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Friends of Blockhouse Hill group organizes to oppose Lunenburg RFP for residential development plans

(Photo: Sal Falk)
Over three days, more than 385 people have joined a Facebook group organizing a citizen’s group opposing the Town of Lunenburg’s plan to seek designs for potential residential development on Blockhouse Hill.

The group, Friends of Blockhouse Hill, has met once. They have announced they are meeting again this week to establish a formal message and plan next steps.

Paula Rennie, who lives within a few minutes of where any future development stemming from the RFP would eventually take place, started the Facebook group to organize conversations on March 14.

Rennie started the group already having met with some concerned locals and then hearing an increasing amount of concern with the town’s current direction to pursue divesting the land.

Blockhouse Hill property was formerly Common Use Land

Members of the Friends of Blockhouse Hill group are sharing concerns ranging from wanting to preserve the hill as a green space, to believing the land should still be Common Use Land, to not believing pursuing residential development would bring in the income the town desires.

The land the town is seeking residential development designs for is highlighted in green in this image from the RFP. (Source: Town of Lunenburg)

Rennie, speaking for herself and not the group, says her overarching issue is wanting to understand how the town-owned land on Blockhouse Hill is headed towards divestment when it was Common Use Land within the last decade.

“The overarching issue is how did the land, this common land, fall under the total control of town council,” says Rennie. “It happened in 2017, but there appears to have been no public notice, public consultation, public meetings. It was decided in camera, as far as we can surmise,” says Rennie.

The land listed in the RFP was Common Use Land from the Town’s founding until a complex chain of events over the last ten years saw amendments to the legislation designating the land Common Use in 2013 that took effect in 2017. 

In a March 14 SaltWire interview, journalist Sheldon MacLeod asked Lunenburg Mayor Matt Risser whether these amendments to legislation were done with the intention to develop Blockhouse Hill. 

“So it was before my time on council, and before the vast majority of our current councilor’s time on council,” said Risser. “So, you know, that was that was done long before I took office.”

Group started after email to council resulted in boilerplate response

Rennie sent an email to all Lunenburg Town Councillors two weeks ago explaining she thinks a public meeting should be held before the decision to proceed with the RFP process continues.

She says her experience trying to communicate with council has been “dismal.”

“The response I got was a boilerplate response that was sent to anybody who had written to them about this issue,” says Rennie. “But absolutely no invitation to speak to us directly, or speak to me directly.”

“It’s a small town. We all know where each other live. Come and knock on my door. I’ll tell you why I’m upset, and I’ll give you a coffee,” says Rennie. “That’s what should be happening in a small town – direct engagement.”

Email from Mayor Risser reaffirms public consultation will happen after RFP responses received

The email response Rennie received was from Mayor Matt Risser.

Risser’s email explains that identifying Blockhouse Hill as a node for housing growth was established in the Town’s Comprehensive Community Plan Exercise, that included over 400 participants in a public engagement process from February 2018 to August 2020. 

Rennie, who has lived in Lunenburg since 2007, says she participated in two public engagement sessions for the Comprehensive Community Plan, but only learned about the town’s intentions to prepare for divestment of the land in February when the RFP was released.

Risser’s email summarizes the RFP for a design for residential development on Blockhouse Hill, along with an RFP already awarded for town-owned property on King Street, as the initial phase in an urban planning study “in preparation for the eventual divestment of these lands to provide more housing and other amenities for the Town’s growing population.”

“When draft concept designs for each of these areas have been completed, the Town intends to provide opportunity for public engagement and comment,” ends the email. “I and Council would encourage you to participate in such consultations to voice any views you have about these projects once there are specific concepts to evaluate and comment upon.”

Mayor addresses concerns about transparency in SaltWire interview

In the March 15 SaltWire interview between Risser and MacLeod, MacLeod brought up Rennie’s points directly – he said she had shared concerns about how the plan was developed partially during COVID, when consultations only happened online.

MacLeod asked, “There’s a sense that there are people who don’t feel that the town has been completely transparent and open. What do you say to the residents who hold that position right now, Mayor?”

Risser replied:

“Well, I’d start by saying that the consultations for Project Lunenburg started at least a year before COVID. And we did workshops once a month throughout that year. There’s a tendency in politics when you don’t like an outcome to try to delegitimize the process. And I would say the process was the most extensive public consultation in the history of the town.”

“There were opportunities under COVID for consultation, and we did have to move online at one point when drafts were being presented, but there was still good attendance,” he continued.

“So, the idea of residential development on that hill has been an idea on the books for 20 years. So, the idea that this is somehow coming out of nowhere is for me at least a bit mystifying.”

“It should be put to a vote”

Rennie says her personal ideal outcome would start with achieving transparency on how the land went from Common Use Land to town-owned land.

“Do we have a say in what happens to it? If we do, it should be put to a vote. And you abide by the wishes of the majority of residents. You know, if they if the majority of residents agree, yes, we need that development – then go ahead and vote for that, I accept that,” says Rennie.

“What I don’t accept is the lack of communication and what looks like the underhanded way in which this has happened.”


3 responses to “Friends of Blockhouse Hill group organizes to oppose Lunenburg RFP for residential development plans”

  1. Colin Ansell

    I really appreciate your efforts in publicizing the issue of what was common ground. What I see as the issue is that the council back in 2017 took control of ground that was owned by the community without publicizing why they were doing this in the long term.
    Developers will take control of the land simply for profit and nothing else. Tge views from the land are exceptional and as such properties built there will not be cheap, what is affordable housing? Does the town need this and why? We will end up with a rich community on Blockhouse Hill with relatively little benefits to the community. The only people that will gain will be the developer . I do not wish for Lunenburg to develop in this manner.
    The campground seems to be well used especially at times of festivals, where will these people go? There is nowhere else so they will not visit.

  2. Kevin Rafuse

    I Agree that Some of this was done under the cover of darkness , perhaps a conversation with the previous mayor may shed some light on this topic !
    For the record , this devopement will not provide affordable housing for our kids or for the local workforce ! I am ? percent against development on the top of Blockhouse hill , but am open to discussion on the lower parcel of land .
    We need to seperate this discussion because the mayor has used scare tactics like 3.8 millionfor town hall repairs and this is the only place for development. Take the financial part away , do we as citizens want to develop Blockhouse Hill ?

  3. Gwen

    It’s seems extremely odd that consultations are to happen after versus prior to a decision . residents own homes in a UNESO community must follow guidelines when restoring a home but yet historic land can be sold.