During a summer of steady news about lives and homes lost in torrential rains, flash floods and devastating wildfires, Tantramar Town Council has approved a $1.2 million tax break for a six-storey apartment building in Sackville’s flood-risk zone while moving to lift the ban on more greenhouse-gas emitting drive-thrus near the TransCanada highway.
“In the not so distant past, we had a request come before council to change the no drive-thru rule that did not pass,” Councillor Allison Butcher said during Tuesday’s council meeting.
She was referring to Sackville council’s decision in 2016 to reject an application for a Robins Donuts drive-thru at the Ultramar Gas Bar near TransCanada Exit 506 because of concerns about traffic congestion and the polluting effects of greenhouse gas emissions from idling cars.
“Here we are after COVID,” Butcher continued, “when we realized that there are some times when a drive-by getting their food is something that people want to do that maybe they didn’t before.”
She added she was reassured that rules would be in place requiring the developer to pay for a traffic study if the expected number of drive-thru vehicles would exceed 40 during peak periods or if the developer could not provide at least 11 queuing spaces for vehicles heading into a drive-thru and at least two for those heading out.
“This shows me there will be safety considerations,” Butcher said. “Traffic studies. Rules about the amount of vehicles in a space. Those were the things that, in the past, really worried me.”
She did not mention previous concerns about idling vehicles and no one else raised the issue before council voted unanimously to change the bylaw that has prohibited new drive-thrus for the last 23 years.
Council was responding to an application from a numbered company for a drive-thru at the former Pizza Delight property on Mallard Drive.
Unless members change their minds, the bylaw allowing more drive-thrus will likely get final approval at their next regular meeting on September 12th.
Little apparent concern
Members of council and staff seemed to be under little public pressure on the once contentious drive-thru issue after no one showed up for a public hearing last month.
Town Planner Lori Bickford suggested then that Tantramar could have more effect fighting climate change by continuing to limit greenhouse gas emissions from its own fleet of vehicles.
And issues raised seven years ago suddenly seemed less urgent such as concerns expressed in a 2016 letter from the local environmental group EOS Eco-Energy which urged council to uphold the ban on more drive-thrus.
The EOS letter referred to research conducted in 2011 showing that cars lined up in the Tim Hortons drive-thru were idling for an average of 5.7 minutes and that about 80 vehicles visited each day.
That underlined federal anti-idling messages from Natural Resources Canada: “If drivers of light-duty vehicles avoided idling by just three minutes a day, over the year Canadians would collectively save 630 million litres of fuel and 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.”
7-2 vote on tax incentive
Unlike the unanimity on permitting more drive-thrus, the vote was seven in favour and two against on whether to approve the nearly $1.2 million tax incentive for JN Lafford Realty’s six-storey, 71-unit apartment building overlooking the Sackville Waterfowl Park.
The concern was not about the location of the building in a potential flood zone, but on the size of the 10-year tax break.
“On the one hand, I see the need to spur development in our area, but on the other hand, I feel like the proposal is too rich,” said Councillor Josh Goguen.
He added that while the government has forced municipal amalgamation, it has limited Tantramar’s ability to generate new income to pay for services in the former LSDs.
Goguen said the economic incentive program was modelled on Moncton’s, but Sackville is less able to afford such a generous tax break.
“This could mean the difference between taxes staying the same or seeing an increase,” he said.
Councillor Bruce Phinney also said the incentive was “a little too rich” and that he saw no similarities between the Sackville program and the ones in Moncton and Riverview.
Councillors Michael Tower and Allison Butcher strongly supported the tax breaks.
Tower pointed out that Tantramar will get as much money as it gives in a 50/50 split.
“We have to compete and we can’t compete with Moncton,” he added.
“If we’re going to get developers to come here, we have to have something.”
Councillor Butcher argued that the tax incentives were put in place in 2020 and the Lafford project qualifies for them.
“This development fits the criteria that we have right now,” she said.
“I, for one, wouldn’t feel comfortable picking and choosing,” she added.
“Once they fit the criteria that’s set in place, why should we go, ‘Oh well, this one yes, but that one no?'”
In the end, only Goguen and Phinney voted against approving the economic incentive.
For previous coverage, click here.