A business and residential complex in Beechville will soon be underway, but regional council offers a plan to restore trust with Beechville’s African-Nova Scotian community.
On Tuesday, regional council passed a motion that developer Armco Capital Inc. must sign a Heritage Impact Statement for the Beechville Baptist Church before building a complex in the area.
Council also passed a motion to ensure development will not damage the church and other historically significant properties, to ensure that parkland and community spaces are key features of the new development, and that Armco will partner with the Beechville African-Nova Scotia community to “maintain” and “celebrate” the community’s history.
“I don’t trust most developers,” said Beechville Baptist Church Deacon Patsy Crawford in a phone call after the meeting. Crawford has been deacon at the church since 2004. She was co-chair of the Beechville Education Committee for 35 years and is known as an unofficial mayor by other Beechville residents.
Sean Gillis, a municipal planner, told council that even though there is a recommendation to work closely with the Beechville community, the planning department has not been approached directly by residents.
“The heritage impact, the heritage commemoration — to be honest we haven’t really thought too deeply on how this will work because we have a lot of work to do with the community,” Gillis said.
The Armco development, which was approved by council in 2014, will feature stores, offices and 1,292 housing units on 59 acres of undeveloped land.
“High rises and all that kind of stuff that, to me, is taking away from the structure of the community,” said Crawford.
The land is adjacent to Lovett Lake, by the Beechville Baptist Church that was registered a municipal heritage property in 2005. Other culturally significant sites, including the lake, the adjacent cemetery and unmarked graves are not listed as heritage properties.
After the War of 1812, 2,000 black refugees from the U.S. founded Beechville, then called Beech Hill, in 1816. Settlers in Beechville were granted a mere 5,000 acres of land. According to the council report, “since that time, the community has reduced in size dramatically.”
In 1844, preacher and U.S refugee, Richard Preston, established Beechville’s first church, the Beechville Baptist Church.
Many Beechville residents have family members buried in the church graveyard. According to the report presented at council, community members worry the development will disturb unmarked gravesites. However, the municipality has done an archaeological study of the Armco site and has not found any graves.
“Our community is our community and as long as they don’t disrespect who we are, that’s their property; they got it fair and square,” Crawford said.
‘Conversations with the community’
There are marked graves on Armco’s property, but the company will transfer that land to the church, said Joachim Stroink, an Armco community liaison. Armco is starting a survey for such sites next week.
Stroink said in a phone interview after the meeting, Armco has been working with the Beechville Baptist Church’s pastor, Lloyd Grant, “to ensure that their heritage is respected through this development.”
Stroink views the church as a mediator between Armco and Beechville residents. He said the church is a “focal point where we can reach out and have conversations with the community.”
Stroink said Armco met with Grant last week and is planning another meeting before Christmas. He said he wants to engage with Beechville residents, but he has only met with the church directly.
Crawford is skeptical about Armco’s partnership with the community.
“Too many times we’ve been burned with promises,” she said.