Phinney opposes luxury apartment building

Councillor Bruce Phinney

Sackville Town Councillor Bruce Phinney voted last night to stop the development of a luxury apartment building in the downtown business core.

Phinney cast the only no vote. His seven council colleagues approved a resolution to move ahead with a rezoning application that would make the new building possible. The resolution sets Tuesday, May 15th as the date for a public hearing on the matter.

JN Lafford Realty Inc. has applied to rezone a small portion of the former United Church property at Main and York Streets to allow for construction of a third building on the site with up to 36 two-bedroom apartments as well as underground parking. The building would cater to tenants over 55 with monthly rents ranging from $1,250 to $1,700.

Dangerous traffic

Phinney opposed the development on the grounds that it would add to traffic congestion in the parking lot that has entrances and exits off Main and York Streets. Under the Lafford proposal, tenants in the new building would travel through the lot to gain access to their underground parking spots.

“I go there quite often,” Phinney said. “I have people telling me they won’t drive to go to Service New Brunswick because there’s no place to park down that way,” he added.

“I look at the fact, actually even myself going in and out of there, it’s dangerous.”

John and Joe Lafford have said that if they can’t persuade the town to rezone a small parcel behind the old cemetery, they could still erect a building on the site with above-ground parking. They say that the cheaper building would likely cater to students.

Phinney said that while he realizes the Laffords could go ahead with construction, he’s hoping that denial of their rezoning application would result in a smaller building and less traffic congestion.

Zoning ‘fluke’

Councillor Megan Mitton spoke in favour of proceeding to the next step in the rezoning application.

“The proposed use does fit the town’s plans to promote downtown development and have a variety of housing options, especially for seniors,” she said.

Both Mitton and Councillor Bill Evans said that when the Laffords bought the United Church property in 2012, nearly all of it was rezoned for high density, mixed-use development except for the small parcel behind the cemetery which retained its institutional zoning because the boundaries were unclear.

Evans called it a “fluke” adding that town planning staff would ensure that any new building would have to meet Sackville’s traffic safety and parking requirements.

“I’m confident that we have the proper rules in place and staff is capable of making that decision,” Evans added.

Oldsters drive less

Councillor Joyce O’Neil also spoke in favour of going ahead with the public hearing next month. She suggested that older tenants would not increase traffic congestion.

“I know that it means that there’ll be more vehicles,” she said. “But it’s certainly not like everybody’s going to be leaving at 7:30 or 8 o’clock to go to work and back in at 5.”

Meantime, town planner Lori Bickford assured Councillor Andrew Black that the new building would be at least 30 feet from the cemetery boundaries so there would be no disturbance of nearby graves.

Site plan showing existing phase 1 bldg off York St. at upper right; existing phase 2 bldg off Main St. (Service NB), mid-left and proposed new apt. bldg behind cemetery which is at lower left. Arrows indicate traffic routes. Old Town Hall/present United Church in upper left corner (click to enlarge)

Ambulance move

At its meeting last night, town council gave approval in principle to rezoning about half an acre of land beside the Westmorland Animal Hospital on Robson Avenue to permit construction of a new Ambulance New Brunswick station.

Drawing of new ambulance station

Councillors approved first reading of a bylaw amendment that would change the zoning from highway commercial to institutional use.

The Nova Scotia development company Parsons Investments is in the process of buying the land and a large chunk around it near TransCanada Exit 506 from Sackville businessman Percy Best.

Councillor Evans spoke in favour of amending the bylaw, but said that even though the station itself would be on high ground, Ambulance New Brunswick should be warned of potential flooding in the area that could cut it off from downtown.

Exit 506 final report

Council also voted to accept the $27,000 report it commissioned from Ekistics Planning and Design and directed town staff to come up with a strategy for implementing it.

The report, posted on the town’s website, recommends that the town spend more than $610,000 over a number of years to improve public facilities near Exit 506 including new sidewalks, bicycle lanes, parks and trails.

In response to a question from Wendy Alder, co-owner of the Tantramar Gas Bar, town manager Jamie Burke said some of the spending may be included in next year’s capital budget.

