Cossitt Heights Revisited

A picture of a man at a podium.

Everett Knickle speaking to CBRM council on 23 May 2023.

Everett Knickle of Cossitt Heights Development Limited appeared before CBRM council on Tuesday, a delegation of one asking the municipality to change the terms of the 2012 purchase and sale agreement under which the company bought the 120-hectare Cossitt Heights Industrial Park on Sydney’s Upper Prince Street with the stated intention of turning it into a $51 million residential subdivision.

The Cape Breton Post reported that Cossitt Heights Development Limited was a partnership between Sydney contractor Joneljim Construction and Halifax-based home builder Picket Fence Homes, without noting that Joneljim (read: local developer Jim Kehoe) owns Picket Fence Homes. The paper explained that Joneljim/Picket Fence would pay the municipality $500,000 ($300,000 in cash, “plus the conveyance of four parcels of land” on Kings Road) for the former industrial park where, over the next decade, it planned to build:

…350 housing units ranging from seniors apartments and single-level townhouses to semi-detached and single family homes.

There was no proviso that any of the units be affordable, but the project was to include “walking and biking trails, a boardwalk and recreation fields while maintaining the surrounding wetlands,” moreover, it would  minimize its environmental footprint by using “green technologies, including wood pellet stoves, geothermal heating and solar energy in the homes.”

Sean Burke, speaking on behalf of the developer, told the paper that the costs associated with “the large project” were “well within their ability because they’ve managed similarly sized housing developments in Halifax Regional Municipality.”


The plan

The developer was to proceed in seven phases and the power-point presentation Joneljim/Picket Fence made to council in March 2012 included this map showing the seven phases:

Slide from a power point presentation showing a map.


It also showed how many “dwelling units” were to be completed over each of the 10 years of the project. As you can see, the full 350 units were to have been completed by year 10 which, given the contract was awarded in March 2012, would have been last year:



As the Post explained (and the slide shows) by Year Five, “some 200 housing units” were to have been built and “another 150 units by the end of the 10-year time frame.”

Burke told the paper:

“We have to be fairly flexible with this,” he said, noting changes may be needed as the project unfolds.

“It will be driven by the market to some extent, but based on experience we see this as a natural ramping up over 10 years.”


The reality

In April 2019 (Year 7, by which point over 250 “dwelling units” were to have been completed), the CBC ran a story headlined:

New Sydney subdivision welcomes first tenant

The tenant in question had moved into one of the first two completed duplexes in Cossitt Heights, meaning that rather than having constructed over 250 units, Joneljim/Picket Fence had completed four. The story is accompanied by a photo of a smiling Jim Kehoe telling the broadcaster the goal was now to build 300 units (he wasn’t asked what had happened to the other 50).

The company’s memo to council on Tuesday went a step further and changed the applicable metric for the development entirely—instead of discussing housing units, it said:

We have completed Phase 2 of the plan, which was made up of single-family residential lots [and] as a result have a large inventory of these lots available for construction.

Meaning, they’ve put in the sewer and water infrastructure and sidewalks  required by the CBRM but they have not actually sold many of these lots because they’ve misjudged the market.

I drove around the development after Tuesday’s meeting and counted 13 duplexes; eight single-family homes; and two, 12-unit apartment buildings for a grand total of 58 units—a mere 292 fewer than promised.

The biking and walking trails—including a boardwalk around the entire Cossitt Heights area that was to be in place before the CBRM granted final approval for Phase 2—don’t seem to exist, but rather than trust my eyes, I asked the CBRM. As of press time, I had not received an answer.

A photo of a house.


And as for the “green technologies,” there was nary a solar panel in sight but I couldn’t rule out pellet furnaces and geothermal heating, so I looked up the specs for three units currently up for sale and one that recently sold. These included three, 3-bed, 2-bath, single-family homes on Michael Street (asking prices between $379,900 and $399,999) all of which have electric heat—baseboard and heat pump. A semi-detached, 2-bed, 1-bath home that sold recently on Cossitt Heights Drive also had electric heat—baseboard only.


The ask

The reason Knickle was before council was that the company wants to proceed from Phase 2 to Phase 4 and construct apartment buildings and duplexes, rather than the originally scheduled Phase 3 which would have seen it build more single-family homes (or, as we’re now saying, home lots).

Knickle presented this map to council which shows the revised plan:



The memo to council states:

This would benefit us [as] we have sales for two 12-unit apartment buildings now on hold pending the construction of the buildings along with proposals from buyers interested in additional buildings.

Basically, although it wasn’t stated outright during the meeting, it looks like the developer changed the order in which it was going to proceed without going through council and had to backtrack and ask for permission.

Knickle also asked that:

…Council consider giving us permission to change the order the remaining phases (numbers 4 to 7) are constructed as well.

