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Lunenburg hosts first meeting with residents on proposed Blockhouse Hill developments

By Evan Taylor Sep 19, 2023 | 11:47 AM

A map showing the property on Blockhouse Hill that is being put up for development. Photo: Town of Lunenburg.

Over 150 residents gathered at the Lunenburg Fire Hall on September 14 to participate in the Town of Lunenburg’s inaugural public engagement session concerning the Blockhouse Hill Design Project.

The purpose of this initial meeting, the first in a series of four, was to provide the local community with an opportunity to express their views and opinions on the proposed project.

The Town Council had previously awarded a design proposal contract for a new housing development to MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects back in June. However, many community members believed that these decisions had been made without their input and were advocating for a public vote, or plebiscite, to determine the fate of the cherished green space.

In response to these concerns, the “Friends of Blockhouse Hill” group launched a petition, garnering more than 700 signatures from residents of the Town of Lunenburg – a significant portion of the electorate. Their petition called for a halt to the process of selling and developing the lands on Blockhouse Hill until a majority of Town residents expressed support for such a move.

The evening’s session, aptly titled “Listening,” commenced with presentations by Arther MacDonald, the Town of Lunenburg’s heritage manager, and Hilary Grant, senior planner. They shared visuals of the proposed development boundaries and reassured the public that the project would not encroach on Sylvia Park or Back Harbour Trail.

Following this, attendees were introduced to Brian Mackay-Lyons, a partner at Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, and Julian Smith, a renowned architect and conservator.

Mackay-Lyons began with an optimistic tone, emphasizing that all possibilities were open. He stressed the importance of community input in shaping the future of Lunenburg and assured attendees that the Town Council had not yet made any decisions.

Julian Smith then addressed a primary concern: the potential impact of the development on Lunenburg’s UNESCO World Heritage status. Blockhouse Hill is situated within the buffer zone of Old Town Lunenburg’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, imposing a requirement for any design to complement the area’s heritage. Smith shared experiences from other UNESCO sites, highlighting the need to protect Lunenburg’s authenticity, integrity, and sustainability.

However, it became evident during the subsequent breakout sessions that many attendees remained skeptical. Project architect Miranda Bailey facilitated discussions on three key questions, with each group receiving input from a consultant from the Brian MacKay-Lyons team.

  1. What defines a good community? Participants emphasized the importance of connected green spaces, cultural diversity, accessible services, affordability, inclusivity, safety, and responsive governance.
  2. How should public open space be used? Ideas included beautiful views, tranquil spaces, potential features like a skating oval or labyrinth, and year-round programs for all ages.
  3. What challenges and opportunities should the consultant team consider? Affordability, environmental concerns, and heritage preservation were common themes. Some groups even advocated for considering Indigenous and Acadian history in the planning process.

Throughout the evening, Mackay-Lyons and Smith took notes, while council members present listened attentively. The session achieved its goal of gathering community feedback.

The upcoming months will determine how the Town and the architect team incorporate this input. Mackay-Lyons believes it is possible to develop while preserving green space and heritage.

The next session, titled “Visioning,” is scheduled for October 19 at 6 p.m. at the Lunenburg Fire Hall. This session will focus on the “if, where, and what” of the proposed development, and the group will also have a presence at the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market, ensuring continued engagement with the community.