Rezoning rejection derails seniors’ housing plan

ARICHAT: A local developer hoping to establish new affordable housing units for local seniors is mulling over his options, after a second consecutive pitch to Richmond Municipal Council fell short.

Council voted 3-2 against Thai Luong’s application to rezone a portion of Arichat property to allow the construction of two six-unit affordable housing complexes, during last week’s regular monthly council meeting. This meeting followed an hour-long public hearing on the issue that saw endorsements for the rezoning from the Eastern District Planning Commission (EDPC), the Seniors Take Action Coalition (STAC) and the New Horizons Club for Seniors, in addition to two written submissions and one oral presentation in opposition to the Luong proposal.

The hearing came eight months after Richmond council voted to table Luong’s previous proposal for the same Highway 206 property, which was targeted to host 12 housing units this year and another 18 next year. At the time, council officials pointed to a petition signed by 45 people in opposition to the development.

However, in his remarks to the May 23 public hearing, Luong suggested that many of this petition’s signatories had approached him with a differing viewpoint.

“Over the last year, 20-some people approached me and said ‘I’m sorry I signed that piece of paper,’” Luong declared.

In response to a prediction from Isle Madame resident Judy Bonin that Luong’s proposal would not attract enough seniors to participate in it, the Isle Madame entrepreneur declared that a petition signed by “50 per cent plus one” of Arichat residents surrounding the property in question would convince him to withdraw his application.

When a tie vote arose on the rezoning application during the subsequent council hearing, Warden Brian Marchand broke the tie, saying “I have to vote” as he raised his hand in opposition to the application. However, during the same meeting’s public question period, he referred to Luong’s earlier pledge to gauge public opposition to his new project.

“I think we need to give him the month to do that,” Marchand explained.

“We still have until the end of June, we can make a new motion then, and hopefully get that started early this summer.”

Councillors Gilbert Boucher and Alvin Martell also voted against the rezoning application, with each citing concerns raised by local residents, while Deputy Warden Jason MacLean and councillor James Goyetche voted in favour of the application.

Luong told the public hearing that he wished to eventually build 24-to-30 affordable housing units in Arichat in addition to the eight he already runs in the community, with additional plans to construct 12 units in Louisdale, 18 in St. Peter’s, 12-to-18 in Lower River, and 24-to-48 in Port Hawkesbury.

Speaking to The Reporter the following day, Luong suggested that he will likely concentrate his efforts in Port Hawkesbury and Antigonish for the time being, in light of overtures from municipal officials including Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton.

“I fought so darn hard to stay in Richmond County, because the people of Richmond County always supported my family,” Luong recalled.

“For people to say that low-income seniors are not worth helping, it’s just not right.”