Cossitt Heights: The Power Point Presentation

Since writing last week about the delayed development of Cossitt Heights — a 350-unit, site-sensitive, sustainable housing development proposed seven years ago for a former Sydney industrial park — I’ve gotten my grubby little hands on a copy of the Power Point Presentation shown to council in 2012 as part of the developers’ pitch.

The developers, in case you’ve forgotten, are Joneljim Construction and Picket Fence Homes — companies owned by local businessman Jim Kehoe.

I will include the entire presentation here for your perusal, but I would first like to highlight a typo which causes the project to be identified as “Cossitt Heights Developmnet” 36 times in this power point presentation because nothing says “serious project” like spelling its name wrong repeatedly in your pitch to municipal authorities.

I would also like to single out a couple of slides for special attention, beginning with this one:

 

 

I like the subtle implication here that the builders themselves aren’t particularly concerned about this “sustainability” stuff but society will focus on it, so what can you do? Call it sustainable.

A close reading of the Picket Fence Homes website is helpful here, though, because the website represents the homes the developers are actually building in 2019 as opposed to the homes they were telling CBRM council they planned to build in 2012. Nowhere do the words “green” or “sustainable” appear on the Picket Fence site. The only sop to environmental concerns seems to be the installation of “ductless energy-efficient heat pumps,” which is something, but is not “solar panels,” “geothermal heating” or “pellet furnaces,” all of which are promised in the Cossitt Heights presentation, along with “green” building materials and insulation.

But neither the Cossitt Heights presentation nor the Picket Fence website mentions any of a number of features that are becoming more and more associated with “sustainable homes” — like recycled building materials or plentiful south-facing windows or rainwater collection systems or proximity to public transit.

This last is particularly odd in the case of Cossitt Heights which, were it ever built, actually would have good access to public transit. But I guess the developers assume their tenants will have cars — possibly multiple cars.

See, for example, the slide about single-family homes:

 

 

Nothing screams “sustainable” like a single-family dwelling, situated in the middle of nowhere, with two over-sized vehicles in the driveway. (I assume these are photos from another Picket Fence Homes development although I’m not sure which one. I have noticed, though, that Picket Fence Homes never seem to have picket fences. Go figure.)

 

Downsizing?

Picket Fence does pride itself on building “smaller homes”  and smaller homes are more sustainable but small is a relative term. I went through all the house plans on the Picket Fence website and the smallest is a 1,319 square foot house with three bedrooms and 2.5 baths.

That is small compared to its largest house — a 3,127 square foot behemoth with 3 bedrooms and 3 baths — but it’s far larger than the average Canadian home was in the 1970s, according to housing market analyst Ben Rabidoux. Back in 2012 (three months before Council was presented with the Cossitt Heights plan), Rabidoux was quoted in the Globe and Mail warning that our love affair with home ownership might be coming to an end and providing some interesting statistics about Canadian homes:

In 1975, the average size of a house in Canada was 1,050 square feet. Fast forward to 2010 and new homes being built almost doubled to an average of 1,950 square feet. This increase in house size is accompanied by a decrease in the average number of people living in a household. In 1971, it was 3.5; by 2006, that number fell by a full person to 2.5.

That means the smallest house offered by Picket Fence is 26% bigger than the average Canadian home was in the 1970s and the largest is 196% bigger.

And yet, in 2013, Picket Fence won the coveted Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association (NSHBA) Builder of the Year Award in the under-2,000 square foot category (which I believe was handed out before the telecast) precisely because, according to NSHBA CEO Paul Pettipas:

“They’re giving people starter homes, and they’re giving people the opportunity to downsize – all by building smaller, more affordable homes,” says Pettipas. “If we’re building houses people can’t afford, the industry is not going to grow, so building affordable homes is how we get more people into homes – and grow the industry.”

So Canadians today are “starting out” in or “downsizing” to homes up to 90% bigger than the homes they lived in in the 1970s. This is not the definition of “sustainable.”

Incidentally, I can’t tell you about the size of the planned housing units in the Cossitt Heights plan because nowhere in the 36-page power point are they given. Nor does the presentation include a map of the development or any details about lot size or pricing. If this presentation had been a school project, I think it would have earned a “C.”

 

 

Buy local

I also wanted to draw attention to the slide featuring the various “local” companies that will be participating in the Cossitt Heights project — a nice cross-section of Cape Breton businesses, one of which (Picket Fence Homes) is actually based in Halifax, all of which are owned by Kehoe:

 

 

There’s something incredibly disingenuous about presenting a list of your own companies as evidence of broad, local participation in a project. If this weren’t the CBRM, I’d be amazed.

But it is the CBRM, so I’m not.

 

Progress report

Weirdly, much of the Power Point Presentation is devoted to what already exists in Cossitt Heights and area: namely trees, wetlands, a lake and a system of nature trails built and maintained for years by a volunteer group.

The developers seem to present all of these as proof that theirs is a “green” development, but clearly, this isn’t any of their doing.

What will be their doing, though is the construction of 350 housing units over 10 years and the penultimate slide I’d like to highlight is the one showing how those units are expected to roll out, year by year:

 

Seven years in (which is where we are now), my reading of that graph is that there should be about 290 units completed. But as we know, from recent media coverage, there are two.

And finally, take a look at the property tax revenue the CBRM was supposed to be enjoying by now:

 

As of Year 7, we should have just inched over the $1 million mark which, obviously, we haven’t.

But as of Year 1 we were supposed to be at the $100,000 mark — based on construction of what looks like about 40 units in the previous graph.

In other words, if the developers had presented Council with a picture of the moon and a promise to deliver it over the next 10 years it would have been as convincing as this housing development plan.

But Council was convinced — after this presentation was made at that 20 March 2012 meeting, “several Councillors” even “commended the developers for their initiative and vision,” after which the sale of the land was approved. Note there is no penalty for failure to follow through on the plan:

You would think episodes like this would at least serve as cautionary tales, but just three years after this plan was approved (in 2015, when there should have been 150 units completed in the Cossitt Heights development and instead there were zero), another pair of developers appeared before council and basically did promise the moon — Albert Barbusci and Barry Sheehy promised to turn the Port of Sydney into an international transshipment hub for ultra-large container vessels. Barbusci would soon be speculating that construction could begin by 2018. Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher had it operational by 2019 and part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

And Council BELIEVED them.

Which leaves me officially speechless.

So I will resort to pictures — here’s the full Cossitt Heights Power Point Presentation:

 

 

 

 

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