Tantramar Mayor Andrew Black seemed uncertain about how to proceed Tuesday when no one showed up for a public hearing on the once highly contentious issue of allowing more drive-thru restaurants near Sackville’s two highway exits.
Town Planner Lori Bickford gave a seven minute presentation outlining design standards to alleviate any increased traffic congestion more drive-thrus might bring.
Then Black noted that no members of the public had shown up to speak for or against the proposal to lift the ban on more drive-thrus that has been in effect for 22 years.
“I guess, I guess that’s it. I think that concludes the public hearing,” he said as he looked out at about 50 empty chairs in the audience section of the council chamber.
However, Black then asked Lori Bickford to explain how she came up with design standards that would require at least 11 spaces for vehicles heading into a new drive-thru and two for ones heading out of it.
The new standards would require a traffic study, paid for by the developer, if fewer queuing spaces were provided or if the expected number of drive-thru trips would be more than 40 vehicles-per-hour during peak periods.
Bickford explained that she had consulted town staff including the CAO and town engineer and had also looked at drive-thru rules in other municipalities.
The new standards would also require a general traffic study for any new fast food restaurants or coffee shops, retail stores or gas stations/convenience marts that would generate what Bickford described in her background paper as “more than 100 additional peak hour trips” near the highway exits.
After Bickford’s answer, Black announced “that concludes the public hearing,” before noticing that Councillor Michael Tower had something to say.
“Just for clarity, we do have two that we classify as public when it comes to questions,” Tower said referring to the Warktimes and CHMA reporters in the room.
He wondered if the reporters might be permitted to ask clarifying questions and after Black agreed, I asked about the reference to Sackville’s “sustainability plan” in Bickford’s background paper:
“Does that make it OK or more OK to have idling in a drive-thru because the town has taken steps to offset it?” I asked.
Mayor Black replied that while the town does have the power to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, it has no way of doing that for drive-thrus.
“We don’t really have anything other than limiting drive-thrus from town. We don’t have any anti-idling bylaws. We can’t force people to not idle in town,” he explained before referring the question to Bickford.
“That’s correct,” she answered.
“In the past,” she said, “the town had explored the potential to incorporate an anti-idling bylaw that would apply throughout the town. However, provincial legislation did not allow for that to happen.”
Latest drive-thru proposal
The proposed bylaw changes were drafted after the numbered company that owns the Pizza Delight building on Mallard Drive applied for a drive-thru there.
In a submission supporting the zoning change, 734163 NB Inc., notes that the Pizza Delight building has been vacant for a while.
“We have been trying to partner with national/international franchise brands that have indicated [they would] be more interested in a drive-thru facility,” the submission adds.
“Based on the history of inquiries made on the property, there have been a number of famous brands that lost their interest for not having an essential facility of Drive-thru.”
One public comment
During her presentation to council on Tuesday, Lori Bickford noted that the town had not received any written comments in response to its notices about the public hearing.
However yesterday, former Sackville councillor Sabine Dietz sent this e-mail to both Mayor Black and Lori Bickford after reading a CHMA report on the public hearing:
It is with dismay that I read CHMA’s story about the “public consultation” around a proposed by-law change regarding drive-thrus in Sackville.
I think the last public consultation on a by-law change a few weeks ago likely had something to do with the absolute lack of input from residents: it felt rather chilling to see the lack of discussion, and the way presenters were discouraged. No wonder we don’t feel it’s worth our time to provide any comment, since there are no real consultations happening.
As for the drive-thrus: there remain to be tons of arguments for and against them. And in this case, as with other zoning and by-law changes, it is not just “we will manage traffic”, that council should base their decision on. Council should be encouraged and indeed required to take a more holistic approach and consider all the interconnected issues around such a change. I am going to list just a few:
– people not getting out of the car, not moving = increased health issues such as obesity
– idling = greenhouse gas emissions (one could manage that)
– use of space (one could argue asphalt parking is as bad)
– what do we want our community to look and feel like: a community known for its highway fast-food places?
– increased traffic (e.g., on 540) = active transportation becomes harder to implement broadly
There are more, I am sure, but it takes a conversation and engagement to get them all out in the open and to weigh them. And they all form part of what council should consider, not just the narrow framing of managing traffic, and supporting businesses.
I think both a zoning by-law which was changed to permit building in a flood zone (as any risk manager would identify it, especially after seeing the 300+ mm of rainfall in certain locations in NS), as well as allowing more drive-thrus, are significant changes to how we, as residents, see our community develop; what kinds of risks we are willing to take; and what kinds of priorities we see for the future. These conversations should not happen under pressure from developers. They should be part of a comprehensive engagement around a new municipal plan, which needs to give residents an opportunity to reflect on what we want to see happen in the community.
And just to go on record, so you have at least one response to the proposed by-law change: without a comprehensive engagement around a new strategy for our community through a municipal planning process, I oppose making this significant by-law change.
Town Council is expected to discuss the proposed bylaw changes at its next meeting on August 8th.
To read Lori Bickford’s backgrounder on drive-thrus, click here.