Mayor wrong to limit debate on proposed Lafford building, former councillors say

Mayor Black tells Susan Gourley her concerns over affordability and bird safety are not matters council can consider

Three former Sackville councillors, with expertise in environmental issues, municipal planning and local government say Mayor Andrew Black was wrong to suggest to members of the public that some of their concerns were irrelevant as they commented on the proposed six-storey apartment building planned for 131 Main Street.

In addition, former councillors Sabine Dietz, Virgil Hammock and Geoff Martin argue Tantramar councillors should be free to consider a wide range of factors when they vote on whether to amend the zoning bylaw to allow JN Lafford Realty to construct a 71-unit building that is higher than 50 feet on the 1.3 acre site.

Several times during last Tuesday’s public hearing, the mayor interjected to say that environmental concerns, housing affordability issues and the shape and size of the proposed building are not factors council can consider because they’re not included in Sackville’s municipal plan or its zoning bylaw.

Public comments

Sackville resident Susan Gourley was one of the first to speak at the hearing. Black intervened soon after she began.

Gourley: “So, I have two things to ask you. Did Nature Canada…”

Black: “Uh–” [interjecting]

Gourley: “I’m not allowed to ask you anything?”

Black: “Well, you can’t ask council questions, but it is really just to give a statement on the amendments.”

Susan Gourley listens as Mayor Black says her concerns have nothing to do with the zoning bylaw amendments that would clear the way for the Lafford bldg.

“OK, so I’m not aware if we’ve been signed off in Tantramar as a bird-friendly city from Nature Canada,” Gourley responded.  “I’m just wondering. And, I’m not aware if there is any environmental review of this proposal.”

She then urged council to consider how to protect young birds in the Waterfowl Park given the shape and size of the proposed building and its large number of windows. Black interjected again when she suggested the building’s apartments would not be affordable.

“Sorry, Ms. Gourley, the comments are for the two [zoning] amendments,” the mayor said. “The pricing of the building, the rental amounts of the building have nothing to do with the two amendments that are being proposed.”

After Gourley said birds would strike the building’s glass balconies and urged council to consider effects the tall building would have on birds, Black interjected again.

“The general look of the building, the shape of the building, council again has no decision over what the building looks like,” he said. “What the building looks like is in the hands of the developer.”

Flood risks

Black also rejected former Sackville councillor Sabine Dietz’s call for council to vote against the zoning amendments because flooding in that location could endanger peoples’ lives.

Sabine Dietz argued council could vote against the zoning amendments on safety grounds

“As council, you cannot put your head in the sand and say it’s a safe location. It is not,” she warned.

Black argued, however, that there’s nothing in the zoning bylaw or municipal plan to prevent the developer from building in a flood-risk zone.

In a follow-up e-mail to council, Dietz acknowledged that council is hampered by the current bylaw and municipal plan.

“However, that is a very narrow interpretation of your role and power,” she wrote.

“As council, if something is wrong, or incomplete, or puts people at risk, then you can act. In this case, you can indeed vote against the re-zoning of this particular property.”

‘Bully platform’

“The mayor shouldn’t be using his chair as a bully platform,” said Virgil Hammock in an interview with Warktimes. “He should appear neutral.”

Hammock, who served 13 years on Sackville Town Council and seven on the planning commission, added that councillors are elected to make political decisions and should be free to make their own judgments without the mayor declaring in advance what they can and cannot consider — a point also made by Mount Allison Politics Professor Geoff Martin, who served on Sackville Town Council from 1998 to 2004.

Martin referred to Section 48 of the Local Governance Act which states that the mayor is “subject to the direction and control of council.”

“The mayor has no authority to tell members of the public to limit their remarks to certain subjects,” he adds, “and he has no authority to be telling councillors what they can say and  do,” a reference to Mayor Black’s warning as the public hearing began that although councillors could ask questions “a discussion or debate involving members of council is inappropriate.”

Martin also points out that the law requires councillors to act in the best interests of the whole municipality.

“Opinions may differ on what those best interests are, but councillors are entitled to their opinions,” he said.

