The five candidates running for Sackville Town Council in the December 10th municipal by-election expressed a wide-range of views about permitting more fast-food drive-thru restaurants during an all-candidates forum Wednesday evening at the Tantramar Veterans Memorial Civic Centre.
Former town councillor Shawn Mesheau and candidate Julia Feltham talked about a more business-friendly approach, while the other three candidates stressed community development and environmental concerns.
“I’m going to answer the question outright: Yes,” Mesheau said in response to a question about whether he would support lifting the ban on additional fast-food drive-thrus in the highway commercial zone near the TransCanada.
Mesheau explained that he was on council in 2001 when the town first banned more drive-thrus because of traffic congestion around the ones at highway exit 504.
While he acknowledged the need to deal with long-term environmental concerns about what he called “our carbon footprint,” Mesheau said that businesses near the highway want to expand and offer a service to travellers.
“They’re looking to do that in order that they can stay in business and so that they might be able to employ more folks,” he said.
Candidate Julia Feltham offered what she said might be “a slightly obnoxious nuanced answer” to the drive-thru question, adding that public policy often is that way.
“I don’t want to see more drive-thrus at exit 504, but I would be open to a development on 506, possibly,” Feltham added.
She said private developers invested about a million dollars at exit 504, with the town kicking in a lot of money on “quite a large infrastructure component.”
Feltham added that she hoped exit 506 could be developed without such big costs to the town while mitigating any environmental effects.
“I am concerned about the environmental risk,” she said, “but the idea of turning away business without hearing how they will possibly mitigate the infrastructure costs and everything else, I’d have to hear quite a bit more.”
Candidate Brian Neilson said he worries about the environmental impact of idling cars emitting greenhouse gases at drive-thrus.
“I think if we had our wits about us, we would do best at making exit 506 a destination and to actually have people get out of their cars, walk by the train bridge, walk along the dykes like I did as a student,” Neilson said.
He suggested developing facilities that would encourage people to stop and eat while enjoying cultural and recreational activities in the area.
Candidate Dylan Wooley-Berry also expressed concerns about the environmental effects of idling cars, especially near the children’s day care on Bridge Street.
Wooley-Berry said he disagreed with consultants who suggested the development of a commercial/residential complex at exit 506 complete with a couple of fast-food drive-thrus.
“I think we should be focusing on developing our downtown core,” he said. “There’s existing businesses there that need town council support and I think that’s where we should target when we’re talking about development in Sackville.”
Wooley-Berry added he advocates free public WiFi as one innovative way to develop the downtown.
Candidate Sabine Dietz said that while she also worries about the environmental and health effects of drive-thrus, her overriding concern is the danger of flooding around exit 506.
“If I look at the flood-risk maps and I look at the 506 interchange in the Cattail Ridge area, then you — at this time — cannot develop that area,” she said, adding that a major, one-in-one-hundred year storm, which could happen any time, would cut off the whole area.
“Both Bridge Street and the highway exits [would] have more than a metre of water over them; that is not passable,” Dietz said.
“I would suggest that before even considering any further development — whether it is recreational development or anything — that we do need to update our flood-risk maps and then look as a community [at] what is actually the development that is appropriate for areas that are highly likely to get flooded,” she added.
“So, believe me when I tell you, that ambulance building out there should not be there, and if you look at the flood map, it’s one of the worst places to have that,” Dietz said.
This is the first in a three-part series on the all-candidates forum organized by The New Wark Times. You can hear the entire forum on CFTA, 107.9 FM this Sunday, December 2, at 1 p.m.