SACKVILLE, N.B. – From heritage bylaws to drive-thru bans, and global warming to the hiring of consultants, the five contenders vying for a seat on Sackville town council in the upcoming municipal byelection had plenty to discuss last Wednesday night.
The group, who are looking to fill the council seat left empty last month when Megan Mitton stepped down to serve as the region’s MLA, faced voters at an all-candidates’ forum Nov. 28.
A crowd of more than 100 residents packed the upper lobby at the Tantramar civic centre to hear from them.
The five candidates – Sabine Dietz, Julia Feltham, Shawn Mesheau, Brian Neilson, and Dylan Wooley-Berry – bring a diverse range of accomplishments to the table, a fact not lost on any of them.
“Each one of us has something to offer all of us,” said Neilson.
Should Sackville rethink its decision on a drive-thru ban?
Sackville’s drive-thru ban, a longstanding and contentious issue in the community, brought differing views from the candidates.
Mesheau said he would be in support of allowing more drive-thrus in the highway commercial zone, if it is done in a “common sense way,” and Feltham said she would perhaps consider the idea for the highway commercial area at Exit 506, but not at the more congested Exit 504.
Mesheau was a member of council in 2001 when the town first banned additional drive-thrus and said it was mainly as a result of traffic congestion around the ones at Exit 504.
“We have businesses looking to expand and offer a service, and they’re looking to do that so that they can stay in business and be able to employ more folks,” he said.
Mesheau acknowledged the need to address environmental concerns but stated “idling will still happen” whether there’s additional drive-thrus or not.
Feltham, while also concerned about the environmental impacts of allowing more drive-thrus in Sackville and idling in general, said she would be open, however, to a proposal if it showed it could mitigate those risks.
“I don’t want to see more drive-thrus at Exit 504 but I am open to development at Exit 506 possibly,” she said.
The other three candidates said the environmental concerns, as well as the flood risk in the Exit 506 interchange area, would prevent them from bringing that issue back to the table.
Wooley-Berry said his worry would be around the environmental effects of idling cars, especially near the Bridge Street day care.
He said he doesn’t feel the town’s priorities should be on the development of a commercial/residential area at the Exit 506 interchange, with the possibility of new drive-thrus, rather the focus should be on the downtown core.
“There’s existing businesses there that need town council support and I think that’s where we should target when we’re talking about development in Sackville,” he said, adding one of his main goals would be to bring free public wifi to downtown Sackville during his term.
Neilson disagreed with Wooley-Berry, saying he’d like to see the town further its proposed plans to develop the Exit 506 area and make it a destination “...and to actually have people get out of their cars, walk along the train bridge and walk along the dykes. To get a sense of this place.”
He said development of that area would encourage visitors to stop and enjoy recreational and cultural activities in the community as well as the shops and restaurants.
Dietz said her biggest concern is around the flood risk around Exit 506. She said recent developments, such as the new ambulance building, should never have been allowed to happen in what she terms a flood risk zone. If a one-in-50 or a one-in-100-year storm happens, it would cut off the whole area.
“If I look at the flood-risk maps and I look at the 506 interchange in the Cattail Ridge area, then you, at this time, cannot develop that area.”
She suggested before allowing any further development, that council update its flood risk maps and start thinking “more long term and more strategically.”
Does the town need a heritage bylaw?
Another question proposed to candidates was whether they feel the current council was right in its decision to repeal Sackville’s heritage bylaw several months ago or legislation is still needed to help preserve heritage, particularly in the downtown.
The candidates all tended to agree with the council’s decision to rescind the previous bylaw, as they felt it was challenging to enact it without putting unreasonable demands on property owners within the heritage conservation areas.
“From my understanding, the bylaw wasn’t doing what it was intended,” said Wooley-Berry.
He said any new legislation would have to consider a balance of new development with preserving the historic nature of the downtown core. To do that, he believes community outreach would be in order to “figure out the best way forward.”
Dietz somewhat agreed, noting community engagement would be essential in putting a new bylaw together, as everyone has a different take on heritage “appearance.”
Mesheau said the previous bylaw seemed to be too onerous on property owners, and there needs to be other options for them to alter the appearance of their homes or businesses without the burden of exorbitant costs.
“We’d have to take a look at what makes the best sense for our downtown,” he said. “Are we looking to protect appearance or are we looking to protect heritage?”
Feltham and Neilson also noted there should be a better balance of protecting heritage and the expectations of property owners.
Support for permanent location for farmers’ market?
Garth Zwicker, the new manager of the Sackville Farmers’ Market, asked whether the candidates would support a permanent and consistent location for the market. While the market is housed at Bill Johnstone Memorial Park during the late spring and summer months, the rest of the year it is held at the Sackville Commons, a much smaller space that doesn’t allow for growth; in fact, the number of vendors is reduced by 40 per cent during the winter months.
Neilson said he envisions the farmers’ market finding a new home within the space being proposed by Sackville Schools 2020 – a community learning campus that would see educational facilities being shared with local service groups in Sackville.
He said while he doesn’t think it’s “realistic to have a single building for a single vision,” he imagines the market in a larger facility with much more space.
Feltham, co-founder of the Sackville Commons, agreed the winter location is simply too small for potential growth of the farmers’ market, which she acknowledges is “one of the best incubators for new business” in today’s economy.
“It’s definitely something we should earmark as important,” she said.
She would support the market in its request for a new location but agreed with Neilson that any new proposed site should be a multi-use space.
Wooley-Berry, a frequent customer at the market, said the Saturday morning farmers’ market are an “integral” part of Sackville’s quality of life and would do what he could to support it if elected.
“I definitely think there’s a role for the town to play there.”
Dietz said markets are central in bringing communities together and said she would consider a proposal for a new location but would have to look at whether it was financially feasible.
“It’s an essential piece of our community,” she said, noting that also would picture the market being integrated into a larger facility such as the one proposed by Sackville Schools 2020.
Mesheau said he enjoys the market in the park during the summer months and suggested perhaps the Sackville Commons location could be expanded to allow for more potential growth in the winter months.
“I think where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said, noting it could be done with community support and backing by council.