Sackville Town Council has approved a controversial property rezoning to permit construction of a downtown luxury apartment building while taking the first step toward repealing the town’s heritage bylaw.
Those actions came during an often-emotional, three-hour meeting Monday night when the mayor and councillors heard from members of the public and former Mayor Bob Berry who said he had received death threats in connection with the fight over demolition of the Sackville United Church in 2015.
“As mayor of this town,” Berry said, “I’ve been threatened. I had threats to burn my property down. I had threats to go to court. I had threats that I could probably serve in prison or jail over this heritage bylaw,” he added. “If you guys ever got threatened and received letters that you were going to have your house burnt, your family and my wife burnt and threatened my life, then you would be emotional too.”
Berry said the bylaw has been “a pain in the butt in this town for a long time” as he urged councillors to either scrap it or apply the bylaw to every property in town. He added that most people can’t afford to bring properties up to heritage standards.
“The average person in this town is having a hard time just keeping a house going,” he said. To listen to Berry’s unedited comments, click on the link below:
Berry’s comments came during an hour-long public hearing on the proposal to repeal the bylaw that was first passed in 2010 as a measure to preserve the look of heritage properties in two designated conservation areas in downtown Sackville.
Pleas pro and con
Sharon Hicks echoed the concerns of several other speakers who said repealing the heritage bylaw without anything to replace it would leave owners of historic properties free to do as they like.
“If everything is just dumped for now, thinking you might replace it with something later,” she said, “in the meantime, there is no heritage protection whatsoever for anything in town.”
Hicks also expressed concern about how quickly the proposal to repeal the bylaw came forward.
“We’ve been told that it was studied for five or six months, but there was nothing made public until after the decision had been made to scrap it,” she said.
Bruce Robertson, warden of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Sackville, said he also oversees the Anglican Rectory at the corner of Rectory Lane and Main Street. He added that considerable sums have been spent on both buildings while complying with the requirements of the heritage bylaw.
“I believe I have to indicate to you for the record that this sort of legislation puts already precarious organizations like ours at even greater disadvantage financially and has added considerably to the work of the volunteers who manage these structures,” Robertson said.
He explained that replacing the garage at the Rectory cost an additional $20,000 because of the requirement to create a hayloft “presumably to make the building conform to the style when horses, not cars, moved clergy through the town.”
Robertson said that over a year ago when St. Paul’s spent $80,000 to re-roof its iconic steeple, it could not qualify for a full $10,000 heritage grant because most of the work was considered routine maintenance.
After the public hearing, councillors gave preliminary approval to a measure, moved by Andrew Black and seconded by Joyce O’Neil, that would repeal the heritage bylaw.
However, only Councillor Bruce Phinney said he would definitely vote for repeal when the matter comes up for final votes at a later meeting. Councillor Joyce O’Neil seemed to be leaning that way too while Councillors Black, Butcher and Mitton said they would weigh comments made during the public hearing before making a decision. (Councillors Bill Evans and Michael Tower were absent from the meeting, while Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, who owns a heritage property, did not participate in the discussion or voting.)
Earlier in the meeting, council approved granting JN Lafford Realty Inc. the rezoning it sought for part of the former United Church property. The rezoning clears the way for construction of a multiple-unit luxury apartment building for tenants over 55 with underground parking.
Five councillors voted for the rezoning while Councillor Phinney voted against, arguing as he had at a previous meeting, that another building on the site would add to traffic congestion creating unsafe conditions for drivers and pedestrians.
During the question period at the beginning of the meeting, Erna Duchemin had asked councillors to consider a petition she had delivered to them with 159 signatures expressing concern about the loss of trees and green space while suggesting the new building would not attract new business into the downtown area because there are no plans for retail stores on its ground floor.
Others also urged council to deny the rezoning to preserve the look of the downtown.
However, except for Councillor Phinney, all councillors present supported the rezoning partly on the grounds that without it, the Laffords would still be free to remove the trees and construct an apartment building with above-ground parking.
“The reality is that the stands of trees on the site are going to come down one way or another and council does not have the jurisdiction with our laws to stop anyone who owns a piece of property from doing so,” said Councillor Black.
“The birches, losing them will be a loss,” said Councillor Butcher. “I love them too, but as our laws sit now, we can’t dictate to private landowners whether or not they can cut down a tree or a grove of trees. That’s not in our power,” she added.
While Councillor Mitton agreed that the Laffords could remove the trees without the rezoning, she said the project has brought to light gaps in existing policies including the lack of bylaws to preserve trees and green space.
“We are missing something because we don’t have these bylaws,” she said. “We need to fix this for the benefit of the whole town.”