Response from Mayor Black

In an e-mail to Warktimes, Mayor Black responded:

“I am not telling the public nor council what they can or cannot say. In this case there are two amendments being proposed by the developer through Plan 360….the rezoning of the subdivided piece of land and the changing of the allowable height. As I said in the meeting, the look of the building, the heritage features of the building, the price of the units being proposed, the flood plain issue……..none of these concerns are addressing the amendments to the bylaw specifically. Did this stop people from saying those things anyway?…….I think it did not.

“People got to say what they wanted to say, but I wanted to interject when I could to make sure that people were aware that these specific concerns they had (as listed above), while important to state, are not about the proposed amendments. Some of the other comments that were made…..visual landscape of the area, the possible looming presence of the building, the concerns around firefighting, possible traffic increases, possible impact on water table/geothermal, etc…….directly target the proposed amendments as submitted.

“Regarding council, I was not trying to tell them they couldn’t say anything, in fact a couple of councillors did ask questions, but to make sure they understood the intent of the public hearing. That this part of the process was for members of the public to address council and, if needed, for council members to get clarification on something that was said in an address. This is why I made sure to ask council if they had any questions or comments after each person got up to speak. As I said in my opening about the process, questions being asked of council by the public and council potentially debating/supporting a topic is not appropriate.

“The issues of “affordability”, flood plains and heritage need to be looked at as our new municipality addresess the municipal plan and the zoning bylaws that we operate under. I stated that a few times during the public hearing and I believe it to be true. But under the laws that we currently operate by, those issues are not controllables and I would argue that if council defeated a motion of a zoning amendment on these grounds, there would be a quick referral of this decision to the assessment and planning review board.”

Rebuttal from Geoff Martin

“My experience with Municipal Plan by-laws is that there is often flowery and vague language and the values are open to interpretation. In addition, I disagree that councillors must be bound to an aging municipal plan by-law that they did not pass or have a chance to amend. It is not like the mayor is a judge and the council is a jury that receives his charge and must abide by it. The municipal council is explicitly a political body. That is why they are elected, unlike judges in this country. I fall back on the language in the Act, which gives wide latitude to mayor and councillors to represent citizens as they see fit, so long as they don’t veer into discriminatory or harassing conduct. If a negative decision was overturned by the provincial planning appeals board then so be it. To me that would say a lot about the planning appeals board.”

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16 Responses to Mayor wrong to limit debate on proposed Lafford building, former councillors say

  1. Meredith Fisher says:

    Thank you, New Wark Times, for another interesting perspective on an important issue facing our town: The application proposing to build a 6 story, 71 unit apartment building at 131 Main Street in Sackville, NB.

    May I say, there was some confusion from the beginning at the June 27th Public Hearing part of Tantramar Town Council Committee of the whole meeting. Perhaps it was naive to think that Council was collecting the public’s information, both for and against, the idea of a large building being built in a central, beautiful, environmentally sensitive area that required rezoning and amending of By-law No. 244. Based on what they heard, Council would then be able to weigh the pros and cons to make informed decisions on their agreed consideration of the application.

    Neighbouring landowners received a letter, dated June 6th, from Lori Bickford, Planning Manager, Plan 350, South east Regional Service Commission.
    Included with this letter were two pages, each titled NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING OF OBJECTIONS. Again, perhaps it was naive to think that Council was interested to hear from those with concerns on the subject that they, as Councillors elected by the citizens, needed to give special consideration to.

    So people did arrive at that meeting believing that they would be able to give voice to their concerns. And the concerns were many, well founded and thoughtful. Citizens of all ages spoke up with their concerns. Yes, there were interruptions by Mayor Black which did create confusion. For various reasons, the general feeling was that the proposed building was just not in the right location. 3 men spoke in support of the proposal as it stands. Everyone was thanked by the Mayor.

    Also confusing was that the developer had the last word. We did listen to him tell us that no one would mortgage his $17,000,000 project if it were out in some field somewhere. But, after that was mentioned, is it still possible to mortgage or insure or publicly subsidize a new development of any size within a flood plain next to wetlands? Now that would be confusing.

