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New Amherst has been called a groundbreaking example of the New Urbanism — a pedestrian-scale village-within-a-town that turns its back on the family car. The goal is to replicate the 'walkability' of Cobourg’s downtown, which brings residents down to the shores of Lake Ontario.


Cars take a back seat in new pedestrian-friendly 'village'
— old way of living is new again in Lake Ontario's Cobourg


News Archive BY GARY MAY
A modern Cobourg subdivision that applies pre-war planning principles is evolving into a true waterfront community — without a single residence being built on the shoreline.  

New Amherst has been called a groundbreaking example of the New Urbanism — a pedestrian-scale village-within-a-town that turns its back on the family car. The goal is to replicate the “walkability” of Cobourg’s downtown.  

While subdivisions often resemble parking lots, with cars overflowing front-yard driveways onto the streets, New Amherst is designed with backyard laneways and garages. Front yards are dedicated to gardens and porches, which entice passersby to stop to chat and get to know the neighbourhood dogs by name. Sideyards are for barbecues.  

The development of New Amherst is also becoming proof positive that waterfront living doesn’t have to feature homes that sit on the edge of the water.  

In fact, Ed Davis, the commodore of the Cobourg Yacht Club, is an enthusiastic resident of New Amherst, where no home in the new-build development is more than a mile from the shores of Lake Ontario. “People come from all over town to enjoy Cobourg's waterfront,” Davis tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com.  

Davis returned to his hometown from Guelph with his wife Marjorie after retiring in 2007. It didn’t take long before the commodore signed up New Amherst homeowners to memberships at the yacht club — even those without boats — after sponsoring a special night for the residents.  

Cobourg is very much a water-oriented community, he said, and will be even more so when planned trails linking New Amherst to the waterfront are developed. “The trails will be a real plus,” Davis said.  

Waterfront trail links Cobourg and Port Hope

New Amherst principal Max LeMarchant said trails are scheduled to open in the next few months that will encourage residents to take a stroll down to the beach and Class 1 marshland that characterize the 800 feet of shoreline at the development’s southern edge.  

LeMarchant said negotiations are ongoing with the railways to obtain access over their tracks to link residents with the lake. Over time, he says, plans will evolve to make the most of New Amherst’s shoreline.  

Those plans could include extension of the Waterfront Trail between Cobourg and Port Hope, and some type of partnership that would preserve public access to a semi-private institution, such as a research facility or satellite university campus.  

The Waterfront Trail is a 740-kilometre, multi-use trail that follows Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. But so far, only 30 per cent of its length is off-road, and organizers are working to improve upon that number. LeMarchant serves on a committee that aims to replace the portion of the trail that currently runs along Highway 2 between Cobourg and Port Hope with a dedicated, off-road trail.  

New Amherst is designed for walking, in the fashion of a pre-automobile village. A traditional downtown clock tower sits in what has become the main town square. Several parks offer passive, as well as more active recreational space, and a large linear green space, called Central Park, will be a focal point of the community.  

“We’re a village, not a subdivision,” LeMarchant tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “We’re not designing around the automobile, but in the classic manner in which villages were designed years ago. Our mix of housing types adds character.”  

Sidewalks encourage people to stroll on over to pay their neighbours a visit, a feature much appreciated by Rheanne Smith and her husband, Dean, who were the village’s first residents when they moved here from Saskatchewan in 2006. It’s that friendly, small-town feel that led the Smiths to host a community barbecue in their garage that first year, which has become a big annual event now held in a community park.  

A new old-style twist on Cobourg's downtown

As a true village rather than a traditional subdivision, New Amherst offers a wide range of living options, from bachelor condos of 735 square feet, through to townhouses, lofts, flats, bungalows and sprawling Georgian-style two-storey homes of 4,000 square feet. It’s the full, cradle-to-grave community, where residents can move to a different type of housing as their needs and financial circumstances change, while remaining in the same community.  

With plans to eventually build 1,100 housing units, the village is designed to accommodate small cafés, shops, a bank, hairstylist and other services. Perhaps there’ll be a cheese shop and bakery, too — retailers that can fill many local shopping requirements and reduce the need for car trips to the store.  

For those bigger shopping outings, there’s a large supermarket just outsides the village boundaries and several big-box stores nearby. There’s also a regional hospital and many additional services not far from home.  

For all the positive things he can personally say about New Amherst, Davis doesn’t believe the “pedestrian community” concept will ever represent more than a niche market. “So many people want their big garages at the front or the side of the house,” he says.  

While it might be brand-new, New Amherst also fits nicely with Cobourg’s key concept of heritage preservation (please see Cobourg profile). The name is derived from the original Amherst community that was long ago consumed by the Town of Cobourg, and the house and commercial/retail building designs evoke heritage architectural styles, such as Ontario cottage and Georgian.  

“The retail space, where we’ll have a café on the main street with two condo apartments above it, will be reminiscent of Cobourg’s main street,” LeMarchant said.  

However, he added, while such apartment-over-the-store units will offer that old-time downtown feel, overall, the community will be “less intensive” than typical inner-city living, with wide bands of landscaping and sidewalks buffering front porches from the street.  

And all those parked cars? They’ll be tucked away out of view where they belong.

MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — August 2010