Former Newfoundlander proposing housing development on the outskirts of Hughes Brook

Diane Crocker dcrocker@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 4, 2012
Some of the land Mike O’Leary is hoping to develop is shown. — Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

CORNER BROOK  Mike O’Leary has an idea that could fill a void in the housing market in the area.

The Newfoundland-born real estate developer who now lives in Florida is proposing to build a 94-lot housing development on the outskirts of Hughes Brook.

O’Leary is originally from Corner Brook and his family also lived in Steady Brook before moving to St. John’s. After he graduated from high school in St. John’s, O’Leary was invited to spring training with the Montreal Expos in Florida. While there he met his future wife and decided to settle there.

He’s been in real estate development for about 25 years.

About six years ago when the market slowed in the United States, O’Leary started to look at opportunities back in Newfoundland. He currently has developments in Portugal Cove-St. Phillips and in St. John’s. He said articles he’s seen over the last year or two about how difficult it is to find modest-priced homes led him to pursue opportunities on the west coast of the province to try and fill the need.

“It’s not necessarily where you ... try and recreate the world. It’s all about finding out where there’s a lack and then trying to fill it.”

The site he’s looking at near Hughes Brook consists of 64.7 acres of land owned by William Aubrey Ellsworth that was used as a cattle forage field.

He expects the development will be attractive to homebuyers, from first-timers to people looking to downsize.

O’Leary said first-time homebuyers are having trouble entering that ownership market right now because the price of a new home or an existing home that they’re buying from somebody else is fairly pricey.

“We also see that there’s a real need for those that are downsizing from a larger family home where they no longer need all the square footage.” He said the idea is to get away from all the costs associated with owning a larger home, from the mortgage to electricity and oil costs, maintenance costs and insurance.

Another potential market is for people with resources who are looking to buy a second home and want to enjoy the wonderful things the west coast has to offer. The site is just about 10 minutes from Corner Brook and from Marble Mountain and offers lots of potential for winter sports and hiking.

“What’s envisioned here are very modest-priced, cottage-style homes that would also be designed in a very energy efficient way.”

He said the designs are for well insulated homes with everything geared up for cost savings going forward. And because O’Leary’s plans is to not only develop the land but also to build the homes he said there will be a large amount of quality control on the project.

Each home will be between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet in size, on generous-sized building lots with ample space for a detached garage and room for children to play. The cost of the homes is expected to be in the $250,000 range or less.

O’Leary has had the property in question under contract for an extended period of time and has made a substantial investment of money into the project including non-refundable payments on the land.

Over a year ago O’Leary submitted the necessary application to the provincial government for the project. He had hoped to start some work this spring, but said it is a lengthy process with a number of government agencies involved and a lot to consider.

Just recently O’Leary received notice from the Department of Environment and Conservation that the project requires an environmental preview report.

A bulletin from the department says an environmental assessment committee will be appointed to provide advice to the minister on guidelines for the proponent on the preparation of the report and the adequacy of the report when it is received from the proponent. The public will be invited to provide comments on the report upon its submission. Committee chairperson Paul Carter can be contacted for further information at 709-729-0188 or email at PCarter@gov.nl.ca.

O’Leary said he hopes to address this in the coming weeks and possibly be able to move forward with the project this summer.

He’s already had dialogue with the town’s mayor and some neighbouring property owners about how the development could impact them and is interested in working with all parties in order to end up with a good product.