Sackville councillors hear passionate debate on pros and cons of luxury apartments

Erna Duchemin spoke against rezoning the property

Sackville Town Council heard a sometimes-passionate, 54-minute debate last night on the pros and cons of building 36 luxury, seniors’ apartments on part of the former United Church property in the heart of the downtown business district.

After nine citizens had spoken against the proposed three-storey building and five, including developer John Lafford, had spoken in favour, council gave preliminary approval to a bylaw change that would make the project possible.

However, construction cannot go ahead until council gives its final approval in two more votes expected next month. Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken and Councillor Allison Butcher said they needed time to consider the comments they heard during last night’s public hearing. Councillor Bruce Phinney, who has said previously he would vote against the new apartment building, was not present at the public hearing.

Emotional debate

Erna Duchemin led off the debate saying that even though the new apartment building would generate tax revenues for the town and the province, it would also destroy the beauty and serenity of the green space near the Centennial Monuments and Swan Pond off East Main Street.

“We need to look ahead and think of the worries this building will cause such as accidents and problems with traffic flow and how it will affect the beauty that our tourists and we enjoy now,” she said. “Why lose this green space and the grove of birch trees for a huge structure that destroys the view for us all?”

Meredith Fisher

Meredith Fisher, who campaigned along with Erna Duchemin to save the United Church, recalled the bitter divisions that occurred before the church was demolished in September 2015.

“Those feelings still linger on. We don’t want our town to be divisive,” she said.

She argued that it’s important to preserve the sweep of green space that was designed and paid for by Sackville’s forefathers and that still makes the town special.

“This is what attracts people to want to live here, to visit here, to want to stay here, to work here or to send their children to school and study here,” Fisher said. “I just can’t imagine how a community would support the decimation of this beautiful, iconic, signature space in our town.”

 Change happens

Eric Tusz-King told the hearing that as a member of the United Church congregation, he negotiated with the Laffords when they bought the church property in 2012.

Eric Tusz-King

“We went through a lot of grief and there was a lot of emotion in our congregation on that issue,” he said. “But we realized that nothing stays the same and we needed to move on and I think that’s a little bit of what needs to happen in this conversation as well.”

Tusz-King added that while he has a strong attachment to the birch trees that would be destroyed if the new apartments are built, he also realizes they will die naturally within the next 15 years and besides, the land is going to be developed anyway.

“The zoning is only for a portion of that land that’s going to be used,” he said. “They [the Laffords] can still use the other part of the land for another…building and the birches would be gone…so, again that’s not a particularly good argument.”

Tusz-King said he uses the Lafford parking lot at Main and York Streets every day and while he acknowledged it’s busy, he doesn’t mind that.

“I like people, I don’t like living in isolation, I don’t get worried by that,” he said adding that the area is not nearly as dense as it is in larger cities such as Halifax or Toronto.

“So I would recommend personally that council go ahead with this approval,” Tusz-King concluded. “There’s not enough justifiable reasons not to go ahead.”

Tenants and landlords

Ardyth Rose identified herself as a tenant in a Lafford building on Waterfowl Lane and called the Laffords wonderful landlords. She supported the new building saying that the more seniors’ apartments Sackville has, the better.

John Lafford

Wayne Harper told the hearing that he wants to rent one of the luxury apartments adding that it would provide beautiful views for its tenants, attract more people to Sackville and add to the town’s tax base.

When his turn came, John Lafford said he’s been hearing from a lot of people who are excited about the new building and although a few are opposed to it, there are many in favour.

“What we say, we’ll do,” Lafford said. “Yes, we’re going to cut those trees, a good portion, yes. But we will replant as many as are cut and that is a pledge,” he added telling council, “And if that site can’t fit all those trees that we take down, then we will plant them at other locations designated by you people.”

Lost beauty

Tim Reiffenstein, a geography professor at Mount Allison, questioned the planning department’s reliance on figures more than a decade old when it says the town needs more density in downtown residential neighbourhoods. He also said he’s concerned that the new building would add more traffic to the downtown area.

Susan Dales

“When I’m downtown, I’m mainly on foot and the only places I’ve ever been in fear for my life, the only place I’ve ever been hit is walking by the exit of that parking lot on York Street,” Reiffenstein said.

Susan Dales, who said she moved to Sackville from Mississauga, Ontario, estimated that the new building would probably have about 65 people living in it.

