Citing concerns that the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) would vote in favour of the developer and leave them with less control, Town of Antigonish council voted 5-2 in favour of continuing forward with a development agreement for 52 Victoria Street, during their regular monthly, public meeting, June 17.
The development is for a two-unit, three-bedrooms in each plus den, dwelling, immediately in behind the rental building already established on the property. The lot will be sub-divided for the purposes of the new development.
The vote disappointed those in the gallery, mostly residents from the immediate neighbour, who had attended a public hearing on the issue only a few days (June 11) earlier and spoke against the development, on many levels.
The development proposal had come before council in the past and the necessary rezoning request was voted down.
“The appeal to the UARB; that is what changed,” Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher told reporters after the meeting.
“The developer’s request to rezone went through proper process; first-reading, public hearing, second-reading and, at that time, council did heed the concerns of the neighbourhood and voted against rezoning.
“The developer went to the UARB to appeal our decision and it was recommended by the UARB that we go into a development agreement with the developer to maintain some control over the development; so that is what did.”
Monday’s vote confirms that route.
The rezoning appeal to the UARB was put on-hold, according to Boucher.
“If council was to turn down second reading tonight, then the developer could then say, ‘OK I want to go through with my appeal,” she said. “He could say ‘OK, you didn’t take my development agreement, let’s go ahead and we will go through with the appeal,’ which he, most likely, would win.
“We’ve had a lot of legal advice, advice from the UARB, along with our planners, and the advice given to us is the developer would probably win. It boils down to, the UARB strongly recommending to us we go into a development agreement; we negotiate. A development agreement is a negotiation between our planner and the developer to try and get to the best possible solution.”
An appeal win would mean the property be rezoned R-2.
“It would be site-plan approval, we would have zero control what he built because it would be as-of-right, so this way we still have some control,” Boucher said.
“The developer did negotiate in good faith with our planner. He does have a water mitigation plan; we do have rules in there about hard-surface, parking-surface, and soft-surface so that would have to be abided by. We do have something in there for buffering; granted the neighbours wanted a fence - the developer said he believes some vegetation would be enough of a buffer, and that is what negotiation is, you don’t always get everything you want, but you work together to get the best case scenario.”
Prior to her voting, Boucher suggested to her a “no” vote would “simply be a token” vote.
Going around the table prior to the vote, those who voted in favour cited the same reasoning the mayor did while also stressing the work staff had put into the development proposal on two occasions.
“It has been recommended twice,” councillor Mary Farrell said, adding she “values their opinion” and noting their “time and energy.”
“The whole community wants us to create downtown housing,” Farrell said, noting she was concerned with the appeal. “That could be worse for the street.”
“If we turn it down, we don’t know what will happen,” Deputy Mayor Donnie MacInnis said.
“With the UARB there is not much you can do,” he added, noting that, at least, concerns have been addressed in the agreement negotiations.
Councillors Diane Roberts and Andrew Murray began their words by stating how difficult a decision it has been to make.
“I toiled with this,” Roberts said, noting she entered Monday’s meeting still wavering a bit as to which way to go.
“There are negatives,” she said, noting issues such as added traffic in the area and the fact the developer hasn’t agreed to a fence as a buffer. “So I understand the residents [concerns] but I can’t vote against, I must support it … it’s more good than bad.”
Roberts said she was also impacted by two staff reports and recommendations.
Murray called it the most “stressful” decision he has had to make as a councillor.
“But there is too much risk to go against,” he said, again alluding to the appeal.
Councillors Jack MacPherson and Willie Cormier voted against moving forward with the agreement.
“Can’t afford a fence … that scares me,” MacPherson said, as part of his opposition.
He also questioned the water mitigation plan and wasn’t satisfied with Eastern District Planning Commission (EDPC) director John Bain’s answer.
“The residents lose their privacy … ask for a fence to be built and they’re saying no,” MacPherson said, his disappointment evident.
Cormier suggested council could go the same route as the developer and appeal a UARB decision, if it came to that.
“Council on zoning requests has the authority to rule but it’s appealable to the UARB,” he said. “I just thought we might have gone a little further, even their decisions are appealable and we decided not to go that route. I’ll stand by the vote of council, I just thought we could have taken it a little farther,” he said.
Boucher was asked why council seemed so certain the UARB would rule in favour of the developer on the rezoning request. She noted council wasn’t “privy” to those talks - only their solicitor and some staff - but did offer some thoughts.
“It was recommended by our previous planner, recommended by EDPC and had the support of our administration; it’s pretty hard to go back to the UARB and say, no, we don’t want it,” she said. “And because, according to our Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) land-use, bylaw, this is permitted. You have to have logical reasons why it’s going against your MPS; you have to follow the right process or else we’re just going to lose.”
She also talked about the housing challenges in Antigonish and how that area has already been impacted.
“A lot has changed within our town since that community was developed; some of the residents have been there since that community was developed, so I understand where they’re coming from.
“Like it or not, Antigonish has changed and evolved over the years, and that particular community is no different.
“The UARB, they look around and are very practical. They see all kinds of other rentals, they see some flag-lots on St. Mary’s Street which are very successful and in close proximity to this development. They see other rentals on that street; on the corner on Pleasant Street, there is a little apartment building there. They see the R.K. [Nursing Home] with more than 100 beds in there and a parking lot beside there; they see MacIsaac Funeral Home and the traffic on the street from that. In their mind, are eight more people going to make that much more of a difference? Is it going to change the entire characteristic of the neighbourhood? They decided no,” Boucher said, alluding to the town being encouraged into the development agreement.