When Sackville Town Council meets again next week, it’s expected to repeal the heritage grant policy it adopted in 2017.
The policy provided renovation grants up to a maximum of $5,000 to the owners of heritage buildings in two downtown conservation areas that council eliminated more than two years ago when it repealed its heritage bylaw and dissolved the Heritage Board.
Repeal of the bylaw — passed in 2010 — gave property owners in the designated conservation areas free rein to demolish or alter the look of downtown buildings without having to apply for a permit.
It also eased the way for JN Lafford Realty Inc. to build upscale seniors’ apartments with underground parking.
At last night’s council meeting, CAO Jamie Burke acknowledged that there is no program in place to encourage the conservation of downtown heritage buildings even though council allocated $12,500 for one in this year’s budget.
“As you know, we’ve been focused on other things since March,” Burke said, adding that he expected the money would be carried forward in next year’s budget if council approves.
When, as is likely, council repeals the heritage grant policy next week, it will be the final chapter in a saga that began in August 2014 when JN Lafford Realty applied for a permit to demolish the Sackville United Church that stood for 140-years in the heart of downtown.
The application led to months of controversy as a citizen’s group continued its efforts to save the church while volunteer members of the Heritage Board clashed with the mayor, town councillors and town staff as the Board sought ways to preserve church artifacts including its massive Casavant pipe organ dating from 1928 and its four, four-metre stained-glass “rose” windows installed when the church was expanded in 1898.
(The organ ended up in Chicago while three of the big windows fell with the church in September 2015.)
The controversy spilled over into the courts as lawyer Louis Béliveau challenged his dismissal from the Heritage Board in a case the town finally settled to avoid a potential fight in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Stark divisions were also apparent during a public hearing in 2018 over the town’s proposal to repeal its heritage bylaw.
Former Mayor Bob Berry described the bylaw as “a pain in the butt” and urged town council to scrap it, adding that he had received death threats over demolition of the United Church.
“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.
Sackville resident Sharon Hicks spoke for the other side when she said scrapping the bylaw would leave property owners free to do as they liked.
“If everything is just dumped for now, thinking you might replace it with something later,” Hicks said, “[then] in the meantime, there is no heritage protection whatsoever for anything in town.”
Read Warktimes coverage of the once top-secret Lordon Report that chronicles what happened behind closed doors as the Heritage Board, the mayor, town councillors and municipal staff wrangled over demolition of the Sackville United Church.