Sackville councillors do U-Turn on controversial drive-thru

Tantramar Gas Bar, Exit 506

Tantramar Gas Bar, Exit 506

There may be another drive-thru coffee window in Sackville after all.

Sackville Town Council has agreed to take another look at how it could allow a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru at the Ultramar gas station near Exit 506 off the Trans Canada highway.

“I think the lesson for Council is that there was limited debate,” Mayor John Higham said at council’s regular meeting on July 11. He spoke after citizens and business owners grilled councillors for more than 40 minutes about Council’s vote on July 4 not to allow any more than the two existing drive-thrus near the highway.

“Are you aware of the ripple effect you have sent to the hardworking business people of this town?” asked Anna Zappia Mann, owner of Joey’s Pizza and Pasta. “John, are you aware? I’m irate,” she added to sustained applause.

She also referred to Kelly and Wendy Alder who say that without a drive-thru at their Ultramar location, they might have to close their doors. (To read the Alders’ proposal to Council for a Robin’s Donuts and drive-thru, click here.)

“There is no future if there’s no employment today and there is no future if people like Wendy and her husband and her family are not supported,” Zappia Mann said, adding, “these people are suffering and the spirit in our town is suffering.” (To read a transcript of Anna Zappia Mann’s comments, click here.)

New councillors on hot seat

Earlier, Kerry Simpson asked Council’s newest members, Megan Mitton, Allison Butcher and Andrew Black why they voted against amending the bylaw that bans additional drive-thrus. Simpson read newspaper quotes in which all three said they were running for council partly to support business and economic development.

Mitton responded that she voted no because she was trying to strike a balance between environmental concerns over car idling, exhaust emissions and air quality on the one hand, and sustainable development on the other.

“I do support, obviously, economic development, business development. In this specific case, I decided that we shouldn’t, or I voted not to amend the bylaw,” Mitton said. “However, I’m very open to ideas around business development.”

Allison Butcher said she voted no because amending the bylaw would have allowed an unlimited number of drive-thrus in the zone near the highway.

“It was to lift the entire ban off of all the commercial districts, which would mean it would also lift the ban off of our already terribly congested Exit 504 where the high school is, where there’s so many students walking, there’s traffic congestion and there’s land for sale up there, and I couldn’t support lifting the bylaw off of that section.”

Butcher added she would vote to change the bylaw if it meant allowing only one additional drive-thru at the Ultramar.

Andrew Black seemed to agree saying that ethically he could not support several more drive-thrus but “would be more inclined to say yes” to the Alders’ specific proposal at Exit 506. (To read a transcript of Kerry Simpson’s questions and the three councillors’ answers, click here.)

What about existing drive-thrus?

Kelly Alder also polled councillors on whether they favoured closing the existing drive-thrus at McDonald’s and Tim Hortons. He referred to Councillor Bill Evans’s seven-minute statement opposing more drive-thrus at the July 4th council meeting.

Evans had ended his statement with this question: “If you want to talk about changing the legislation, how about talking about the phasing out of the two existing grandfathered drive-thrus? Otherwise, let’s leave well enough alone.” (To read excerpts from Bill Evans’s statement, click here.)

None of the councillors spoke in favour of phasing out the existing drive-thrus at Exit 504.

Bruce Phinney

Councillor Bruce Phinney

“I would never think about trying to close those other two,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney.

“First of all, you’ve got two giants that you turn around and have to take on, and I don’t think we have enough money in our budget to turn around and do so,” he said.

“And the other thing is as I said last Monday, I would support and will support and continue to support the opening of a drive-thru, Robin’s drive-thru, out at the Ultramar.”

Environmental concerns

There were few environmental concerns expressed on Monday night in contrast to the July 4 meeting a week earlier where several people spoke about such issues as the air pollution generated by idling vehicles in drive-thru lanes and the threat of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayor Higham read a letter from Janet Hammock asking council not to change the law to allow more drive-thrus.

“We’re trying hard here in Sackville to set an example for those who visit, showing ourselves as a place where people care about the environment and quality of the air,” Hammock wrote.

“As a long-time resident, I care about the health of our elderly and our youth and I’m glad that we have a bylaw in place now that prevents further drive-ins from being built.” (To read Janet Hammock’s letter click here.)

The mayor also read a letter from the group, EOS Eco-Energy pointing out that council has taken several steps aimed at reducing car emissions including endorsing an emissions reduction action plan in February. The letter also mentioned that last year, council passed a municipal declaration about people’s right to live in a healthy environment with a stable climate.

“There are also concerns about the impacts of a drive-thru on the neighbouring daycare’s outdoor playground and their children’s environmental health,” the letter added. (To read the EOS letter, click here.)

Planning staff to study possible steps

It became clear during the July 11 meeting that up to six of the eight councillors favoured the Alders’ application to set up a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru on their Ultramar site. But it was far less clear whether council could overturn its vote on July 4 to uphold the ban on any additional drive-thrus.

Under municipal rules, councillors may have to wait a year to take another vote unless another proposal comes forward that is substantially different from the one on July 4. At that meeting, planners recommended amending the bylaw so that any business could apply for a drive-thru near the Trans Canada.

In the end, council has decided to ask planning staff to report on other possible options, if any, at its meeting in August.

Meantime, Wendy Alder is keeping up the pressure with a petition addressed to the mayor and council on display at her Ultramar gas bar. It reads:

“On Monday, July 4th, Town Council voted against amending bylaw 244 to include drive thrus as a permitted use in highway commercial zoning areas.

“We the undersigned, citizens of Sackville, N.B. and surrounding area, feel the addition of a drive thru will aid in economic development, create jobs and sustain current jobs. We petition Council to change bylaw 244 to include drive thrus as a permitted use in the highway commercial zoning areas located at EXIT 506 only or grant an exemption for Tantramar Gas Bar (2012) Ltd.”

Alder says that so far, more than 700 people have signed.

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