“To provide housing for these 65 individuals,” she said, “is it worth losing all the surrounding beauty and putting it at risk? I don’t think so, beauty is so hard to find and beauty is what makes Sackville, Sackville.”

After the public hearing, Councillor Bill Evans moved first reading to send the requested bylaw change to the next stage. He said it didn’t necessarily mean he would vote for the project on second and third readings, but he also made it clear that council should not be passing judgment on the new apartment building itself only on whether it conforms to the town’s existing bylaws.

“When people buy private property, it’s their property and they get to make decisions,” Evans said. “All they have to do is follow the rules,” he added.

“I’m not making a statement about what I like or don’t like, I’m doing my job.”

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12 Responses to Sackville councillors hear passionate debate on pros and cons of luxury apartments

  1. Rima Azar says:

    I wrote it earlier. I will repeat it differently: I agree with Councillor Evans. This is the Laffords’ property indeed. However, this logic must apply to other entrepreneurs.

    I personally did not attend this public hearing yesterday because I sadly came to the conclusion that this democratic public activity is just a show.

    My husband Louis (and I with him) paid a huge price in terms of stress and money when we naively believed that citizens have a say in our town (I am referring to the old white beautiful church’s saga)… and, by extension, in dealing with our province’s legal system. Luckily, Louis is clever and courageous. He persevered all the way to the Supreme Court, even if the chances of a hearing were VERY low. Thanks to the generosity of citizens, the Town ended up accepting the $5K raised in lieu of the about $12K.

    Mr. Lafford said: “What we say, we’ll do,”… “Yes, we’re going to cut those trees, a good portion, yes. But we will replant as many as are cut and that is a pledge”. I say: I hope he will take his pledge more seriously this time (I am referring to the beautiful windows of the demolished church).

    I would like to end by thanking people who believe in the beauty of Sackville. Thank you for your time yesterday. Best wishes.

  2. Louis says:

    The outcome of this process is surely as pre-determined as a North Korean election. It’s all for show. Don’t kid yourselves. If there’s one thing I learnt in the last process, it’s that we live in a sham.

  3. Meredith Fisher says:

    Thank you, New Wark Times for this report. The Council Chamber was certainly full for this public hearing. There is obviously much interest in this application for rezoning in our town center.

    One of the most interesting thing, for me, was to hear the 4 presentations from the people who have recently moved to Sackville. They have chosen to come here to live. They have chosen to leave high density urban areas to come to a clean, lovely, interesting, un-congested, litlle town.

    So we have new people deciding to move here. This is increasing our tax base and that is economic development and that is community development. And, based on them attending the public presentation, they are letting Council know that they are clearly not in favour of this rezoning to accommodate a large building that will decimate the most beautiful green space in our town.

    Another interesting comment was made publicly by a professional geographer. The Sackville Municipal Plan is still following the recommendations of a 10 year old consultants report with regard to increasing the density development of our downtown. This is now very outdated. Green space is now considered a very precious commodity. It is seriously time to revisit the Municipal Plan for a number of reasons.

    If you are reading this, please consider writing an email letter addressed to Mayor and Council and send it to Council needs to hear more valid reasons from reasonable people who really care about our town and what makes it special.

    • Percy Best says:

      Yes Meredith you are so right when you say it is time to revisit the Municipal Plan. In section 5.1.3 of the plan it states that “It is a policy to set targets for housing other than single family dwellings to increased by 5% per year using 2005 as a base year.”

      Well that sort of overly optimistic thinking is currently leading us into major problems as we now have less of a population base than we did 13 years ago. It seems that the reason for the majority of the decrease in our assessment base can be traced to the fact that we have a terrible resale value for older homes, particularly near the downtown.

      It is NOT Fredericton’s fault we have decreased assessed values. As one keeps building more and more apartment buildings, and there is a resulting exodus from the older homes to the apartments, then the older houses become undesirable and their value, as well as their appearance, dramatically declines.

      Not that many years ago everyone around town seemed to say that the cost of a conventional existing home in Sackville was MUCH greater than in Moncton. A little research on SNB.Property Assessments indicates that recent selling prices of older Sackville homes indicates that on average the selling prices are now way below the current provincial assessed values.

      If more apartment buildings are to be constructed then we must FINALLY take economic development seriously in order to increase our population base and welcome young families to our quaint town. If the Town Council doesn’t seem to care then who do we turn to? It is all about priorities!