    Meredith Fisher
    Sackville NB

  2. Sharon Hicks says:

    The Public Hearing was held on Tuesday June 27, for the proposed text amendment to change the maximum building height for R3 (Multi-Unit Residential) zone from 50’ to 65’, as well as for the request to rezone 131 Main St from RHC (Residential Historic Commercial) to R3 zone.

    Now the Council will be asked to vote on 1st reading of both of those requests, at the next Council meeting on Tuesday July 11.

    For the Public Hearing, the focus was restricted to the property at 131 Main Street, and notifications were distributed to the residents living within 100 meters of that property, as is required when any zoning changes are requested.

    That notification was sufficient for the 2nd zoning request – to rezone part of the property from RHC to R3, since only that one property was involved in that request.

    HOWEVER, something very important has been overlooked.

    It was confirmed earlier by Planner Lori Bickford that the proposed text amendment, to change the maximum building height in R3 zone, would affect ALL properties in town which are currently zoned R3.

    THEREFORE, according to our bylaw process, does that not mean that ALL residents who live or own property within 100 meters of ALL R3-zoned properties in town should ALSO have been notified, and should have been able to present their views at the Public Hearing?

    How is Council now expected to vote on a motion which appears not to have followed proper procedure in its preparation? Council would not be following the bylaw process.

    It appears the proper procedure NOW would be to notify those other residents / property owners, and then hold a future public hearing to address the text amendment regarding the maximum height change, for ALL such properties.

    To do anything less is ignoring the rights of those who live next to the rest of the R3-zoned properties.

    Sharon Hicks

  3. Jeska Grue says:

    It did not make sense watching the meeting. Why can Lafford make claims at length re: affordability and the housing crisis in a pitch to pass the proposed amendments yet no one can debate the integrity or merit of those claims. Basically the crux of Lafford’s pitch for the amendments was affordability claims.

  4. S.A. Cunliffe says:

    If you’ve ever found yourself in this town facing homelessness [and our family did in 2011 when we rented a house for a few months after arriving here from Halifax that we were shoved out in winter with pets and children without notice or cause – the police helped us a little with this highly aggressive landlord who shall remain nameless] then you cannot appreciate the importance of more buildings going up as soon as possible… and if you are wealthy and expect your wealth to mean you can block other people from simply having a roof over their head [rented] then I think you’ve entirely missed the point of ‘social justice’ and should hang your head in shame. NIMBY doesn’t even begin to cover the scenario rolling out here. Let Lafford develop his acreage in the middle of town because he explained beautifully how what he does actually create more homes for purchase for those seeking to get shelter for their families — the more he builds the more pressure is taken off the housing shortage.. it’s not rocket science… more homes to go onto the market when only six or seven new houses are being built a year here shows that he has the formula for compensating for that shortage. If you are fortunate enough to own a house in this town consider yourself very lucky and shut up and sit down…you have no idea how rough it is for good people seeking housing. Birds are adaptable creatures – do not insult everyone’s intelligence with this Nature Conservancy — isn’t this the same woman complaining that cats were killing birds. You wonder why people are staying away from this town that have any common sense?

    • Jon says:

      Bullying statements, like that fellow citizens should “shut up and sit down”, are not compatible with either the democratic forum that public hearings are meant to be, nor with the spirit of this community.

      No one, as far as I know, opposes more housing in Sackville. What they are trying to do is have their voices heard, as is their right, and not be panicked and bullied into changing zoning for a developer who is acting in his own interest, not necessarily in the public interest.

      By all means, present arguments in favour of this project if that’s what you want, but telling people to shut up because they want to discuss something at a public forum rather than meekly obey you is not the way to reach agreements in a community. Nor is shaming them for home ownership.

