Land-use amendment passes first reading
Amherst is considering restricting new government offices to the downtown under a proposed amendment to the land-use bylaw.
AMHERST – Amherst is going to take a look at restricting government offices to the downtown core through a proposed amendment to its land-use bylaw.
“Government office uses are the single largest occupier of floor space in the downtown, and their continued presence is critical to the future viability and vibrancy of the downtown core,” Coun. Dave March said last night during Monday’s March council meeting. “The municipal planning strategy contains objectives and policies that identify the downtown as the favoured area for office employment.”
Council passed first reading of a proposed bylaw to amend the land-use bylaw that, if passed through second reading, would restrict government offices to the downtown.
March said the Centre First Downtown Action Strategy recommends that all office uses be restricted to the downtown, but such uses are also permitted in the highway commercial and limited commercial zones.
The planning advisory committee is recommending the amendment not be adopted and a public participation session on March 19 had no members of the public in attendance.
In his report to council, Amherst’s director of planning, Jason MacDonald, said he doesn’t believe government offices will be built outside the town or in other communities if Amherst restricted government offices to the downtown.
He said other government offices, including the Registry of Deeds, Access Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Geomatics Centre, have all left the downtown for Robert Angus Drive or Willow Street.
“Do we want a strong downtown core that is the heartbeat of the community, or do we want more urban sprawl on the edge of town that is unrecognizable from any other urban strip in Nova Scotia?” MacDonald asked in his report.
Several councillors stressed they are not in favour of singling out one area of the town to the detriment of another.
“Although it’s desirable to have all government offices in the downtown, I’m reluctant to be heavy-handed about this,” Coun. Robert Bird said. “This is only first reading ad it will be important to get input before we make any decisions. We don’t want the impression to be that council is going to insist on this without consultation.”
Deputy Mayor George Baker said council is responsible for the betterment of the entire town, not just the downtown.
“My concern is we need to look at the whole town, not only downtown. We have taxpayers in the whole community,” Baker said.
Following the meeting, Mayor Robert Small said he wants to get public feedback before making any decisions. He said the town is evaluating whether the idea is important enough to Amherst residents to require changing the land-use bylaw, or should things be left as they are.