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12 Responses to Phinney opposes luxury apartment building

  1. Geoff Martin says:

    So much for any urban forestry policy. There’s a nice stand of birch trees there that will no doubt bite the dust…

  2. Rima Azar says:

    Well said, Geoff…It surprising that our environmentally-oriented Councillors did not have the same concern. How come?

    As far as I am concerned, I am not a traffic expert but I know one thing for sure: Councillor Phinney is one of the most decent men I have ever met in my life. I happen to also know him as a colleague. I usually trust his (political) judgment.

  3. Erna Ricciuto says:

    According to the survey results, people in Sackville want to keep the green space and park look in the downtown area. Town Council should NOT rezone that property so that JN Lafford won’t be able to build as large a building with underground parking. The view from the Swan Pond will be the cars going in and out of the entrance to the underground parking and a huge building coming right down to the street level.

  4. Louis says:

    Bruce Phinney is the one person in there whose motivations I’ve never had cause to question.

    Whyever I don’t know, but underneath it all, it sure does sound like the end result of all of it is that Town Council does “pick winners and losers” in the property development game, deliberately or otherwise. A drive-through in a semi-industrial area attracts the hue and cry of the “environmentalist” faction, whereas the elimination of what is (essentially) a small urban park area brings nought a word from the same individuals.

    With Bruce Phinney, we have a man whose principles don’t change according to the prevailing mood.

  5. Janet Hammock says:

    Like Erna said at the Town Council meeting where this was voted on, and which I attended, I, too, have a difficult time imagining the impact the proposed building will have because of the incomplete drawings and “artist’s envisioning” that were submitted by Laffords when they applied for the rezoning. In preparation for the council meeting, I had looked hard at the plans and the “artist’s imaginative impression” of what the larger building and the surrounding area might look like, and it was really impossible to envision. As Erna pointed out, the Swan Pond does not even appear on one of the main drawings. As someone said, the word “primary” was applied to entrances and exits, giving us the impression that there would be other exits and entrances. I stared at the screens in the council chambers as the discussion took place, and at the printed agenda with its reproductions of the proposed building and surrounding area, and I could not even read most of the words on the pages. They were too small. Earlier, at a special council meeting, I had gotten the impression that if he built the larger building, the parking would be hidden underground. But now I realize that the same amount would be at ground level, with the additional required parking underground. All in all, I think Councillor Bruce Phinney, and Erna, raise valid and important concerns that need addressing. I, too, need a much better way of assessing the impact than is possible to get by viewing the submitted plans. When Erna asked for clearer, more comprehensive drawings so she, too, could study the impact, she was informed that at this stage, they could not ask Laffords for additional plans. The Mayor seemed to say that it would have to be approved and then go to the next level before they could ask for better drawings. Hmmmm….

  6. Rima Azar says:

    Thank you Janet (Hammock) and Erna (Ricciuto) for having attended that Town Council meeting and for raising these issues. Earlier Geoff (Martin) raised an excellent question about the old birch trees.

    What about that charming little bridge near the cemetery? I am afraid it would either disappear or, lose its charm.

    I am usually an optimistic person. Despite this, I do not see any hope that Town Council will listen to all of us (the end of your comment suggests this). I still wish they will prove me wrong…Again, nothing against Mr. Lafford in person (as an entrepreneur, it is normal to look for one’s business interests). I just hope that our municipality will remember our interests, as the citizens they serve.

    • Janet Hammock says:

      I didn’t mean to imply anything by my last comment, Rima. All these things are governed by written procedures and protocols that are in place for very good reasons. I believe Town Council has been vigilant in following the proper procedures. The Mayor, I think, was simply explaining that. Just imagine what would happen if every development proposal submitted to council was held up by special requests by townspeople…it could drag on and on! If this proposal for development is approved at this first stage, it will then be at the next stage where those who want further clarification can ask for it — including Town Council. At least, this is what I think! Hope I am right!

      • Rima Azar says:

        Many thanks for this clarification Janet. I am sorry if I read too much into your last sentence 🙂 to the point of misunderstanding it. Regardless of this, I tend to think that past behaviour usually predicts the future. However, surprises do happen in life. People may change their mind. Let’s hope for the best for Sackville!

