Sackville town councillors voted Monday night to repeal the town’s heritage bylaw and dissolve the Heritage Board leaving property owners free to demolish or alter the look of downtown buildings in previously designated heritage conservation areas without having to apply for a permit.
“This is an issue that has been, well, I’ve agonized over it for a long time,” said Councillor Bill Evans in a nine-minute statement explaining why he would be voting in favour of scrapping the bylaw.
Evans added that the town adopted the heritage conservation bylaw in 2010 without a clear idea of what it intended to preserve or how far it should go in interfering with the rights of property owners. He said that over the years, two groups emerged with strong opinions — one urging that the bylaw be strengthened and the other arguing that it places an unfair burden on certain property owners.
“It became a hugely contentious issue on which there is little agreement except for one aspect — almost everyone I’ve heard from agrees that what we currently have is not working,” Evans said.
He also referred to the bitter and costly fight over demolition of the former Sackville United Church that he said exposed weaknesses in the bylaw itself as well as the town’s unfamiliarity with the functioning of an independent Heritage Board.
“If the bylaw is repealed, I expect that the streetscape of Sackville will continue to evolve as it has for 150 years and, while not everyone will like everything, Sackville will continue to be the vibrant, attractive town that we call home,” Evans concluded.
To read the full text of Evans’s statement, click here.
Mitton voices concerns
Although she said she would be voting for repeal, Councillor Megan Mitton expressed concern that there would be nothing to replace the bylaw.
“I do wish we could have found a way to change it and address many of the concerns raised,” she added. (Last month, council held an often-emotional, hour-long public hearing with many participants expressing strong views for and against repealing the bylaw.)
Mitton said she understands that town staff will work on drafting new criteria for grants that would help property owners repair and restore their heritage buildings.
To read the text of Mitton’s statement, click here.
Tower weighs in
Michael Tower was the only other councillor to speak before the vote to repeal the bylaw. He suggested that the Heritage Board had imposed unfair, ridiculous and costly conditions on owners seeking to improve their properties leading to a groundswell of opposition against it.
“I was against the whole thing back when I heard from David Jones and they made him put a garage on the side of his house and not facing the front,” Tower recalled.
“So, when I inquired about why they’d be so ridiculous — he built a beautiful house — why that? ‘Well, it’s the only house that we have a garage on the front facing the road. They didn’t do that way back when so why would we allow it now?'” Tower said, adding that complying with the garage requirements cost Jones “a heck of a lot of money.”
To read the text of Tower’s statement, click here.
The vote to repeal the bylaw was seven in favour with none against. Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, who is co-owner of the heritage building that houses Tidewater Books, left the council chamber and did not vote or participate in the discussions about repealing the bylaw.