By Alexandre Hackett
A proposal to build a 15 to 20 unit multi-family residential building on the land behind St. Paul’s church in Knowlton is stirring up strong reactions from locals – both for and against. Supporters of the project insist it will provide some much-needed financial support for the church, and cater to the needs of a growing community. Opponents are afraid that the new building will dilute Knowlton’s cultural and historical cachet and be bad for the environment.
“It’s no secret that churches everywhere are struggling,” says Skip Eaman, treasurer for St. Paul’s board of management.
“Fifteen years ago in our area there were fifteen active Anglican churches, and now we’re down to about six. We’re fighting hard to keep this building, and to make use of our assets, which includes the land behind us.”
Proceeds from the sale of the lot at 24 Saint Paul will ensure the church’s long-term survival by creating a fund for needed repairs and to overcome its recurring annual deficit. The first draft of the proposal is for a high-quality 4-story building designed by award-winning architecture firm FABG – the company behind the new Théâtre Lac-Brome building, as well as the Grand Prix paddocks, the upcoming skating rink at Place des Arts and numerous other projects. However zoning changes are required to approve the project. These include relaxing height restrictions for the lot (due to the proposed garden level apartments that will be built down the slope) and allowing residential construction on land used for cultural and institutional purposes.
Retired Information Technology specialist Alan Eastley, who lives down the street on Saint Paul, is not impressed. “This is in a cultural area, right in the heart of Knowlton,” he says. “If regular residents want to make even minor changes to their house, they have to apply to the urban planning committee and that can be a lengthy process. But suddenly it would be possible to build up to 20 units in this old historic area?”
And this is only one of a long list of concerns. “It will be built in an environmentally-sensitive area and it will result in increased traffic and noise. If the church is having financial difficulties, I resent having that problem transferred onto the neighbours.”
A number of people voiced their opposition to the project at the town council meeting on July 26th. Some were worried that this would turn Knowlton into a “Tremblant style town”.
Although the municipal council has declared itself generally favourable to the project, Eastley insists that the town should hold a referendum on the issue if enough people are against it. Skip Eaman, for his part, says that the church and the developers want to work with local residents to respond to their concerns and build something beautiful. “It is our intention to reach out to people who are opposed to this, meet with them one on one and listen to how they think this can be improved. We’re flexible.”