By Michael Boriero
Local Journalism Initiative
A proposed condominium development project located behind the St. Paul’s Church in Knowlton has been scrutinized by an anonymous residential group claiming construction will cause damage to the environment and ruin a piece of historical land.
The group, known as the Knowlton Concerned Citizens, have been plastering flyers around town with bullet points also discussing precedent, aesthetic, urban plan, and church finances. St. Paul’s Reverend Tim Wiebe told Brome County News that their claims are unfounded.
“I think our town is also responsible for those kinds of things. Again, I think it’s like a magic word. Whenever anyone says ‘environment’ everybody gets scared and they think the worst, but a responsible builder and town is involved here,” said Wiebe.
Brome County News reached out to the group on Friday, however, they didn’t reply by press time. According to the reverend, the church has been seeking alternative financing options for many years. Wiebe started looking into selling off land as a solution nearly 10 years ago.
“We have four acres of land that have never been used and are not likely to be used and so we started asking questions about what we could do about that,” said Wiebe, adding that the church looked into several options, including low-income housing units.
St. Paul’s Church has been struggling to stay afloat, especially during the pandemic. Reed Bousada, a former Knowlton resident and owner of Bousada Inc, a flooring company, stepped in as a promoter to support the vitality of the town, and the survival of the church.
“The premise behind this was a bit of, you know, saving St. Paul’s Church, if you will, because there have been so many churches across Canada closing on the Anglican side, as well as the Catholic side, and they’re repositioning all of these churches,” said Bousada.
Bousada has already reached a purchase and sale agreement with the church, amounting to $1 million in total, as well as $25,000 up front, which Wiebe used to invest in a new audio and visual system in order to livestream services for churchgoers throughout the pandemic.
“We were able to do that and we have well over 1,000 views a week for our Sunday services, and we hope to use that system in the future to encourage local musicians, local artists […] We have a digital sound system, a digital visual system, so we’ll be able to offer that,” Wiebe said.
The rest of the sale, however, will only come through if the Town of Brome Lake votes in favour of changing the zoning bylaw to allow the construction of the condominium, which aims to be 12 to 15 units, out of sight from public view, and shorter than St. Paul’s Church.
“If it doesn’t go ahead, yeah, I guess the sale will be shut down, and that’s not a good thing for anyone. If the church goes under, that’s not a pretty picture […] Every church is in jeopardy right now. There are 9,000 churches that are going to close by 2030 in Canada,” Wiebe said.
However, Knowlton Concerned Citizens continue to pose problems to Bousada’s condo development plan. The promoter is waiting to officially file for a change to the zoning bylaw because he first wants to speak to the group, and explain his side of the project.
“The frustrating part for me is that this group, this unknown group, one person, two people, five people, I have no idea. I’ve offered them a thousand times to sit down and have a conversation together, let’s be neighbourly and talk and figure this out,” said Bousada.
Wiebe told Brome County News that Bousada has been trying to speak to the group for over six months. They have created a monster in their minds, he continued, but the reality is the project is nothing compared to what they’ve been describing to fellow residents.
According to Bousada, he has heard nothing but positive feedback from local merchants and store owners. They believe a condo project will be beneficial to the town, he explained. And most of the people interested in the project are older folks seeking to downsize.
Bousada has no intention of relocating his project, either. He believes this is a good way to help the church and Wiebe. He has also offered to donate two acres of land along the Mill Pond to the Lac Brome Land Foundation to help preserve the environment and the ecosystem.
“It blows my mind because there’s no environmental impact […] we’re going to hire somebody, a forestry guy, we’re going to limit the amount of trees that we’re going to cut, so there’s still going to be, again, two acres of land between us and the pond,” said Bousada.