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Military expansion, McCains plant put growth pressure on "bursting at the seams" Carberry


Small town, big problems The Town of Carberry might be small in size but it's got a big growth problem. The southwestern Manitoba community of about 1,550 is bursting at the seams, thanks primarily to strong housing demand from military families at the nearby base in Shilo and significant migration from others parts of the province, and even from across the Atlantic Ocean.

"I don't think the town has one lot left that's big enough to build on. People don't want a 50-foot lot; you can't sell them. They want bigger frontage," said Wayne Blair, Carberry's mayor.

Compounding the problem in Carberry, and countless other small towns, Blair said, is that it suffers from a lack of affordable housing, too.

The challenge, then, is to develop new subdivisions as quickly as possible to keep potential residents and even some current ones from seeking more spacious pastures in other communities.

One developer has sold out all 17 of the lots he had available. That might not seem like much in some centres but in Carberry, that's an unqualified boom. One house in the development has been completed and a family has just moved in, six more houses are going up and the rest of the lots are expected to see building activity shortly.

Tricia Zander, economic development officer for Carberry, located about an hour east of Brandon and about 90 minutes west of Winnipeg, described it as "a good family town with good schools and a couple of stores."

It isn't big enough to warrant attention from national retailers but it's got a grocery store, a coffee shop and a denturist and town officials are optimistic a physiotherapist, an optometrist and a small-animal veterinarian will follow in the short term.

It is, however, home to a McCains Foods potato-processing plant, the biggest employer in town.

Zander said she's also hopeful an upgrade will be forthcoming to Carberry's recreation centre, which she added is "workable but old." There's also an outdoor pool, a bowling alley, a hockey rink and curling sheet in town and a short distance away is Spruce Woods Provincial Park.

Blair said Carberry has sent economic recruiting officials to communities around the province, including Thompson, and the work has paid off. This year, 46 new people moved into town, including a number from Germany.

The influx is reverberating in the local real estate market. The average house in Carberry is an 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom bungalow that sells for about $160,000. That's up 5 to 10 per cent from a year ago, according to Les Watts, a realtor and partner in Royal LePage McPhail Agencies.

He attributes much of the price appreciation to demand from people in Shilo, located about 15 minutes down the highway. The pressure on the housing market should increase further in the short term when the Spirit Sands Casino opens up about 20 kilometres to the south on Swan Lake First Nation land. Watts says between the gaming and a trio of restaurants, it's expected to employ between 200 and 300 people.

"Our housing prices are still lower than Brandon," he said. "That's mainly due to the lot prices; our lot prices are considerably lower."

The number of serviceable lots available, however, is almost non-existent. "It would be tough to have anything available for at least a year. If you really want to build, you have to buy something older and tear it down," he said.

from Western Investor December 2011



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