A packed council chamber heard Antigonish Town Council vote, unanimously, in favour of a motion regarding amendments to its Land-Use Bylaw; in particular, how it pertains to rental units and the number of bedrooms.
The vote took place during council’s regular monthly public meeting, Jan. 15.
Mayor Laurie Boucher, who recused herself from the discussion and vote because of a purchase she and her husband made over the past year, spoke, in general terms, as to the results of the amendment and vote.
“A maximum of four bedrooms being rented out of a house; any more than that would go to a different building code and be considered a lodging house rather than a rental,” Boucher said, summing up what was voted on by council during the meeting.
“This is in R1 zones, so we’re very pleased that everything went through and PAC (planning advisory committee) and council can move forward from here.”
Boucher talked about the years of work that led up to the vote.
“I know it has been on the agenda from PAC for quite a while now,” she said. “I’ve been on council since 2012 and it was on the planning agenda then, but I know it goes back even further.
“And I think you could see by the presence of the citizens in our room, that they were quite pleased,” she added, which was evidenced by the applause which came up as Deputy Mayor Diane Roberts announced the motion had been passed.
Boucher was asked, by reporters following the meeting, to summarize council’s reasons for voting for the amendment.
“First and foremost was the safety of the students; we want to ensure for those students, who are our citizens for eight months of the year, the safety of their housing … that’s very important to us,” Boucher said.
“Second is maintaining the integrity of our neighbourhoods; especially in our R1 zones where there is very low density of number of people in the houses. Taking that into consideration, council deemed it necessary to vote this way.”
In her explanation, Boucher was basically echoing words put forward by councillors Mary Farrell and Andrew Murray just prior to the vote.
“This is very important,” Farrell said during the meeting. “It means better protection for our neighbourhoods and students.”
“This is good for the town and for the students,” Murray said.
Councillor Donnie MacInnis made a point of acknowledging the citizens who attended the meeting, while councillor Willie Cormier noted, while he was voting in favour, he wanted to make the point that with the amendment more allocation of resources will need to be considered by council to ensure enforcement.
“Allocating more resources will put teeth into this motion,” Cormier said.
Boucher was asked about Cormier’s point after the meeting.
“Whenever there is a motion put forward and a new bylaw, and it has to do with compliance, there are always resources that have to be set aside in order to make sure the inspections are done and everything is compliant to the bylaw,” she said.
“That being said, our planning department is not huge; there are going to have to be new resources put in place. What that is exactly we’re not really sure yet; but we have to make sure we can monitor what is taking place in the town.”
Boucher talked more about having to recuse herself from the process, which included a public hearing just prior to Christmas.
“I recused myself because my husband and I had purchased a building and, at the time of purchasing, the upstairs was rented out to students,” she said.
“Our intention is, when the lease is up, to live there ourselves; therefore it will not be a rental any more. But, seeing that it did involve rentals, I did seek legal advice and I was advised that I should recuse myself on the grounds of a conflict of interest. I wouldn’t want to do anything, in my position, to jeopardize the decision of first PAC and, second, council.”
Boucher spoke to the work put into the amendment.
“The bulk of the work was done by our planner Sean Day,” she said.
“He has been working on this for quite a while and not just the work you saw today (Day gave a brief presentation just prior to the discussion and vote); the research of other municipalities, bigger centers or smaller ones, like ours, what they’re doing when dealing with the same kind of issues.
“It’s not only looking at our area but looking at others to see how they dealt with it; their successes and, with some of the things that weren’t so successful, how can we change that.
“Then the support of staff, people like Jeff Lawrence our CAO and Stephen Scannell, our special projects co-ordinator, is phenomenal. They go out of their way to give council as much permanent information as they can; they present it to us and the decision is up to us.”