      • S.A. Cunliffe says:

        I think the onus was on the complainers – didn’t see Sharon and Percy say peep during this town hall presentation with Lafford–why??? They must all THINK they have great reasons to interfere with growth here and but they don’t… they’re meddling with a productive man who actually contributes positive benefits [housing] to the town – which is in need – will “democracy” be needed if I need to add a concrete skatepark project to the landscape when I am mayor in the future? So please by all means provide us all with very good reasons to block Lafford.. and by the way the “bullying statement” indicates a fragile mindset.. if left to the complainers NOTHING would be accomplished in this town by the looks of how long it is taking to get a concrete skatepark built here [over 10 years and counting] after standing in the town hall chambers to request one in the summer of 2013 I would say that the real problem is most people are oblivious about how to create positive additions that benefit humans and they shout down anyone, like me, who sees how new projects are really adding value here.. I rest my case.. again. #Tantramarshire #TantramarSkateParkProject

    • Elaine MacDonald says:

      As someone who has rented in Sackville, and now has a home, I DO fully understand how hard it is to find residence here in town.

      That does NOT delegitimize the concern I have for the building being proposed and all the factors with it. Nor does it mean I should “Sit down and shut up” about my feelings on the subject.

      As pointed out, people generally agree that yes, we do need more housing in Sackville. It’s WHAT and WHERE that is the current issue and we have as much right to be against it, as you do for support of it. Your absolute rudeness was NOT warranted here.

    • Les Hicks says:

      As usual, Sally, you are missing the point completely. Municipalities have been dealing for years with the pressure from property developers to allow new housing/business developments in flood prone areas of the communities. Look back to the problems with flooding of both established and new residential developments in flood prone areas in places like Edmonton and Calgary. Guess who picks up the tab for flood damage repairs to these developments that should never have been allowed in these areas in the first place – the provincial taxpayers.

      Mayor Black is either ignorant of the New Brunswick provincial guidelines re developments in flood prone areas, or he is ignoring the duty that municipal politicians have to prevent new developments in flood prone areas that could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars – see the New Brunswick Dept of Environment and Local Government ‘Flooding and land development’ position statement :

      Here are some excerpts :

      “Land development can affect the risk of flooding in a number of ways. First, development tends to replace soil and vegetation with impervious surfaces such as roof tops and asphalt. This means that rainfall that used to soak into the ground will flow directly into rivers and streams, increasing the amount of flow. Second, buildings, infilling with earth and other structures placed within flood plains can obstruct the passage of floodwaters. Finally the potential for flood damage is greatly increased when, through lack of awareness or disregard for the potential danger, unsuitable development takes place in areas that are already subject to flooding.”
      “The best way to reduce risks to human safety and property damage from flooding is to identify locations that are prone to flooding (flood hazard areas) and avoid them when planning new buildings, roads and other vulnerable structures. Good planning practice indicates that land in areas that regularly flood should be limited to uses that are not greatly affected by flooding. These include parks, golf courses, recreation areas and parking lots, or uses such as agricultural or forestry or conservation.”
      “The power to regulate the use of flood plain lands within municipal boundaries rests with the local municipal council under the New Brunswick Community Planning Act. Measures such as zoning by-laws, and building permits can be used to control and direct land use within the flood hazard areas.”

      This official provincial government position appears to directly contradict the claims that Mayor Black made during the public consultation meeting. He and the rest of our town council should have heeded the advice of former councillor Dietz who obviously has more insight into the potential long term problems of allowing new developments in these areas. She also rightly pointed out that the current flood risk maps are already out of date, and with the unpredictabililty of human induced climate change (I know, like the flat earthers, you don’t believe in science) new flood risk maps could also soon be out of date depending on the rate and severity of change coming our way.
      So, to try to make it clear to you, at the risk of being told to ‘sit down and shut up’, the majority of concerns that I have heard re this development have not been with the development itself but rather with the potential problems that might arise in years to come due to the location of this development.

      Regarding Sharon and Percy, there was no need for them to speak at the public consultation since they had already presented town council and staff with their well researched study of the potential problems that could arise from a development of this type in this location. They also pointed out some inconsistencies with the tax breaks provided to developers by the Town of Tantramar compared to those provided by neighbouring communities (in other words, our town apparently gives a much more generous tax break to developers than other communities). Was this concern addressed by town council during the public consultation? I didn’t note it when I watched the meeting.

