Sackville Town Councillors played out a mini-drama last night over a perennial issue: the ban on allowing more drive-thru restaurants near the TransCanada highway.
Council ended up defeating a motion to re-evaluate the ban when the town’s Municipal Plan comes up for review next year.
“This motion is unnecessary, it’s inappropriate and it’s effectively meaningless except perhaps as political theatre,” said Councillor Bill Evans.
“We know who’s all about political theatre and who’s not,” Councillor Shawn Mesheau shot back.
The two were debating Mesheau’s motion (seconded by Councillor Bruce Phinney) to re-evaluate the ban on more coffee drive-thrus as part of the Municipal Plan review process in 2021.
Evans said that when council re-evaluates the Municipal Plan next year, it will consider all its parts including the ban on more drive-thrus that was first adopted in 2001.
He argued that Mesheau’s motion was also misleading.
“It doesn’t commit council to changing the Municipal Plan’s prohibition of drive-thrus, but it gives that impression,” he said.
Mesheau responded that by supporting a review of the ban on drive-thrus, council would be sending a signal that the town is open for business.
“I think it’s important to recognize that this component of the Plan needs to be reviewed, as every component does, but specifically where it…could affect future development and future business in certain areas of our community,” he added.
Councillor Bruce Phinney noted that a lot of people have questioned why council rejected a proposal in 2016 for a Robin’s Donuts restaurant and drive-thru at the Ultramar gas station near highway exit 506.
“Now that we’re moving forward with economic development, I think we need to put this forward now so that we can actually give people some time to think about it,” Phinney said, adding that it would also give council a chance to think about whether it made a mistake in 2016.
“I think we did make a mistake and the thing is, we should turn around and re-evaluate and make sure that we don’t make the same mistake again,” he added.
Councillor Michael Tower said that passing the motion would send a positive message about economic development, while Councillor Allison Butcher argued that the review of the Municipal Plan will be conducted by a new council after the next municipal election.
“We can’t presume to tell them what to do,” she said.
Councillor Andrew Black agreed, adding that opposing the motion would not indicate a lack of support for business.
“I will admit right now that I am still in a position that I don’t support drive-thrus,” he said, suggesting that if he’s re-elected, something might convince him to change his mind when the Municipal Plan comes up for review next year.
“Maybe, just maybe, something might convince me otherwise when the time comes to consider that,” he said. “But this is not that time.”
In the end, the vote on the motion was tied with Councillors Mesheau, Phinney and Tower in favour, while Councillors Evans, Butcher and Black voted against, leaving Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken to cast the deciding vote.
“By my count, it’s three for, three against, is that correct Ms. Beal?” Aiken asked the town clerk.
“I have three and three,” Donna Beal responded.
“In that case, the Chair votes against the motion, so it’s defeated,” Aiken declared bringing the curtain down for now on a long-running drama.
So strange that Councillor Evans stated on September 8, 2020, at the Special Council Meeting, that “I want the record to show that Sackville is open for business.” Now here he is, barely a month later, flip flopping on being open for business.
If Exit 506 is to be attractive to additional retail development, then one must not throw barriers up in front of them. Most highway exit food businesses include the convenience of being able to utilize a drive-thru pick-up as long as there is room for them to do so and Exit 506 provides this. Drive-thrus are an integral part of most exit based restaurants today.
Councillor Evans does not seem to realize that this is not about a drive-thru in the downtown area, but is about attracting an additional business just off the TCH for the convenience of the motoring public and to create many more jobs for Sackvillians as well as the Mount Allison students. This is about alleviating some of the congestion at the ill conceived Exit 504. It is about increasing our commercial tax base to help take the load off the residential rate. The future with electric cars will see ZERO emissions if one has to wait in line for a bit. The disabled need to be given equal opportunities when it comes to accessing food and drink. A parent with children in a car needs to be able to utilize a drive-thru instead of unbuckling the kids to accompany them to stand in line inside instead of proceeding with their vehicle outside. Snowstorms and rain events makes a drive-thru the sensible way to go.
I am afraid that the large cleared lot across from the Ultramar will remain vacant for one very long time unless the Town lightens up on developers. Parsons Investments were already put ‘thru-the-ringer’ just by trying to build their Ambulance building. They stated to me that there was no place in ALL of Nova Scotia that was as difficult and demanding as the Town of Sackville is. This has to change. Sackville must become OPEN FOR BUSINESS especially as it relates to attracting a higher percentage of the approximately 12,000 vehicles that pass by our front doors on average each day.
Enough with all the barriers!!
Let me just a add a couple of things that this article has left out. This is not an issue of supporting or not supporting business in Sackville nor whether you support or don’t support drive-thrus. This is an issue about the wording and intention of the motion. The motion wants council to re-evaluate the restrictions of drive-thrus in the highway commercial zone when the municipal plan is up for review. The reason that this motion is unnecessary is because drive-thrus are already part of the municipal plan and the entirety of that document needs to be reviewed which would include the issue of drive-thrus. So whether this motion got passed or didn’t get passed makes no difference at all because the review will happen regardless. This is what Councilor Evans meant when he said the motion was unnecessary and meaningless. Also, it should be made clear that there is no ask here……it doesn’t say “that council needs to re-evaluate” or “staff re-evaluate” it simply says “that the restriction of drive-thrus in the highway commercial zone be re-evaluated”. Once again, this will be done in a full review of the municipal plan anyway.
Did this need to come down to councilors beating up each other over opinion? Maybe not, but the fact is this motion is meaningless and the debate over whether councilors support or don’t support drive-thrus and business should not have been tied to this discussion and didn’t need to happen.
I find it a bit funny if indeed sackville is now open for business, as evans states, that in the past three years of going over the plan no action was taken to make a new highway commercial zone for the area of exit 506 to set up a level playing field for businesses currently there or ones that may entertain setting up there. This council had no intention of ever changing this and hopefully the next one there are a majority who will act in the fair interest of exit 506 and make changes to at least allow 3 drive thrus in that area to allow those business owners or potential ones a fair kick at the can. Since I know your stance councillor black I will not be voting for you.