Planners recommend creating village near Sackville Exit 506

Drawing shows recreational trail and ambulance station at left, commercial shops and restaurants in two buildings on Cattail Ridge at the front as well as a commercial building, bank and mixed-use residential buildings on Bridge St. on the right. Parking is kept to the rear of buildings. A stormwater pond behind the residential buildings absorbs run-off from parking lots. (Click to enlarge)

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

Drawing shows a new trail and two new parks,  a dog park at the end of Robson Ave. on the left and one named for artist Alex Colville at the end of Bridge St. near the Tantramar River.

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

Drawing shows Alex Colville park with elevated look-off in the distance

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.

Positive reactions

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.

Some concerns

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.

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6 Responses to Planners recommend creating village near Sackville Exit 506

  1. Rima Azar says:

    Well-known and respected consulting company for sure but it seems to me that $27K is a lot of Sackville public money for an online survey (N =400) and a focus group. I am sure that many Mount A students with robust (statistical; mixed-methods) training could have helped with this study at lower costs.

    Now my questions are the following:
    1. Does the Town consider that the cars at the Gas Bar Station would pollute more than cars at the newer fancier drive-throughs:)? In other terms, are we now re-considering supporting this older business and its expansion plan?
    2 If this project is too see the light one day, even if not conducted all at once, any idea about its timeline?
    3. Does the funding have to come from a public envelope? Could it be funded by a collaboration from the private and public sectors (matching funds)? Or, if these businesses are expected to succeed (which we hope for them), why can’t they fund their own investment?

    All this being said, the envisioned pictures are quite nice. They may make citizens dream.

    • Percy Best says:

      Hi Rima, The Ultramar has long ago dropped its plan to incorporate a Robin’s Donut Outlet into their building. Now the vehicles are left parked outside while customers go inside to get a coffee and snack and then wait in line to pay along with many of the customers who purchase gas. I would think that a new properly designed facility across Cattail Ridge, and one that complies with every wish and demand of the Planning Commission, would be a smooth running operation and a definite asset to Sackville. A drive thru is a very minor part of the Ekistics Exit 506 proposal but a seemingly necessary component none the less. I do believe that it will help attract TCH traffic (especially westbound) to grab a coffee and hopefully continue on into our Town Centre, or just enjoy one of our many parks, if proper information is displayed via signage or leaflets encouraging them to do so. It has been said many times that there is nothing like having a beauty of a front door entrance system to entice a stranger into one’s home.

      The funding for the road alignments, dog park, Alex Colville Park, sidewalks, walking trails etc would of course be a taxpayer initiated expense and seems to indicate a layout of maybe 5% of what is shown as future private investment, which would be the businesses and any residential units. Hopefully the privately funded buildout (maybe $10-$15 million) wouldn’t take anymore than six or seven years to complete, but that, of course, is totally dependent upon any developers and their schedules. Initial work by the Town hopefully would be completed over the next couple of years.

      A lot of the work has already been been completed or at least put in motion. Two Exit 506 ramps were completely overhauled and repaved with new guard rails last year and we are hopeful that the remaining two will be done this year. Some beautification work has been done with more to come we believe. Rough tree trimming on the highway and ramp sides has been completed. Bridge Street has been rebuilt this past summer along with new water and sewage lines with only the proposed sidewalk needing to be done. So — things are moving along nicely to make ‘ENTRANCE 506’ Sackville’s front door for all residents to be proud of.

      • Rima Azar says:

        Hello Percy:

        Thank you for your reply.

        I think we can accurately say that our town made the Ultramar
        Gas Bar drop their business plan. They gave up in other terms.

        This being said, I share your enthusiam for a new face for Exit 506. Thank you and many thanks to Janet Hammock too.

  2. brucewark says:

    This message comes in the form of a letter to the editor

    Dear Editor,

    It was exciting to hear Ekistics’ design plans for Entrance 506 at the presentation earlier this week.

