[ST. JOHN'S, NL] – Piece by piece, the land collectively known as Southlands in St. John's has been offered up by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) to private developers.
The latest tender call has just closed, according to NLHC Chair and Chief Executive Officer Len Simms, who spoke with The Telegram this week.
"The tender has closed and we have a high bidder, but we can't release any other details on it because until you get the cheque in your hands, it's not finalized," he says.
The tender covers Area 9 through Area 12 — four new phases of residential development.
The original plan for the whole of Southlands, created in the 1990s, would have seen NLHC developing the community. That was when the corporation was in the business of urban planning and community development.
The province decided to end the corporation's involvement in land development around 1998, Simms notes, and it was ordered to divest of land holdings and refocus on providing affordable housing units.
The first phase of Southlands was developed under NLHC, but next came a tender call for private development of Area 2 and Area 5.
That first deal included a stipulation no further land be offered up for at least seven years, Simms says, accounting for the slow start to the Southlands community.
"Areas 3 and 4 were sold in 2010," he says, before noting the recent sale of Areas 9 through 12 followed after.
The latest deal is unique, Simms says, in the sense it includes a stipulation the developer include smaller-sized homes within its planned construction.
The move is expected to result in as many as 100 new homes being built at a size potentially more affordable for entry-level buyers, compared to the more expensive homes built at the larger end of the scale.
Simms emphasizes housing affordability in the city is a very different issue from the NLHC's focus on the availability of affordable housing units.
That said, he explains, affordable housing units could not be stipulated in a land deal, but the corporation was presented with an opportunity to play a role in addressing housing affordability, by calling for some smaller homes to be included in the new residential areas.
Meanwhile, the City of St. John's is looking into new additions of its own to Southlands.
For example, in early March, the city approved spending $60,000 for a concept plan for a new Southlands community centre.
In speaking with The Telegram this past week, Chair of the City of St. John's planning and housing committee, Coun. Tom Hann, said a much-talked-about development around Southlands, said to be backed by former premier Danny Williams, has yet to be formerly proposed.
Even so, Hann expects the development will be put forward. He would not hazard a public guess as to when. That development is rumoured to be valued at the multi-billion dollar level, will run between Southlands and Cochrane Pond, and is expected to rival the size of the Town of Gander.
The City of St. John's paved the way for such a proposal, when it voted to amend the municipal plan and allow development above the city's 190-metre contour line.