  4. Azi says:

    I still remember when Gordon Beal applied for a rezoning application in our town to build a senior complex. Mr. Evans, Mrs. Tusz-King (then councillor) and some other councillor’s NO vote blocked Mr. Beal’s development plan for the second time. Mr. Evans told Sackville Tribune that : “he has reconsidered his vote over the past few weeks, based on concerns he and others have about the number, location and appearance of apartments in Sackville.” He said he believes there is a need for further discussion amongst the community on this issue, including a review of the current municipal plan, before he would feel comfortable approving this rezoning request.(Sackville Tribune12 Feb 2014).

    I have to also make it clear that rezoning applications are not about ownership of a land. The rezoning process allows the owner, and the community to consider the potential impacts of a development proposal on the community and the environment before determining whether a change in land use or density should be approved. So, rezoning is about respecting other citizens’ views because the owner of that land wants to do something that was not allowed to be done, in the first place (by law). When one wants to do something against the set by laws, then that person should go through a process and get a permit to change the zoning (therfore it is called rezoning). This means people’s opinion/concerns are set before the owner’s will. The owner needs to address the community’s concern if he wishes to go ahead with the proposed rezoning.

    • Rima Azar says:

      Thank you Azi for this great explanation.

      What a striking contrast between your explanation and what actually happened at the Town’s public hearing: *After NINE citizens had spoken against the proposed three-storey building and FIVE, INCLUDING DEVELOPER John Lafford, had spoken in favour, council gave preliminary approval to a bylaw change that would make the project possible*.

      Although this process is not over yet, it is starting with bad math.

      • Azi says:

        I agree with you Rima. History repeats itself in Sackville too fast/soon.

      • Sharon Hicks says:

        I attended the meeting in question on Tuesday night, and while I did not speak myself, I did keep track of who said what. By my reckoning, of those five which you mentioned had spoken in favour of the rezoning and the resulting proposed development, there was one who actually seemed to be providing opinions both for and against, which I didn’t count for either ‘yea’ or ‘nay’. So I would say there were only three, other than the developer himself, who definitely stated they were clearly in favour of it.

      • Rima Azar says:

        Interesting. Thanks Sharon (Hicks) for sharing these facts (thank you also for the great map in an earlier article). The decision to approve the first reading was more likely pre-determined then.

        As Louis wrote earlier: *We live in a sham*. Sad…but well said. As far as I am concerned, I find this apparently hypocritical process not only disrespectful of people’s time but also insulting to their intelligence.

        K asked: *You wonder what’s the relationship between one developer and the town hall*? Well, I do have a hypothesis about this relationship K… but I will keep it for myself :).

  5. K says:

    It is not surprising to see most of the council voted in favour of this. I expect it from this council. You wonder what’s the relationship between one developer and the town hall?

  6. Charlotte Staples says:

    Surely there is a more appropriate space to build, even if one agrees on the validity of a seniors’ apartment complex. Taxis cost $6. anywhere in town, if footing it is not an option.
    Was the idea of non-luxury garden homes or smaller 3-story apartment/condos raised, in place of another apartment building?
    We already are smacked in the face with the construction of the Purdy-Crawford Centre, on the first turn into the campus/downtown area – we don’t need another large building gloating over us.
    If the town is truly concerned about its seniors, why erect a STEEL Hall of Fame on a curved incline, which is usually slippery, as well as blocking the view of the Waterfowl Park – our second-to-only claim to fame?

  7. Erna Ricciuto says:

    I am terribly concerned about the traffic flow and potential accidents that will occur with this building situated there. The entrances and exits are already at a maximum. We need to know when the last traffic flow survey was done. If the Sackville Municipal Plan is 10 years old, how long ago was the last traffic flow survey done? We have put a call into Town Hall to find this out and haven’t heard back yet. I did ask Lori Bickford (Southeast Regional Service Commission phone 364-4701) and she referred us to the town because she was unaware of the date when the last traffic flow survey was done. I find there is increased traffic downtown now. This new proposed Seniors building does not have retail on the main floor any longer. The new plan was shown the night of the Public Hearing and it is now only 36 residential units. Are we expecting these tenants to support downtown, because other people may be deterred from driving downtown with the extra difficulty with the traffic flow.

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