SACKVILLE, N.B. – A rezoning request that met with some opposition over the past few months has been given the green light by town council, clearing the way for a new 36-unit seniors’ development in downtown Sackville.
Developer John Lafford of JN Lafford Realty Inc. said he is pleased the rezoning was approved this week, despite all the objections raised against the project, and is looking forward to moving forward in the weeks ahead.
“I’m thankful that it’s going through,” said Lafford. “And I’m looking forward to building a good product for people to live in for a long time.”
The rezoning will allow for a portion of the former United Church property to be zoned from Institutional to Mixed Use. It’s a piece of property that wasn’t rezoned at the same time as the rest of the property when it was sold to the Laffords in 2012 because the boundaries were still being determined at the time.
The approval means the Laffords can now move ahead with construction of a new three-storey seniors’ complex, a building that will feature both one and two-bedroom units ranging in size from 960 to 1,300 square feet. The proposed design calls for balconies included on each unit, a shared fitness centre and recreation room, and underground parking.
The development has drawn both opposition and support from the community since the proposal came forward. Those against the project voiced their concerns over the loss of a valued green space above the swan pond as well as the potential for increased traffic congestion in the York/Main Street area; those in favour spoke about their excitement over a seniors’ development of this kind as well as the added tax revenue it could bring to the town.
But as many councillors pointed out during their monthly meeting Monday night, the request was simply for a rezoning of a piece of land within a larger parcel, not for whether the developer could cut down the stand of birch trees on his property or what type of building he could construct.
Councillor Andrew Black said, even without the rezoning, the developer could still put up an apartment building on the site, perhaps smaller, but one that would still require the removal of the birch trees because of the need for an above-ground parking lot.
“The reality is that the stands of trees on the site are going to come down one way or another and council does not have the jurisdiction with our laws to stop anyone who owns a piece of property from doing so,” said Black.
Councillor Allison Butcher agreed, saying there are certain decisions that are simply not within council’s power.
“The birches, losing them will be a loss. I will miss them too,” said Butcher. “But as our laws sit now, we can’t dictate to private landowners whether or not they can cut down a tree or a grove of trees.”
“I am voting in favour because I feel the land they own should be mixed use,” she added.
Councillor Ron Aiken said although he respected all the efforts residents had put into the petitions and the presentations to council in light of their concerns, he had yet to hear a compelling enough argument for him to vote against this rezoning.
He said the landowners are well within their rights to cut down the trees on the site, he doesn’t feel there will be as much added traffic congestion on the site as some people have suggested, and the building will have a smaller environmental imprint than if a developer were to build the same number of suburban homes.
Aiken also pointed out that attracting more people to live downtown, all within walking distance to local shops and amenities, will provide a much-needed boost to local businesses.
Black also said he was pleased to see the high level of civic engagement over this issue but was also unswayed by some of the arguments, including the concern that the rental rates for this proposed location were being set too high. He said the rates will be determined by market demands and said the developer wouldn’t likely build it if he didn’t think he could fill it.
As well, Black said he doesn’t believe the traffic flow will be disrupted too much in that downtown area, as both accesses to the property exit and enter onto arterial roads that are designed to handle heavier traffic volumes.
Councillor Bruce Phinney was the only nay vote, saying he still thinks adding another apartment building on that site will only add to the congestion of an already-crowded area, leading to unsafe conditions.
“I just feel the biggest issue is going to be safety,” he said, noting that traffic is coming and going out of that site all day long.
Lafford said interest has continued to grow over the past few months since he first brought the proposal forward and he believes the demand is strong for this type of seniors’ living.
Although he is not sure when he’ll be able to break ground on the site, as that will depend on meeting the necessary requirements with the planning commission, Lafford hopes it won’t be long.
“We want to get going as soon as possible.”