Council obliged—the developer can go ahead with Phase 4 of the project and any future changes can be approved by the Planning Department without the need for council involvement.



A man standing at a podium

Jim Kehoe speaking to CBRM council on 23 May 2023.

Knowing the gap that exists between what Joneljim/Picket Fence promised in 2012 and what it’s delivered to date made parts of Tuesday’s meeting almost surreal.

Like when District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger, back from sick leave, said it was always one of his “happy days” when there was “somebody standing in front of us who wants to get some construction going ASAP.” Bruckschwaiger was on council in 2012 when the original proposal was approved so he, more than anyone, must realize this development hasn’t been proceeding “ASAP.”

District 1 Councilor Gordon MacDonald complimented Knickle on the “expediency” of his firm’s work and District 6 Councilor Glenn Paruch lauded them for “taking the initiative” to build more housing.

But the most surreal moment of all was when Jim Kehoe himself (“Jimmy” to Councilor Bruckschwaiger) came to the podium to give a sour little speech about what a council can accomplish “working with developers” to make sure they don’t “get shut down like we did with this project…we had to send 10 people home for three weeks with no pay.”

The idea that council is responsible for Kehoe sending his workers home without pay is pretty rich. As was Kehoe’s declaration that, in changing the terms of his contract, council had done “what no other council has done for 30 years,” that is, made life easier for a hardworking property developer—something he suggested might be its “legacy.”

Although that seems rather ungrateful of him, given it was council that sold him Cossitt Heights for $500,000.

And it was council that bought property he owned in Sydport for $1.2 million.

But council didn’t seem to mind, they were too busy praising Kehoe for the “expediency” of his work.


‘Rapid’ housing?

There’s one final twist to this story, which I can add because in my little fit of FOIPOPing last month, I asked the CBRM to send me all the responses it had received to its request for proposals for affordable housing under the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI).

One of those proposals was from Joneljim, in collaboration with Future Growth Co-op Ltd and New Deal Development Northside Ltd, Sydney Mines-based non-profits that received $3.9 million from the federal and provincial governments in March this year for the construction (already underway) of a 22-unit seniors’ complex. (The groups already operate one such facility.) One-bedroom apartments in the new complex will rent for $750/month which co-op president Clarence Dawe told the CBC was roughly half the going rate in the community:

“We have people on fixed incomes that do not have no fat bank accounts,” said Dawe. “We’ve got a file this thick of people that are looking to downsize.”

The Future Growth Co-op, then, has a track record in the provision of affordable housing, so you’d think any application under the RHI program would play that up, but Joneljim’s doesn’t—it provides relatively few details about the co-op in favor of providing details about Joneljim. The only information about the co-op is found in the final section, “Please share any information that should be considered when reviewing your application,” which notes that:

The Future Growth Co-operative is lead [sic] by a volunteer board of directors and their initiative is provide [sic] and support community economic development and affordable housing. Past projects of a similar nature include Golden Pond Seniors Independent Living, Golden Court, and The Future Growth Cooperative Property which included 62 seniors apartments. The intend is to have construction performed by Joneljim with the project managed by the Future Growth Cooperative and to have the properties managed once occupied by New Deal.

Joneljim proposed to build seven, 12-unit apartment buildings in Cossitt Heights and requested $2.2 million in funding for each building—$15.5 million in total, i.e., considerably more money that the $5 million the CBRM was granted under the Cities stream of the RHI. The company requested initial funding of 50% with a secured mortgage (at a 3% interest rate guaranteed by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) for the balance.

Architect's sketch of an apartment building

Source: Joneljim RHI application.

The total number of units to be built was 84, with 42 to be funded under RHI. The application states:

We have built several of the proposed units already and as such have a complete set of design drawings as well as a system to have them constructed in a time efficient manner.

The costs associated with the project (construction, financing, paving and landscaping, land) have all been redacted as have the expected rents and operating expenses.

The application says nothing about affordability, nor does it mention which “priority populations” (including seniors, people with disabilities, people dealing with mental health and addictions issues) the completed project would serve.

As you’ll recall, the CBRM received four applications for RHI funding—from New Dawn/Ally Centre, Halifax-based Soul’s Harbour Rescue Mission, Glace Bay’s Town House Citizens Service League and Joneljim Construction—and, unable to make a decision itself, sent all four to the CMHC (which oversees the program) for vetting.

CBRM CAO Marie Walsh said no one project met all the program criteria but the New Dawn/Ally Centre’s proposal came the closest and was submitted and ultimately—as in, the official announcement was yesterday—funded.

Joneljim’s application, according to Walsh, was the furthest from meeting RHI criteria.

Here’s the full application—I think this is one of those articles in which I will just leave you to draw your own conclusions: