what they want? I must be missing something. Bluenose Academy is not a high school and busses most of the students in from MODL. They must think the kids will be an easier sell.