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Proposal to scrap Sackville’s heritage bylaw draws mixed reviews from community

Town of Sackville
A proposal to scrap Sackville’s heritage bylaw has drawn mixed reviews from members of the community. – FILE IMAGE

Public hearing brings emotional debate to council chambers

SACKVILLE, N.B. – Sackville residents expressed mixed reactions to the town’s proposal to get rid of its heritage bylaw during a public hearing on the issue last Monday night.

While some citizens encouraged council to keep the bylaw and instead find ways to improve it, others suggested the municipality is better off without it and the town is on the right path in scrapping it.

Either way, the recommendation to repeal the bylaw was met with plenty of emotion as residents voiced their concerns about the potential impacts of the decision.

“If we scrap this bylaw, it’s going to be sending us backwards very, very fast.”

– Meredith Fisher

Brian Lane questioned why council seems to be in such a rush to scrap this legislation, saying there are other measures the town could take that could strengthen the bylaw and make it more effective. He suggested deferring the decision to repeal it, rather than moving forward so quickly.

“I get it, heritage is hard. Maybe you should try harder,” Lane told town officials during the public hearing. “I just think it would be a shameful event on this town, giving up on heritage.”

Meredith Fisher, who was involved in the first stages of the heritage bylaw’s development when the idea was first brought to the table about a decade ago, voiced her disappointment as well. She said the bylaw, despite its flaws, was an asset to the community and a starting point to at least take heritage preservation under consideration. She recommended enhancing the bylaw rather than repealing it.

“If we scrap this bylaw, it’s going to be sending us backwards very, very fast,” said Fisher.

RELATED: Sackville officials recommend scrapping town's heritage bylaw

Sharon Hicks also expressed concern about getting rid of the bylaw completely before having something else to replace it.

“If everything is just dumped for now, thinking you might replace it with something later on, then there is no heritage protection whatsoever,” she said.

Wanda Severns said she believes the biggest challenge with the bylaw is that it has been ineffective, weakened even more during a rewrite of the legislation two years ago. But she said simply giving up on it is not the answer either, as it at least provides some protection and a sense of authority over heritage issues.

But others were less supportive about the bylaw, saying it has caused more headaches than it is worth.

“The heritage bylaw thing has been a problem and a pain in the butt in this town for a long time,” said former Sackville Mayor Bob Berry.

“This sort of legislation puts already precarious organizations like ours at even greater disadvantage financially."

– Bruce Robertson, warden of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and rectory in Sackville, on Sackville's Heritage Bylaw

Berry, who said he received a number of threats during the controversy over the demolition of the Sackville United Church in 2015, said there has been too much expense and emotion involved in the administration of the bylaw to outweigh the benefits.

He urged council to either get rid of the bylaw altogether or to apply it to every property in town rather than those just in the two designated municipal heritage conservation areas, to make it more equitable. Berry pointed out that most homeowners, however, can’t afford to maintain or renovate their properties to heritage standards.

“The average person in this town is having a hard time just keeping a house going,” he said.

Several property owners within those two downtown heritage conservation areas also spoke out during last week’s public hearing, voicing their frustration over costly renovations or upgrades they were required to make to their homes or businesses.

Bruce Robertson, warden of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and rectory in Sackville, said the church has spent a considerable amount of money over the past few years complying with the heritage bylaw requirements, money the organization could have been using towards other worthy causes.

“This sort of legislation puts already precarious organizations like ours at even greater disadvantage financially,” he said.

Robertson said he admires council’s willingness to see when a bylaw is not working. One project alone to make upgrades to the rectory cost an additional $20,000 because of the heritage regulations, he explained. And he noted that, when it came to time to re-roof its steeple last year, St. Paul’s didn’t qualify for a heritage grant because the work was considered routine maintenance.

Several written submissions were also put into record during the public hearing, one urging council to carry on with the repeal of the bylaw while the other two encouraged the town to further review the bylaw and try to address the issues.

The recommendation to repeal the bylaw was announced last month, with town management staff citing the legislation as weak and achieving very little in terms of heritage conservation and preservation. This comes after a comprehensive five-month review of the heritage program, which included the bylaw and the processes involved in the administration of the bylaw.

Jamie Burke, the town’s senior manager of corporate projects and interim heritage officer, said during last week’s public hearing that the review looked at “where we are and what are the options.”

Burke pointed out that during the course of the review, there was not a single heritage permit application or request submitted. In fact, over the course of the year, there were no heritage permits issued by the heritage officer or heritage board and only one $5,000 heritage grant was issued in the past three years.

If the bylaw is to be repealed, the heritage board would be dissolved and the two designated heritage conservation areas in Sackville’s downtown would be eliminated. This means that property owners in those areas on Bridge Street, Main Street and York Street would no longer have to apply for a heritage permit if they want to alter the exterior appearance of their properties or demolish a building.

Burke explained that the town would instead focus its attention and resources on enhancing programs to support redevelopment of heritage properties through their appearance and maintenance. He said that could possibly come in the form of a maintenance grant program, a public awareness campaign and/or support for existing organizations in the community working on heritage preservation.

Council decided to move forward with the first step towards repealing the bylaw last week, approving first reading of the motion following the public hearing, despite many of them saying they were conflicted over the decision. Second and third reading will likely follow next month.

Councillor Allison Butcher said she was “conflicted and confused” over whether the bylaw holds any real weight when it comes to preserving heritage, saying the community has seen many beautiful properties be torn down even with a bylaw in place. But she questioned whether it could be amended to be more effective in protecting heritage.

“I don’t know if we should get rid of it or adjust the one we have now.”

Councillor Bruce Phinney, however, was adamant about scrapping the bylaw and, if need be, starting over from scratch.

“This bylaw has been a pain in the butt over the past few years,” he said. “I think we should just get rid of it and get something that will work.”

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