Saint Andrews moving ahead with municipal plan, hoping for more community input

Wikimedia photo The view from Ministers Island in Saint Andrews, which sits off the northern shore of the peninsula. Some landowners along the shoreline are concerned about the wording in a future land use map included in the town’s new Municipal Plan which classifies a strip of land along the shore as “Environmental/Recreational”.

Saint Andrews – After months of meetings, some of which have been heavily attended by the public, the Saint Andrews Town Council is moving ahead with its municipal plan, after tabling the secondary municipal plan and zoning bylaws.

At a meeting of council on February 3, members of the public confronted the mayor and councillors with claims the inclusion of a “Environmental/Recreational” classification on a future land use map included with the municipal plan represented an attempt by council to reclassify private land as public land.

Patrick Dunn, a lawyer with Cox & Palmer out of Saint John, told council he represented a group of around a dozen property owners who were worried the land use classification would exacerbate the problems his clients already had with hikers trespassing on private property, and that the “Environmental/Recreational classification is vague and ambiguous”.

Alex Henderson, planning director with the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission (SNBSC), responded the strip of land along the shoreline was “Based on the 1998 Green Space designation. It is historical, it’s not just something we made up.”

After initial concerns from the public, planners changed the future land use map to differentiate between public and private land, but Dunn said his clients were concerned adding the word private to that land use map didn’t go far enough.

Dunn expressed further concerns, both at council and in a letter sent to them on January 31, that the process of enacting the municipal plan along with the secondary plan and the zoning bylaws was moving too quickly and that sufficient community input hadn’t been achieved.

It appears as if council agreed with him, and at a meeting on February 18, council decided to table both the secondary plan and the zoning bylaws.

“What council did last week is decide after discussion that we weren’t ready to push through the secondary plan because there wasn’t enough questioning from the public,” said Saint Andrews Mayor Doug Naish.

Naish is clear council doesn’t plan to abandon the documents, but is rather leaving them on the table until after the next municipal elections. He noted the zoning bylaw itself is over 100 pages, and so, “…council stood back and said ‘no, there are some things in here that we need to look at more’.”

Though he agreed with some of the concerns of the property owners, Naish emphatically denies the notion there is some conspiracy amongst members of council behind the inclusion of the “Environmental/Recreational” classification on the future land use map.

He said claims about it being an attempt by government to reclassify private land as public land is “Absolutely not true. It has nothing to do with it.”

“We have to listen to people and we should listen to people,” he said, “but we also have to make sure that the facts that people have to make decisions are the actual facts.”

Naish believes that the concerns from private landowners go back to the establishment of the Van Horne trail, when portions of the rail bed of the old train tracks were converted into a walking trail.

“Without getting into a discussion about whether the mayor is for trails or against trails,” said Naish, “what the mayor is not for is acrimony in the community stemming from people believing that us or someone else is trying to steal their property.

“I understand why they’re upset. I would be upset myself if I believed that.”

Naish argues the inflaming of these old grievances surrounding private land and public land along the shoreline around Saint Andrews was unintentional on the part of the planners who wrote the document.

“I think it’s based on solid planning principles,” he said. “Those designations were already in place (from the provincial government) in order to protect the shoreline, and what our planners advice to us all along has been is that the provincial government may well have those regulations in place, but nobody enforces them in the same way in which the municipality would be in a position to enforce them.”

There will be a presentation of proposed revisions to the municipal plan at the regular meeting of council on Monday, March 2. If council wants to go ahead with the revisions, they will be required to have a second public hearing. The mayor hopes to have the document, along with other key projects like the new medical clinic, completed before municipal elections on May 11.