      Finally, regarding your ongoing dream of a new concrete skatepark, when you requested that the town build one back in 2013, did you provide any statistics on how many residents would actually make use of an expensive building project like that? Did you provide any statistics on the number of residents making use of the existing skate park? Did you and your fellow residents requesting this expensive new park attempt to raise funds to help pay for the construction, as the residents who requested a pedestrian overpass over the TCH did (a million dollars if I remember correctly), or did you just expect the municipal taxpayers to pay for your pet project? When this was being discussed again a couple years ago, I asked the recreation manager Matt Pryde if the town had any idea of how many residents would actually make use of a new skate park, he stated that it is hard to determine due to different numbers of people using the existing skate park at different times. If you could provide town staff with some reliable stats on how many people would actually use a new skate park it would make it easier for town staff, town council, and Tantramar residents to make an informed decision about the wisdom of spending so much money on a project that might not get much use.

      • S.A. Cunliffe says:

        “We are setting the foundation for the generations to come. How exciting is that!” declared mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau. “Our population will be 9,100 and our tax base $1 billion.” – Shawn Mesheau

        Why would fundraising be required for a great project that would benefit countless healthy and energetic youth for many many years to come here.. it would be a regional project for Tantramar and it would put us on the map for the destination skateboarders who travel worldwide checking out parks.. they often put up videos to promote their adventures.. you do remember what fun is – don’t you? Many people visit towns just to try out their skateparks… which is tourism.. so asking Matt Pryde to quantify this would be impossible… “if you build it they would come”… please just go on Youtube sometime and find the evidence… as for the flat earther comment it reminds me of your Trump comments about me..suggesting I should move to America… really you need to find a better way to communicate and stay on topic.. next you’ll be calling me a Qanon tinfoil hat too.. laughable.

        Les, you honestly are a very tiresome fellow.

    • Les Hicks says:

      Tiresome (definition) : causing one to feel bored or annoyed. Example : droning on and on for 10 years ad infinitum about a new skatepark that no-one else seems to express any interest in.

  5. Tristan says:

    A new slogan for Tantramar: Wealthy homeowners welcomed! Renters and low income pound sand!

    What a sad town. Happy I left.

    • Jeska Grue says:

      Lafford at the meeting said that he expects 82-83% (like his last building) of tenants in this new build to be homeowners downsizing.

    • Kirk says:


      You are starting to sound like like a broken record with your comments and apparent disdain towards home owners in Sackville. I’m sorry if you had trouble securing rental housing in Sackville when you tried. I’m glad for you that you are happy to have moved away from Sackville.

      I doubt you would more than a handful of Tantramar residents who are against seeing more rental housing units being built to help meet the current demand. The main issue with this proposed development for many people including the neighbouring residents and property owners who will be most affected by it is the building’s proposed height.

      The developer is asking for a rezoning of the property from Residential Historic Commercial to Urban Residential 3 which changes the height allowance from 30 feet to 50 feet. The developer is also asking for an amendment to the height allowance for Urban Residential 3 zoned property from 50 feet to 65 feet (this will apply to all Urban Residential 3 zoned land within the municipality).

      Not a new slogan for Tantramar but a possible media headline for you: “Developer seeks changes to By-Law to allow a 55% increase in building’s height from current zoning requirements, causing concern with some neighbours and Tantramar residents.”

      Kirk (a renter)

      • Kirk says:

        Just noticed a missing word and mathematical error in my comment above. It should have read “you would find more than a handful” and I believe a height limit change from 30 feet to 65 feet would be a little over a 115% increase, not 55%.

  6. Virgil Hammock says:

    There is such a thing as spot zoning. The height requirement change can be limited to this building alone and not to all R3 properties. It’s been done in the past. Certainly during my time on council and the planning commission.

    • Kirk says:

      Hi Virgil,

      The By-law appears to have changed, here’s info from a recent CHMA-FM article by Erica Butler:

      “Bickford says that site-specific development agreements, to allow for changes applying only to one property, are not currently allowed under Sackville’s municipal bylaw, but council could change that in future if it so decided.”


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