Sackville councillors clear way for luxury apartments and repeal of heritage bylaw

Former Mayor Bob Berry

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

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.

Council votes

Councillor Andrew Black

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.)

Lafford rezoning

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.

Public opposition

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.

Councillor Allison Butcher

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.”

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7 Responses to Sackville councillors clear way for luxury apartments and repeal of heritage bylaw

  1. With this kind of “government in action” as the meeting is described and with the issues being supposedly dealt with over the last few weeks or whatever…..maybe it’s time to forget government for the good of the proletariat at large and go back to the caves with “every man” (and woman) for themselves as these issues show why you cannot trust elected (or appointed) positions to do the right thing! Good luck to you good folks trying to make and preserve both history and a sense of community in your town……by the looks of this you are certainly going to need “a lotta luck” with this bunch guiding decisions – Gordon Heffler (not a local resident)

  2. Rima Azar says:

    Well said, Mr. Heffler… What a Town Hall indeed.Thank you for the solidarity with Sackville’s citizens.

    This being said, I am shocked to learn about the death threats to our former Mayor, Bob Berry, to his wife, and family. Did the RCMP investigate those threats? What was their conclusion? Why haven’t we heard about these threats before? And is there any risk still for the safety of the Berrys?

    Bravo for talking about your scary ordeal in public Former Mayor Berry (it takes courage to so), although I do not see why this totally unacceptable story should necessarily result in removing the Heritage by-laws…. and if it should indeed, why now? Three years later?

    What is going on in Sackville and in our province?

  3. Bruce Graham says:

    Sackville always looks like such a peaceful place. But threats to the mayor and his family. Hardly the Canadian way, but repealing heritage laws is usually a bad idea.

  4. Azi says:

    A town that could not preserve its heritage and loses a 140 year old heritage building should not have a heritage by law. A by law is there to work and when in practice it does not work there is no point in having that on paper.
    But I am amazed that the previous mayor requests removal of the by law because of his personal reasons and personal experiences. I am also shocked that the (the previous mayor) suggests that as an alternative the heritage by law should apply to all buildings. Heritage by law is about buildings that are of specific character and history and because of that they get the title of heritage … They belong to a different level compared to many other buildings …why should we protect every building?! especially when this town cannot even protect a few.

  5. Geoff Martin says:

    Well, in addition to these comments my questions are, “What is this Council’s vision for the Town? How does eliminating the Heritage By-Law move us toward that vision?” They have also admitted failure because this was their by-law, passed after the Sackville United Church fiasco. As an aware citizen I should know the answer to the first question but I’m not sure they have one and besides some bland motherhood statements in various documents I doubt they really have articulated an agreed vision. What I do know is that if you take quality of life and tourism seriously you need to work on the appearance of the Town and heritage architecture is part of that. You can’t let private developers do exactly what they want or else you end up with the mess that we now see at the corner of Main and Bridge/York. You also can’t rely just on enlightened private citizens or business to preserve heritage architecture. I would also suggest that you can’t claim to value “community” but then repeal the Heritage By-Law. Let’s face it, the chance of a new by-law being passed in the next five years is slim. Heritage architecture is one of those things that brings us together and makes us more than atomized individuals, since building design is there to speak to us if we will look and listen. I can see that private investors out to maximize profits want this repeal but who else will benefit?

    • Rima Azar says:

      Very well said… Thank you Geoff (Dr. Martin).

      We seem to be in a position, that is diametrically opposed to the ten-year-old exciting news about Sackville:

      In the archived press release above, we can read the following (i.e., capitalized words)
      “Thanks to programming that highlights the municipality’s artistic creativity, regional HISTORY, community achievements, and NATURAL CHARM, in 2008 Sackville will offer its citizens and visitors alike a year full of cultural discoveries, particularly through the International Environment Sculpture Conference and a series of short plays celebrating Sackville’s 300 YEARS OF HISTORY.”

      How sad :(.

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