Sackville Councillor Megan Mitton caught many observers by surprise last week when she announced that the town plans to repeal the heritage bylaw it first passed in 2010.
Scrapping the bylaw would mean dissolving the Heritage Board and eliminating two designated conservation areas in parts of downtown. It means that property owners in those areas on Bridge Street, Main Street and York Street would no longer have to apply for a heritage permit if they want to alter the appearance of their properties or demolish a building.
Mitton read a report signed by town manager Jamie Burke. It said the decision came after a comprehensive five month review during which council concluded the bylaw wasn’t working.
“The point has been raised that the bylaw is achieving very little in terms of heritage conservation and preservation,” Mitton said, “the bylaw focuses more on the appearance of the streetscape as opposed to traditional heritage regulation.”
She said that over the last year, there have been no heritage permits issued and only one $5,000 heritage grant was awarded in the last two years.
Mitton also said it has been difficult recruiting volunteers to serve on the Heritage Board, an indirect reference to the turmoil that began after JN Lafford Realty Inc. applied for a permit to demolish the Sackville United Church in August 2014.
Several members of the Heritage Board resigned in the following months citing town interference in its decisions while council later fired Louis Béliveau, another member who challenged his dismissal in costly court fights that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada before a settlement was finally reached.
Mitton’s report vaguely suggested the town focus instead on assisting the redevelopment, appearance and maintenance of heritage properties while continuing to support the Tantramar Heritage Trust.
Council passed a resolution setting June 11th as the date for a public hearing on the matter.
Warktimes reached out to several prominent townsfolk, some of whom, such as former Councillor Merrill Fullerton were involved in crafting, passing and implementing the bylaw in 2010. Their general reaction could be summed up as one of concern and even dismay.
Fullerton wondered if scrapping the bylaw means a return to the “wild, wild west” of development with no heritage guidelines.
“The bylaw wasn’t perfect,” he said, “but it was a good starting point.”
He added that the Heritage Board provided useful guidelines for property owners and that the original intent was to demonstrate the bylaw’s worth in preserving the town’s character and then later, apply it to the historic buildings at Mount Allison.
“The bylaw wasn’t working because they didn’t make it work,” former councillor Virgil Hammock said bluntly during an interview.
Another prominent citizen said, “I’m very sorry to see it (the bylaw) go. My hope would be that they would introduce a new bylaw, one with more teeth in it.”
Others also said the bylaw, which was amended in 2016, was weak and even meaningless.
For his part, Mayor Higham gave this elliptical answer when asked why council wants to scrap the heritage bylaw and all that goes with it:
“I think that there’s been frustration with how it’s been operationalized for quite some time,” Higham said. “And when we started to look at the review in the last five, six months, we were finding out that there had actually been no permits issued at all and that, in essence, when we really drilled into it, the intent of the original bylaw was simply one of an appearance as opposed to a true heritage bylaw that would dive into more than just a streetscape appearance. So, we were frustrated over the history of how it had been done, but also understanding that it was actually achieving its original objective, which was a simply very shallow heritage interpretation. So, it didn’t seem to us that this was doing much good, quite frankly and we looked at what some of the other options would be at this point and suggest that the town’s better off if we were to take an opportunity, actually we heard today one of the speakers in the presentations said that we don’t invest in heritage. They’re right, we didn’t give out very many grants, so we’re now thinking that maybe that’s a more appropriate way for the town to support the type of heritage that we’ve been talking about at this point.”
No wonder, the Town has trouble finding volunteers for the Heritage Board. Who would want to serve there after the mess of the past two years? After the non-respect to all the devoted Board members, including Louis Béliveau?
This being said, I am not too sure what to think of this latest development: At least no more hypocrisy? Perhaps that’s the only good thing about this story? This being said, I agree with all the comments of the courageous people interviewed: For instance, I agree with Dr. Hammock. Yes, *they didn’t make it work*. I will add: Not only that: They issued a false permit. This is what motivated Louis Béliveau to denounce their acts…If they tried to make him shut up and fire him, it is because they did not want to hear the citizens’ voices. The court costs were vastly out of range. This makes me wonder what is going on in our town and province?
The Mayor has strongly stated, at a previous Council meeting which I attended, that we have to abide by a By-law … it is ‘the law’ and we cannot break the law. That statement, given the current plans to scrap one of their own laws, now seems very contradictory.
If the Bylaw in question was not working, as has been suggested in the report presented at the meeting, it would seem more fitting to amend it, rather than simply remove it from the books. In the five months they spent studying it, surely some ideas could have come forward as to how to improve it. As Merrill Fullereton stated, it was at least a ‘good starting point’.
