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Moncton Irving land no longer a factor in city housing plans

Hundreds of acres in Moncton where the city expected thousands of people to call home are now no longer a factor in its plans after the land was purchased by one of New Brunswick’s most powerful families.

It’s a change that comes as the city plans to overhaul zoning rules to address what the city’s mayor has described as a “crisis situation” for housing.

The properties in the city’s east end cover an area comparable in size to Moncton’s downtown. They were purchased almost a decade ago by Robert Irving and the company he leads, Cavendish Farms.

Around the time of the purchases, the city spent $150,000 and two years on a plan calling for the area to become home to thousands of people by the 2030s.

“It’s just unfortunately, it’s not going to transpire at this point,” Moncton Deputy Mayor Shawn Crossman, who represents the area, said in a recent interview.

WATCH | How plans for a new neighbourhood got cancelled:

This area was supposed to be a new neighbourhood. But that’s not happening

Moncton’s urban growth strategy is looking for space for thousands of new homes. But the plans exclude an area the size of downtown – owned by Robert Irving.

A report outlining where Moncton expects 16,000 housing units to be built by 2046 excludes the properties.

“It’s not factored into the supply,” Bill Budd, the city’s director of planning and development, said during a Moncton council committee meeting on Feb. 26 when asked about the land.

Instead, the urban growth strategy adopted by city council Monday evening focuses on other sites in the city, such as the Vision Lands, which have yet to see major development because it would require costly municipal infrastructure.

Since CBC reported on the land purchases in 2020, the properties bought by Cavendish Farms have been transferred directly to Robert Irving. Irving did not provide an interview or a statement for this story. 

Almost a decade ago, Moncton looked to the land now owned by Irving as one of the last easily developable areas. It spent thousands, with funding from a federal municipal group, on the Humphreys Brook Neighbourhood Plan. 

Adopted by city council in 2017, it envisioned new city parks, streets and more than 2,455 housing units to be built over 505 acres of largely undeveloped land in eastern Moncton.

A man in a red sweater with short greying hair and glasses.
Bill Budd, Moncton’s director of planning and development, told councillors in February the Irving-owned land is no longer a factor in the city’s long-range housing plans. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The plan suggested that thousands of people would be living there once it was fully developed in the mid-2030s. An estimated $8.3 million in annual property tax revenue was projected.

The master-planned neighbourhood was meant to be “a complete sustainability model upon which future development can be modeled.”

But the plan was essentially dead on arrival. 

The private developers that owned much of the area as the city crafted the plan opted to sell it to Cavendish Farms and Irving, who has a home and horse stables in the area.

A map of Moncton
A map of vacant land suitable for residential development from the city’s urban growth strategy doesn’t include the Irving-owned land in the east end. (City of Moncton)

One of the consultants hired by the city to create the plan told CBC News in 2020 that the developers had a vision that conflicted with the municipal one, which emphasized water holding ponds and mixed-density housing.

Jim Scott with Trace Planning and Design told CBC the largest landowner, Bedford Buck & Sons Ltd., had a standing offer from Irving to purchase its land.

A spokesperson for J.D. Irving Ltd. previously said the purchases were “a transaction between a willing seller and a willing buyer in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

A map with various colours showing winding streets.
The Humphreys Brook Neighbourhood Plan approved in 2017 called for the area that includes land now owned by Irving to become housing. (City of Moncton)

Planning had advanced to the point that on one property, the city had assigned a street name and trees had been cleared along the route connecting to Shediac Road where the city planned a new traffic circle. 

Four years ago, Crossman said the change in ownership raised questions about whether the city would be able to fulfil its vision for the area and would likely need to turn its attention to other parts of the city for housing development.

Last month, Crossman asked city staff if the new urban growth strategy includes the Irving-owned land.

That’s when Budd said it wasn’t a factor. 

A man in a dark blue blazer and blue dress shirt speaking into a microphone with others in the background listening.
Moncton Deputy Mayor Shawn Crossman says the city will have to look elsewhere for growth in his ward. (Shane Magee/CBC)

“That plan is dead at this point and we have to look elsewhere to continue to grow in Ward 1,” Crossman later said in an interview.

The new strategy places an emphasis on another “greenfield” area of the city that requires millions in new infrastructure to support: the Vision Lands. The strategy forecasts 1,893 housing units of varying scale to be built by 2046 in the area.

For decades the city has wanted the area between Wheeler Boulevard and the Trans-Canada Highway to be developed but warned it will require significant spending.

A map showing areas marked in green and pick with labels on major highways like the Trans-Canada Highway, Wheeler Boulevard and Mapleton Road.
The city’s urban growth strategy places significant emphasis on developing the Vision Lands, an area north of Wheeler Boulevard that requires costly new infrastructure to service. (City of Moncton)

The urban growth strategy estimates that major new streets, culverts and bridges could cost more than $25 million. Then there are costs for water, sewer and storm water services.

Because the Irving-owned lands weren’t considered in the urban growth strategy, it doesn’t outline how much serving the land could cost. 

Crossman said he hasn’t spoken to Irving about his plans for the property, but expects it will now remain green space. 

Budd told councillors last month that the city’s neighbourhood plan remains in municipal bylaws and that if the land is ever sold or the owner wants it developed in the future, those plans would still apply.