3rd Sackville coffee drive-thru uncertain as Town Council weighs options

Tantramar Gas Bar co-owner Wendy Alder

Tantramar Gas Bar co-owner Wendy Alder

Sackville’s mayor says town councillors will get together as soon as possible to consider options for a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru near Exit 506 off the TransCanada highway.

John Higham made the comment after Council received a report from staff planner Lori Bickford at its meeting Monday night.

The report outlined five possible options ranging from amending the town’s zoning bylaw, creating new zones specifically for Exit 506, or simply maintaining the 15-year ban on new drive-thrus in Sackville.

Bickford’s report says amending bylaws or creating new zones would take anywhere from four to 10 months and would require Town Council to pass a resolution to consider the amendment, hold a public hearing, receive the advice of the planning review committee and provide opportunity for full council debate.

According to the report, the town might also need to conduct studies to analyze potential traffic problems and determine if the land is suitable for a drive-thru. The report says that one option, creating a new development zone, would require Wendy and Kelly Alder, owners of the Ultramar gas station, to submit an engineering plan demonstrating that the site could safely accommodate a drive-thru.

Councillors seem sympathetic

Judging from their comments, a majority of councillors appear to favour changing the rules to allow the Alders to go ahead with a Robin’s Donuts restaurant and drive-thru at their Tantramar Gas Bar.

But in July, a majority on council voted against a motion to permit more drive-thrus because it appeared that changing the bylaw banning them could clear the way for several more at Exit 504 where Tim Hortons and McDonald’s already operate drive-thru windows.

Council then asked town planners to come up with ways of permitting a drive-thru at Exit 506 without having to follow a rule that says it must wait a full year before re-opening the issue.

When pressed at last night’s meeting to say if it’s fair to allow drive-thrus at one highway exit and not the other, most councillors seemed to agree that fairness was an issue given that the Alders’s Ultramar is a locally owned business while the gas stations and fast-food drive-thru franchises at Exit 504 are not locally owned.

Alders hoping for decision soon

Council is expected to discuss the drive-thru issue again at its meetings in September.

Wendy Alder says she’s hoping for a decision on changing the bylaw banning drive-thrus by the end of the year. That would give her enough time to commission an engineering study and order equipment in time for opening the Robin’s Donuts by May 1, 2017.

She says something has to be done to ensure that her business stays profitable.

“Our fuel volumes are down 25 to 30 per cent just in the month of July this year over last year,” she says adding that the July 1st increase in the New Brunswick sales tax has stopped Nova Scotians from driving across the marshes to take advantage of lower gas prices here.

She says if that continues, her business would be forced to eliminate the equivalent of one-and-a-half jobs to remain profitable.

“There’s always options of somebody buying it (the business), but that’s not where we want to go right now,” she says. “What we want to do is pursue this option with Robin’s Donuts and try and get that in.”

Excerpts from planning report

On changing the bylaw banning further drive-thrus:

“As drive-thrus have been prohibited in Town for 15-years, this would be considered a significant change in direction of the Town and therefore should not be considered lightly.”

On creating a new zone to permit more drive-thrus only at Exit 506 (Cattail Ridge Exit):

“A key principle of planning is that all properties which share a common zoning are treated the same and will be permitted to operate the same uses, provided they are capable of meeting all other requirements such as setbacks, parking, etc. Both exits have been designated under the Municipal Plan and zoned under the Zoning By-law as Highway Commercial. This was done as a recognition that both these entrances have direct access to the TransCanada Highway and the Town should take advantage of the economic opportunities that this creates for businesses and for providing commercial services in general.

“To create and apply a new zone at one of the exits would require the introduction of policy in the Municipal Plan to distinguish between the two exits. This would be challenging as Council would need to justify why it has determined that a higher level of usage would be acceptable at exit 506 and not at exit 504 (Main St. exit). In fact, the Cattail Ridge exit contains less public infrastructure to deal with future issues of congestion, whereas the Main St. exit has seen a number of public infrastructure investments to deal with this issue including traffic lights and additional turning lanes…Before introducing a new zone to the By-law, and to ensure the zone is developed appropriately a traffic study at this exit should be conducted to analyze any potential traffic issues and to determine land use suitability. This would be a cost born by the Town.”

On creating a new integrated development zone to permit a combination of uses and buildings on the same site:

“During initial discussions with the applicant, Staff identified a number of issues and concerns with the suitability of this property [Tantramar Gas Bar] for a drive thru, mainly the proximity to the propane tanks, proximity to underground and above ground gas tanks, potential traffic conflicts on site with traffic entering and exiting drive thru and those using the gas pumps and convenience store on the property. The applicant was also informed that in order to fully assess the site a professionally prepared engineered plan would be required.”

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