CBRM Council: Waterfront Development

I watched Westmount native Doug Doucet, founder of Bedford-based Doucet Developments—and a suite of related companies—present his plans for waterfront development to CBRM council last night.

Much of the presentation (which also featured Chris Baldwin, his chief financial officer) focused on Doucet himself and his companies and why it’s a good thing that his development company can hire his construction company which can hire his woodworking company but if you missed it, don’t worry, you can watch an animated Doug Doucet cover pretty much the same territory in this YouTube video. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

 

In case you’re wondering, he doesn’t have smiley-face emojis and hearts floating around him IRL and I didn’t witness anyone giving him a thumbs-up during the presentation, although, to be fair, I couldn’t actually see the other people in the chamber.

As for his plans for Sydney’s waterfront, Doucet explained he’d already given council a much more detailed presentation in private, because why should someone hoping to lease prime waterfront land from the municipality have to discuss his plans in public, you Nosey Parker, you?

His was one of three responses to council’s request for proposals for a stretch of waterfront that includes the former site of the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club. One contestant dropped out and of the two remaining proposals, council chose Doucet’s to proceed to next stages.

Doucet’s timeline is 10 years, during which time he will build four buildings on our waterfront unless he builds five or maybe none—he has to have a closer look at the geotechnical information about the property to decide if the buildings he’s drawn can actually be built there and he really needs to understand if there’s a market for any of this, which he apparently has yet to explore.

He’s envisioning over 500 rental units, maybe apartments, maybe condos, who knows?

There will be office and retail space—hell, there might be an entire office tower if there’s appetite for such a thing, although given local developer Martin Chernin was unable to find enough “appetite” for a residential/office tower on this site despite a decade of trying, you’ve got to wonder.

There could be another hotel, but then again, there could not.

Phase I will see Doucet begin construction on the two buildings that will oversee the existing marina: a 6-storey, 64-unit building and a 6-storey 98-unit building, both with ground floor commercial space and underground parking. (Is underground parking actually feasible on this site? Won’t they have to drive, like, 800 piles into the ground like they did for the Marconi?) A central staircase between the buildings will allow access to the boardwalk:

Slide from Doucet Developments Sydney NS waterfront development plan.

 

On the other hand, Doucet said, he might “flip it around” and start construction “at the other end” of the property. Again, who knows?

Phase II will involve the greenspace pictured below, which the CBRM doesn’t own and which Doucet must “acquire,” but if he does, then Building C will go there, although there will also be an “activity” space for public “events and concerts.”

Slide from Doucet Developments Sydney NS waterfront development plan.

 

Phase III will involve two “larger towers”—how large? Maybe five levels, maybe 10, Doucet says it is his understanding there is “no restriction” as to how high he can go—and a 450-car parking garage:

Slide from Doucet Developments Sydney NS waterfront development plan.

 

All of this, Doucet underlined, will depend on “the economy, construction costs and the rental market”—plus, as noted above, the geotechnical information about the property itself—but if it all works out, then our waterfront will look something like this:

Slide from Doucet Developments Sydney NS waterfront development plan.

(I would really like to know what the person generating this image was thinking when they decided to throw in the hot air balloon.)

 

Questions & Answers?

Following the presentation, Mayor Amanda McDougall opened the floor to questions and I sat back, expecting things to get interesting.

Now, I thought, we’ll discuss Doucet’s views on rising sea levels and more frequent severe storms and how one plans for that when building on a waterfront.

Now we’ll find out whether council is planning to insist on some number of affordable apartments in this 500-plus-unit development.

Now we’ll hear some thoughts on the impact 500 additional vehicles will have on the already congested North End of Sydney.

Now we’ll hear how much this is expected to cost and whether Doucet has his financing in order and what he will be expecting in the form of assistance from the various levels of government—because he expects things from government. If the CBRM agrees to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with his firm, he has “Politicians/Lobbyists meetings” penciled into his calendar for 38 days, from 28 November 2022 to 18 January 2023:

Excerpt re lobbying politicians from Doucet Developments' presentation on Sydney Waterfront Development.

Now we’ll get some sense of what these buildings will actually look like, because this “high-end road map,” as Doucet termed last night’s presentation, doesn’t really give you any idea.

But the only question came from District 3 Councilor Cyril MacDonald who spoke on behalf of an unnamed constituent who operates a business on the waterfront and is wondering whether he would be allowed to continue operating should Doucet develop the land (um, Danny Ellis, owner and operator of the Portside, perhaps?) The answer was that Doucet Developments always wants to work with the people who are there.

Council had apparently asked all its questions in camera.

So…that’s great.

 

Sneak peek

Watching the Marconi campus progress and looking at these renderings in Doucet’s presentation, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to losing any view of our harbor from the Esplanade. Council seems determined to fill every inch of space between the Marconi and the Cruise Pavilion and anyone wanting to see the water will have to go to the boardwalk or drive to Westmount. (Moving into the seniors’ high rise, getting a job in the Civic Centre, checking into the Holiday Inn or Cambridge Suites, enrolling at the Marconi or renting one of Doucet’s apartments are also options, but would require significantly more effort.)

I find it hard to get past my climate-related doubts about waterfront development but let’s say the developers take sea rise into account and build accordingly, we’re still looking at 500 more cars in our crowded downtown. Don’t get me wrong, I have come round to the need for increased housing density and can see the benefits to having 500 more people living in Downtown Sydney, but it seems to me you’d want to couple that with better public and active transport systems.

And we need a mix of people for a really successful downtown, people of different ages and income levels, which means the developer must offer some affordable units. If, say, he offers only luxury 2-bedroom suites with 9-foot ceilings, quartz countertops, walk-in closets and shared amenities like dog-washing stations and dedicated package and postage rooms for $1,995 per month plus utilities (and a security deposit of one-month’s rent), underground parking and utility space extra, it won’t work.

If that sounds rather specific, it’s because I’ve just lifted it from an advertisement for an apartment in Charlottetown’s West Royalty Suites,  a 5-storey, 97 unit building recently completed by Doucet’s development company, Tiertoo Properties:

West Royalty Suites, Charlottetown, PEI

Source: Tiertoo Properties

And the people paying $1,995 a month for those apartments don’t even have a water view. According to Google Street View, they are situated across the street from this:

Shopping Mall

 

I can only imagine the price tags Doucet will attach to “luxury” apartments with views of Sydney Harbour.

Tiertoo, by the way, already has a presence here. Its list of commercial properties includes these:

1120 Upper Prince Street, Sydney, NS

 

 

Next Steps

Council didn’t make any decisions last night and according to Doucet’s timeline, we’re now at the MOU approval stage of the development. Doucet wants CBRM to give him 18 months to do his due diligence on the property and the local market and will spend the next 14 days hammering out that agreement with the municipality.

Public consultations are tentatively scheduled to begin on 7 April 2023 and continue for 60 days. Pre-construction would start on 24 May 2024, but as even the best-laid plans of mice and property developers often go astray, I’m not inking any of that into my calendar.

You can see the full “master schedule” in the presentation below.

 

CBRM_-_CBRM_Council_Presentation_-_Nov_2022