A small group of Sackville residents won a victory Monday night when Town Council voted against allowing more housing at 40 King Street where about 30 university students already live.
In a 5-3 vote, council rejected a rezoning application that would have permitted another three-storey building on the 1.5 acre site doubling the number of rental units to 12.
There are already six, five-bedroom units on the property, one in a dwelling that fronts on King Street and five more in an apartment building behind it.
Town planners recommended rezoning the property to permit another building, but during a 12 minute debate, all but two councillors spoke against it, siding with residents who complained during a public meeting last month about excessive noise, traffic congestion and even outdoor fires.
Student town vs residents’ town
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken acknowledged that the latest municipal plan sets targets for the development of more multiple unit residential housing, but in this case, he said, there are too many problems.
“All I can see is that somebody wants to add enough higher density to obviously make more money off rents,” Aiken said, “when the residents have already commented on the problems they’re having with the buildings.”
Councillor Bruce Phinney also acknowledged that the municipal plan encourages more apartment buildings, but sometimes projects “come forward that just don’t work within that plan and I think this is one of them.”
Phinney added that while residents have lived in the neighbourhood for a long time, “it seems that actually it’s becoming more of a student town than it is actually a resident town.”
Councillor Allison Butcher partly disagreed with Phinney, arguing that Sackville needs to be a community town that includes the university, but she also recognized residents’ complaints.
“There is, I think, lots of student housing now and I have some great concerns about the issues the present homeowners in that area have.”
Butcher also worried about harm to the environment with more apartments being built near a stream that flows beside the Sackville cemetery.
Not in my backyard
Councillors Bill Evans and Megan Mitton argued strongly for the project, partly on the grounds that the municipal plan calls for a five per cent increase every year in multiple housing units and partly because it would add to the town’s tax base. (Evans estimated that the increase would be about one million dollars.)
He said that residents’ concerns would be met by conditions attached to the project, which include limiting it to no more than 12 units. Evans suggested that residents’ main opposition was simply that they didn’t want the project in their neighbourhood.
“Not In My Backyard [NIMBY] is an acronym because people regularly feel that way,” he said. “They’re not saying they’re against doing it at all, but they just don’t want it where they are. Our mandate as council is not to look after our backyard, but the whole municipality.”
Confusion over vote
Mayor Higham asked Councillor Andrew Black, who moved the motion giving preliminary approval to rezoning the property at 40 King Street, to conclude the debate.
Black surprised his council colleagues by siding with the residents opposed to more student housing, announcing that he would be voting against his own motion.
When Mayor Higham called for the vote, Councillors Evans and Mitton voted yes, while Deputy Mayor Aiken along with councillors Phinney, Butcher, O’Neil and Tower voted no. It only became clear later that Black had voted yes after all, making the final tally 5-3.
Outside the council chamber, residents expressed relief that a majority of councillors had turned down more student housing at 40 King Street.
“It’s encouraging they’re actually listening to the residents instead of going for a quick money grab,” said William Sheppard, summing up the general reaction.
But several residents also objected to Councillor Evans’s contention that they simply didn’t want more student housing in their backyard.
“We didn’t say not in our neighbourhood,” Pat Sheppard said, “our neighbourhood is already suffering from too much student housing and the university enrollment is down,” she added.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, landlord Sean Doucet said council’s decision is OK with him.
“Like I said earlier, I wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers with the neighbours and if that’s council’s decision, I’m fine with it…When you go through rezoning, you never know.”
Council debate on the rezoning motion begins just after the 21 minute mark on the video recording of the meeting. To watch it, click here.