A Nova Scotia planning and design company recommends creating a village near TransCanada Highway Exit 506 that could include stores, restaurants and coffee drive thrus, apartments or condominiums, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, an ambulance station, a hiking and biking trail as well as two new parks.
“It’s essentially a small little downtown cluster that happens in this one very small area,” Rob Leblanc of Ekistics Planning and Design told residents last night during a meeting to outline the plan at Sackville Town Hall.
“We can’t take credit for any of the ideas in this plan, they’re mostly ideas that came from the community,” Leblanc added after noting that 400 people had responded to an online survey and 35 had attended a workshop that discussed proposals for Exit 506.
Last November, Sackville Town Council awarded a $27-thousand contract to Leblanc’s firm to conduct a study of physical improvements that would be needed to facilitate economic development at Exit 506 and to lure more highway travellers into Sackville.
Leblanc noted that much of the area around Exit 506 is on a flood plain with some of it subject to flooding once in every hundred years.
He suggested that planners and developers would have to make provisions for 100-year flooding adding that his firm is not recommending development on the land in the area that floods regularly.
Two new parks
Leblanc said a proposed new dog park could be built in an area off Robson Avenue where people already walk their dogs.
The idea for one dedicated to Alex Colville originally came from retired Mount Allison music professor Janet Hammock who said the park could display some of the artist’s most famous paintings depicting scenes from the area by the river, bridge and railway.
“The history of the bridge, the old race track that used to be here, Alex Colville, all those stories could be told in that park,” Leblanc said, “and that would be enough to create the invitation for visitors to look at the tourism experiences, maybe get them to stay longer in the town.”
Leblanc said a look-off could also be built on the old bridge abutment to give people a better view of the river and marshes.
Cost of creating Exit 506 village
Leblanc estimates the total cost to the town of creating a village at Sackville’s eastern gateway would be just under $600,000, but he said the work would not have to be done all at once.
He said he’ll discuss his proposals further with a steering committee consisting of senior town staff. Sackville town councillors will ultimately decide what to do about the recommendations.
Residents who attended last night’s meeting seemed pleased with the proposals.
In response to questions, Leblanc said existing homes and businesses would not be affected by the plan.
He emphasized that any coffee drive-thrus would have to be carefully built to avoid the congestion that happens at Exit 504. He said, for example, that drive-thrus would have to accommodate at least eight cars on private property to avoid back-ups on streets and drive-thru windows would not be allowed to face main streets.
When asked about train whistles disturbing apartment dwellers, Leblanc said there are things that can be done.
“King’s Wharf in downtown Dartmouth was built literally on the train line and they blew their whistle every morning 5 a.m.,” he said. “The city, the developer and CN worked together to figure out a way to deal with that and they’re trying to work through that. So, I think even CN can be creative sometimes when they work with communities,” he added.
Sackville environmental consultant Sabine Dietz expressed concern about greenhouse gas emissions from idling vehicles at drive-thrus. She added that Leblanc’s overall plan did not incorporate concepts, such as the use of renewable energy, to mitigate climate change.
Dietz also wondered whether it’s realistic to expect significant new commercial development at Exit 506 when the population of Sackville isn’t growing and the downtown core is struggling.
“Wherever you go in small communities, as soon as you have commercial development outside the core, the core is impoverished as a result,” she said, adding that increasing shopping on the outskirts might split Sackville into three pieces with the downtown pitted against the two highway commercial zones.
“I’d be the first to advocate [that] the strongest way to strengthen a community is to invest in your downtown,” Leblanc responded.
He said that both the downtown and the highway commercial zones have a role to play in development.
“Investing in the downtown is going to be really important moving forward as well,” Leblanc added.
To view a slide presentation on the Ekistics plan, click here.