    The key to everything in their area design, as Ekistics spokesperson Rob LeBLanc said repeatedly during his presentation, is in “encouraging people to get out of their cars” so that they can see, read and do things that will tempt them to come into town. My concept of an Alex Colville Art Park as being a very important feature designed to do exactly that, tying it in through strategic signage within the park with the many places people can go within the town core to see his art, his studio, his home, and his celebratory plaque on the Sackville Arts Wall — was well emphasized during his presentation. Ekistics did a beautiful job of recognizing the historical importance of that park’s location overlooking the Tantramar River and the bridges, and the exciting possibilities inherent in connecting that area to Tantramar Heritage sites within the town core.

    Rob explained how every feature of the area design was planned to create more walking (dog park, hiking trails and bike paths, Art Park, etc. ) The word “village” was used many times, in part to help people appreciate the design concept of bringing the store and business fronts up to the street, with parking behind, so that walking along the sidewalks or biking on the bike paths would be more pleasant. It was not meant to imply that this area would be self-contained.

    Some folks are concerned that building a “self-contained village” will weaken the downtown core. Like Ekistics, I am convinced that there are numerous creative approaches to strengthening the downtown core. One of the most important is to create a strong and attractive “path” to the core that begins with vastly improved Trans Canada signage, with attractions that invite drivers to get off the TC, and with carefully-conceived strategies and imaginative business ventures that move some of those people up into the core.

    I must admit I was surprised to hear Rob talking about building drive-through restaurants! It was not the time or place to get into an argument about drive-thrus, but there was a glaring inconsistency between Rob’s talk about getting people out of their cars, on the one hand, and talk of drive-thrus on the other.

    Although a few entrepreneurs seem gung-ho to build drive-thru restaurants in that area, these would be inconsistent with the proposed area plan which emphasizes getting people out of their cars and into the two parks, onto the bike paths, foot trails, and sidewalks. We will continue to remind Sackville Town councillors of their earlier resolution against building more environmentally unfriendly drive-thrus within Sackville.


    Janet Hammock
    Sackville, NB

    • Percy Best says:

      Hi Janet, It is a real dream of a proposal for sure and dreams can come true with enough work. What an amazing ‘Front Door’ entrance it will create into our very special town.

      I believe a drive thru would be an excellent spot for the exiting TCH traffic to quickly grab a drink, and a snack, as they perhaps head to the large Alex Colville parking lot down at the end of Bridge Street, as shown in the Ekistics drawings.

      It is quite amazing to see all of the Nova Scotia plated vehicles slowly moving ahead in the long lineups at the existing Tim Hortons, so hopefully a much more practically designed drive thru at Exit 506 will help alleviate some of this dangerous congestion.

      Idling, of course, will in time become a thing of the past. Norway has banned gas/diesel car sales as of 2025 with over 40% of new cars sold last year there being electric. India’s ban starts in 2030 while France, Britain and Germany are not far behind with their own bans. We WILL catch up someday. So there will be zero emissions if an electric powered vehicle has to wait a bit at a drive thru. There is also plenty of electrical capacity in the power lines running overhead of the proposed Colville parking lot so it will be an easy place to install a row of chargers for the electric vehicles to fast recharge while the occupants take in the scenic beauty.

      I am so looking forward to this EXIT 506 project getting off the ground this summer and to someday soon having the Town and the Province reap major additional tax revenue as well as the employment that it will create for MANY Sackville citizens and Mt. A. students.

  3. Kelly says:

    Good points Percy, and maybe when electric vehicles become commonplace in the future, a buyer may come along and want a building to do something with as I know we will have an empty one at that point as no gas will definitely spell the end to our business. Those others who have their agendas in the town could care less about our business or the people we employ. So sad as I have nothing against how any of them chose to live or make their living but they are so quick to pick apart anything others want that doesn’t fall in line with their ideals. Sadly, this is the world that we live in now.

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