BUSINESS

Protecting coastal riches

Developers profit from an island’s charm

D’ARCY JENISH January 16 1989
BUSINESS

Protecting coastal riches

Developers profit from an island’s charm

D’ARCY JENISH January 16 1989

Protecting coastal riches

BUSINESS

Developers profit from an island’s charm

In August, 1988, a 35-acre, oceanfront property in Prince Edward Island’s Kings County sold for $40,000. In the December issue of New York magazine, the same property was listed for $200,000 (U.S.), and the seller’s phone number was in upper New York state. Similarly, for the past few months, the Sunday New York Times Magazine has carried advertisements for P.E.I. properties possessing “fantastic views,” a “pristine environment” and “spectacular beaches with the warmest waters north of the Carolinas.” The promotions reflect the booming market for prime P.E.I. oceanfront, which has both alarmed and annoyed islanders. Indeed, last November, P.E.I. Premier Joseph Ghiz appointed a royal commission to study land use, and on Dec. 15 the provincial government announced more stringent controls on major developments—both by residents and nonresidents. And, last week, emotions ran high before the commission as farmers and fishermen urged the government to stop a controversial condominium development. Said farmer James Rodd: “This is a national issue because we’re treating land as a commodity rather than a precious resource.”

The current real estate boom, which has been fuelled by proposals to build a bridge between the mainland and the province’s unspoiled environment, has divided islanders. Environmentalists say that they are determined to preserve the province’s beaches and wild-

life. And farm organizations express concerns that rising prices will make property unaffordable for their members and other average islanders. But some island real estate brokers contend that property owners should be free to sell to whomever they choose, and whenever they choose, in order to obtain the best possible price. And residents of some P.E.I. communities want to ease the current restrictions on property ownership and development in order to create jobs and tax revenues across the province. Ghiz said a balance will have to be found: “We are trying to maintain our magical island in all its beauty.”

A large and highly controversial condominium project—that the Ghiz government must either approve or reject by Feb. 1—has brought the debate into sharp focus. Over the past year, the province’s Land Use Commission, which regulates the sale of property to nonresidents, has held public hearings on the $34-million project proposed for a spit of land known as Greenwich Peninsula. Located 65 km northeast of Charlottetown, the site is renowned for its 30-foot-high sand dunes, its rare birds and Indian archeological sites. The project, which would include 384 luxury condominiums, a golf course and other recreational facilities, has been proposed by St. Peters Bay Estates Ltd. The company is owned by P.E.I. developer Burt Hayman, New York lawyers and developers Edward and Mark Wolfe and New York real estate investor George Diercks.

Diane Griffin, executive director of the Island Nature Trust, an environmental group, said that approval of the St. Peters Bay project could set a dangerous precedent and lead to the development of other prime locations. She added, “We have been fighting the development with every resource at hand.” Still, at the public hearings last week, teacher Aquinas Ryan, a resident of the Village of St. Peters, said: “Our area desperately needs the project and its economic spin-offs. Ninety per cent of the villagers want it.” Property ownership and 5 development have been con^ tentious issues on the Island for years, primarily because § land is a scarce resource. The o Island consists of 2,264 ^ square miles and is only nine times larger than Metro Toronto. Outsiders now own just over 10 per cent of the province’s land. Griffin contends that outside demand for P.E.I. land has grown so fast that the commission cannot review all of the proposed sales.

The four-member royal commission, chaired by veteran civil servant Douglas Boylan, has been given a broad mandate to examine changes in the ownership of island property since the creation of the Land Use Commission. Premier Ghiz told Maclean ’s that a thorough study was necessary because of “the increased traffic and demand for island property, particularly shorefront, and the competing interests of agriculture, urban development and tourism.” The commission has one year to report to the government, and during that time, with the exception of small residential developments, restrictions on all other development will continue. Said Environment Minister Gilbert Clements: “If a nonresident buys a farm, the land must be used for farming. Don’t buy it with the idea that you can subdivide it and sell it because there are no guarantees.” For many islanders, the land boom seems to have caused both disappointment and confusion. Last fall, farmer Frank MacLeod, who owns 100 acres in central P.E.I., was interested in acquiring a neighbor’s 80-acre farm, which includes 800 feet of ocean frontage. But he lost out to a Boston businessman who paid $82,000 for the property. On the other hand, a 79-year-old widow in Queens County said that she is constantly approached about selling her 106-acre farm. Said the woman, who requested anonymity: “I don’t want to see this farm go out of production, but I need to realize as much money as I can from the land. It is all I have to keep me.” Such dilemmas are likely to become even more common on an island where land is scarce and increasingly valuable.

D’ARCY JENISH

Barbara MacAndrew