Removing this Bylaw first, and then trying to figure out what to do next, which appears to be the intent expressed in the report given to Council, seems like a backward approach. It leaves our town wide-open to anything a developer wants to do, as long as it meets basic building codes. There would be no way to monitor whether a new building, or a change to an existing building, would add to or detract from the overall historical ambiance of the town.
One questions the seemingly hurried approach to eliminate this By-law, given previous statements about how long it takes to achieve any changes in Town policy. For example, we have been told that it takes four months to achieve a simple amendment to a By-law.
Also, has any Town Bylaw, which covers current and future activity, ever been simply eliminated, without an amendment or replacement already established? If this is a “first”, would it set a dangerous precedent, the repercussions of which could be felt for years to come?
I must say, I’m rather pleased to see this, and feel that I’ve achieved something, after all.
The current/former situation is that Sad Sack-ville had a Heritage Bylaw, but Council and their designees forced their way around it by strong-arming Board members, plotting to change the apparent terms of a heritage permit and ignoring egregious violations of same. It’s not the law that was bad…It’s almost impossible to have a completely bad Heritage Bylaw in New Brunswick, as the very existence of one triggers many useful provisions of the Act.
This Town, after wasting an estimated $200K of public money fighting with me over my speaking out about the above issues, has finally decided to solve the problem the *correct* way, by removing the offending Bylaw, instead of by their usual hypocritical methods of counteracting it in less visible ways, as above. If they had done this years ago, the money could have stayed in taxpayers’ pockets.
This is progress in the fight against hypocrisy and double-speak.Clearly, the emperor has no clothes. Remains the question of whether the denizens are blind.
Louis, I love this brilliant Danish (naked) emperor’s tale. Too bad innocent children who know how to shout: “But the emperor has no clothes on” are under voting age at the next municipal elections :).
Please allow me to add the following: I have enjoyed this article with its reported interviews as well as the posted comments. Connecting the dots between the New Wark Times’ great articles and the readers’ comments helps us in being lucid citizens (whether we see or remember having seen a naked emperor or not). Thank you Mr. Wark!
I too love this old story about the Emperor’s new clothes .. Like that honest child in the old tale, there are some of us around town who actually DO see the nakedness of what goes on, and DO speak up about it, but our voices unfortunately often fall on deaf ears, or else we are chastized for daring to speak the truth. Thanks to Bruce Wark, we have a real forum to voice our concerns and ideas, and for that we are very grateful.
So the Mayor thinks that the future of Historical Sackville now lies in giving out more taxpayer money to businesses that want to do ‘historical’ things. Wow, I believe that just a few short months ago the Town was begging Fredericton for more money because we supposedly had approximately a $60,000 shortfall — and when the powers that be said no, then we got a boost in our Town tax rate instead.
But now, this week, like magic, there appears to be $200,000 from the Quarry project with no plan on where or how to spend it. Has anyone ever seen a Quarry Project Plan? Does one exist? Maybe that funding will be diverted to a Bridge Street Historical fix up. I would like to see it invested in a real major Economic Development feasibility study that truly digs deep into what businesses we can attract to our town and how to go about enticing them to set up ‘shop’ here. If they worry about the future then the past will take care of itself.
I cannot agree more with Louis: This is progress in the fight against hypocrisy and double-speak.
I am pleased to see this bylaw removed as wrong and as bad the process of removing that is. This is our councillor’s and mayor’s vision about Sackville. Let it be exposed and obvious to public.
A 140 years old heritage building, was demolished in the middle of an old town in Canada. How old is Canada? This is obviously what should come next.
The town should have loudly announced it to the world that it is incapable of preserving heritage of Canada practically and theoretically.
It’s hard to tell if Mitton agrees with what she’s reading. Being as she doesn’t otherwise comment, one presumes that she does. Leading to the unusual spectacle of an anti-Heritage “Green” party.
As for the mayor, exactly WHAT is he saying? It feels like reading a report from the United Nations – just words and more words. Then again, isn’t he a native affairs consultant of some sort? All words and no substance seems to be his stock-in-trade, so it’s not entirely surprising that this is what he sounds like!
You always make me smile Marika. Clearly you are not politically correct (I like that :)).
Seriously, I read our Mayor’s interview twice before reading your comment. I have to admit that you are right: It is totally unclear, to say the least.
However, clearly, the Town Hall website should be updated as the Mayor’s Welcome message (a lovely one, I admit) still reads: *We are a warm-hearted group with a keen interest in our heritage, the arts, and nature* (https://sackville.com/town-hall/). Mmm, the word heritage sounds like a typo here :). Seriously, our charming Sackville is anything BUT interested in heritage.