  7. Janet Hammock says:

    I guess I have to clarify again! I am not against the building of the larger apartment building. What I would like is what Erna asked for, too: a much clearer sense of what the building and parking will actually look like from various vantage points, and exactly where the exits and entrances are to be. I understand from what Bill Evans said, that all of the studies and checks into environmental issues will be done from this point on.

    Bruce Phinney didn’t seem — to me— to be categorically opposed to the larger building, but rather he, too, had serious traffic questions that would need to be solved were he to even consider voting in favour of the larger building.

    I hope that townspeople will be very vigilant as we keep tabs on what comes next! The very best way for people to do that is to BE THERE at Council meetings. It astonishes me that so few people came to either the special meeting or the last public meeting, when such an important change is being considered for the centre of our town. I have no great track record for meeting attendance, that’s for sure, but I am trying to change that, at least a little. I don’t think it is really good enough when folks rely on the media to provide all the information. They do the best they can, but the media cannot report on voice inflections, how people appear when they present things, the tone of the discussion, how others in the chamber are reacting, or anything else. I know the meetings are videoed on the webpage, but even that is one step removed from really being there. It is like watching a hockey game live where you see the complete rink at one time, and watching it on TV where the cameras zone in on special plays leaving you to imagine everything else that might be happening. As well, if residents are not there to ask questions or to make comments, question periods just float by, largely unused. Just a suggestion that maybe we can all do a bit better!

  8. Rima Azar says:

    Your enthusiasm is refreshing Janet :).

    I personally do not have a clear-cut opinion about all this as it was hard for me to understand the exact location from the painted image like all of you.

    I recall that my first reaction was to find the artist’s image very nice like a beach resort but I questioned whether the age of 55 and older of tenants is considered a discrimination.

    We then had a valuable comment by Azi (who is an Architect). She reminded us, including myself, to remember that there is no beach there (:) or :() . Thus, the image would be misleading.

    I also learned from other comments, including hers, that Mr. Beal had a proposal for a residence for seniors (not far from this spot) that was rejected.

    Will a large or smaller building block the view of the Waterfowl Park? How will it fit with the new building next to it? Or more importantly, how will the cemetery, birch trees, and little charming bridge fit in the new scene?

    Given all this, it seems to me that the ideal for our town would be to keep this space as a little protected green space at the heart of our town, as was previously suggested?

    I say this and I do understand that this would be in conflict with the Laffords’ interests.

    As far as I am personally concerned, I initially would have loved it if the external main façade of the old white beautiful church was preserved, even after demolishing it to turn it into the new less charming building.

    Of course, there is also the issue of the traffic raised by Erna and Councillor Phinney. I say this, although I am someone whose brain sometimes misses traffic (not enough time to listen to and sing with a whole song whilst driving in town :)).

    Last but not least, you have scored a critical point about the attendance of citizens to important town council events. I agree with you. Being present is much better than reading about the events in the media. However, thank Goodness, the New Wark Times exists for us who cannot attend due to time conflict!

    Of course, someone less idealistic than you and me, would have said: Why bother attending when they will do what they want anyways? I think, Louis Béliveau’s story in town speaks volumes about this concern.

    To conclude, I like your analogy with the hockey game on TV versus live :). I see what you mean. Thank you.

    • Azi says:

      The main goal for this rezonning application in this particular spot is to show: “Will a large or smaller building block the view of the Waterfowl Park? How will it fit with the new building next to it? Or more importantly, how will the cemetery, birch trees, and little charming bridge fit in the new scene?” (as Rima said and as others were clearly searching for it). That is if Sackville needs another apartment building in the downtown core.

      Drawings (no need to be detailed drawings) and renderings presented to the public should precisely show the proposed design in the proposed site. Public’s time should be respected. As this is the beginning of a process, I hope the designer brings a satisfactory set of drawings for the next hearing.

  9. Andrew says:

    The decision on this vote has not been made. Council moved to have this issue go to a public hearing so that they could……well…..hear from the public. The last time a rezoning request went to council for King Street, citizens showed up and voiced their concerns over the building proposal and council declined the rezoning. Hopefully support from both sides will make the attempt to be at that public hearing so that an informed decision can be made.

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