Last shoe set to drop in Sackville’s bitter heritage saga

Sackville CAO Jamie Burke

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owners of heritage buildings in two downtown conservation areas that council eliminated more than two years ago when it repealed its heritage bylaw and dissolved the Heritage Board.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.

Sackville’s now-demolished United Church

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

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.

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6 Responses to Last shoe set to drop in Sackville’s bitter heritage saga

  1. Christian Corbet says:

    As my friend the retired Chief Justice of Canada the Rt. Hon Beverley
    McLachlin, PC told me when I spoke to her about this issue when she lasted visited me here at my home: “If a By-Law doesn’t work it remains in place until it is rewritten.” The majority of Town Council members, both immediately past and present, fail to understand what their role is as a council member or citizen of the town when they disregard their town’s past. This includes Mr. Jamie Burke.

  2. Geoff Martin says:

    My question for the Sackville Council is, what are you going to do to protect the Town’s heritage? For those of you concerned only about tax-base increases and commercial values, heritage and architecture does have value. For a long time I have thought, Sackville could rival St. Andrews-by-the-sea or Lunenburg. Boy, do those places boom in the summer. Alas, there has never been a majority who supported that vision, and certainly not a majority in the council chambers. The only remaining thing I can think of is that you can increase the grant to the Tantramar Heritage Trust, which runs two museum sites and does lots of additional good work in preservation of the best of our past.

    • Christian Corbet says:

      Hear! Hear!

    • Shawn Mesheau says:

      Geoff,

      The answer is not giving more money to the Tantramar Heritage Trust. I believe this organization does well by the municipality and our residents. I am a member and I have also begun providing an annual donation.

      I do recall in years past as the municipality struggled with finding a balance in preserving our heritage area and not placing a additional burden on property and business owners it approached the Heritage Trust to assist in administering the former heritage by-law.
      I do recall that the municipality was given a no thank you by the trust as it did not fit their mandate as an organization.

      The issue at hand here is defining what role such a bylaw would play. Are we looking to maintain a historically looking downtown or are we looking to ensure that renovations or construction are done with the materials that these buildings were originally built with.

      From speaking with property owners they felt imposed upon when doing something as simple as replacing an outside staircase on their building. One property owner, for the safety of their tenants replaced an outside staircase and directed it to the back of their property as opposed to where it originally was into the sidewalk. They were taken to task on that and told they had to correct it because it was not how it originally was.
      Another property owner had to use high maintenance wood framed windows as opposed to vinyl, even though the vinyl could have been done to mimic the appropriate look of the structure.

      We currently have a residential historic commercial zone within the municipal plan which provides guidance around usage and design with existing and new buildings. I would think instead of creating a new heritage bylaw that other areas be added to this zone to help provide guidance and development. Then as a municipality we could continue with renovation grants to support maintaining a historical look.

      Thanks
      Shawn

  3. Sharon Hicks says:

    Looking back to the meeting early in 2018 when the Heritage Bylaw was repealed AND the Heritage Board dissolved, the motion which Council voted on was prepared under the direction of Mr Jamie Burke, who was then the Manager of Corporate Projects.

    At that time, Mr Burke stated there would be ‘something else’ developed ‘soon’ to replace the Heritage Board. That was two and a half years ago, and there is nothing yet.

    Since that meeting, I have asked Mr Burke specifically, at two separate Council meetings, when we could expect to see such a ‘replacement’, the last time being about a year ago.

    On both occasions, Mr Burke replied with words to the effect that ‘we’re working on something’, and implied that it would be ‘announced soon’.

    And yet last night at the Council meeting, when we learned of the plan to do away with the last vestige of any reference to Heritage protection for Sackville, Mr Burke made it clear, in his reply to Bruce Wark’s specific question, that nothing has been done about forming any sort of ‘heritage replacement’.

    His rationale last night was that ‘we’ve had other things to worry about since March’, which means the past six to seven months. However, he has repeatedly told us over the past two and a half YEARS that such a replacement would be forthcoming.

    Now that Mr Burke has attained the position of CAO, I truly hope, for the sake of the future of our town, that this is not the type of irresponsible behaviour we can expect from him going forward.

  4. Azi says:

    I did not want to write a comment about this topic, despite the fact that I am a past member of the Sackville Heritage Board and I have a degree and years of experience in architecture. But Mr. Mesheau’s comments forced me to break my silence.
    Unfortunately, his comments about vinyl windows versus wood windows, and use of grants (last paragraph) speak loudly about his lack of knowledge regarding preservation and restoration of heritage buildings. You should not provide grants in a wrong process where that money will be used for losing the building’s character defining elements,….heritage architecture is more than paint colour and look (though those are part of it, there is more to it).
    Until those who are interested in preserving Sackviile’s heritage architecture educate the rest, Sackville will continue to lose its charm, and heritage architecture.
    In my view, that kind of community should not have a heritage by-law to make it clear for the rest of the world that the majority of its residents do not care about protecting their heritage architecture. That the majority of people in Sackville think that receiving free advice and grants (from the Heritage Board) in order to protect their heritage building(s) is not good and it means that they are losing their freedom.
    So, at least let’s be honest by not having any heritage by-law in Sackville.

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