MONCTON – Oulton College is the private college that could build a campus at the historic Franklin Yard, it was revealed at the City Council Monday night. But to this point, the college still doesn’t have firm plans yet, its president said in an interview with Huddle.
Nonetheless, a potential plan to develop land near Centennial Park at Moncton’s West End, which includes the new college, has moved forward to the next stage with unanimous backing by city councillors.
“The landowner’s proposing to rezone the area, known as Franklin [Yard], to accommodate a mix of land uses to include residential, a private college – and for clarification, that is Oulton’s Business College. The applicant has allowed us to disclose that,” said Bill Budd, the city’s Director of Urban Planning, at a public presentation of the plan.
However, Oulton’s president, Darcie Robichaud, said while the college is putting resources to explore Franklin Yard as an option for its second campus, they haven’t confirmed plans yet.
“We are in the process of exploring opportunities for growth, we have no firm plan at this point. It’s a process to find appropriate land for our use, with the proper zoning and whether we build new or re-face. So this is a process of exploring opportunities for our expected growth in the coming years,” she said.
The re-zoning will help it move ahead with the decision-making process, Robichaud said. Oulton is currently already leasing various spaces outside of its campus to accommodate programs.
“The idea is if we grow much more than that, it’s going to be more viable to have another unique site instead of just three or four different leased spots,” she said. “We’re trying to keep the student body together as much as possible. So once we get another three or four leased spots throughout the city, it becomes a little more spread out than we’d like.”
Shane Flanagan of engineering consultancy firm WSP has applied for a rezoning of the 33-acre land on behalf of landowner Entreprises Mapoma Ltee.
Mapoma had bought the former CN rail yard in 2003 and planned to turn it into a very high-density residential area with various commercial nodes in a “town square.” That never gained momentum, so they’ve proposed a new plan. This includes subdividing a portion of the land to sell it to Oulton College for its new expanded campus.
The campus would be a two-storey, 50,000-square-foot building that would accommodate 300 parked cars, Budd said. The rest of the land will include around 1.47 acres for single two-unit dwellings and townhouses, 5.4 acres of mixed density residential such as apartment buildings, a commercial development, and parkland.
The development is connected by footpath to Centennial Park in its south, Milennium Blvd. and an industrial area that has CN Sportplex on its north, and a residential area to its east.
Residents and councillors have raised concerns about the fate of Firebreak Rd., which is currently used as a cross-country skiing trail by visitors of Centennial Park. However, Budd says the road will remain as is and the developer will add a 20-metre-wide tree buffer between the road and the development. That buffer area will be owned by the city.
Right now, because of the 2003 proposal, the land is still zoned as “Integrated Development” which wouldn’t allow elements in the new plan. So Mapoma is seeking to get the land rezoned as “Mixed Use Centres and Corridors.” The city hopes this will spur other development interest in an under-utilized part of town.
However, many details of the development plan remain unclear at this stage.
Councillor Charles Léger noted the early stage of the development, particularly for the central part of the lot, for which nothing is “firmed up” yet.
“We look back at plans that date back to 2003. There’s no guarantee that this would develop in any particular time frame. You rezone it and we see what can happen, is that pretty much it?” Léger said.
But Budd said the rezoning would give some flexibility for the developer so they can build any of the commercial developments allowed, as long as it fits conditions required by city by-laws.
“If it all goes forward, maybe we’ll see [the development] go forward in the spring,” he said.
Councillors unanimously agreed to amend the rezoning agreement to accommodate the new proposal and have another public hearing on Jan. 21. The proposal will now go to the Planning Advisory Committee for written reviews. Once finalized, the rezoning agreement has to be signed within 12 months of the third reading of by-laws.