Would restrict government offices to downtown
Amherst is going to ask its business advisory committee to look at a proposal to restrict government offices to the downtown.
AMHERST – Amherst has opted to get input from its business advisory committee before making a final decision on a proposal that would limit future government offices to the downtown.
“We’re going to refer to the downtown business advisory committee so we can get some input from them before we make our decision,” Mayor Robert Small said following council’s April session on Monday. “They asked if they could provide some input into the matter and that’s one of the reasons why the committee is in place, to provide advice to us on matters pertaining to the downtown.”
In March, council passed a proposed amendment to its land-use bylaw through first reading and was set to vote Monday on second reading that, if approved, would put the restrictions in place.
Before the vote could be held, Coun. David March introduced an amendment to refer the proposed bylaw to the business advisory committee for input. The amendment passed with only Coun. Terry Rhindress and Deputy Mayor George Baker voting against it.
“We’re looking forward to discussing this within our committee and passing on the wishes of the downtown business community to town council,” committee chairman Mark Casey said. “That’s what our committee is for, to provide advice to the town council so we’re looking forward to the opportunity to weigh in. We don’t have a stance on this.”
Prior to the meeting, the town hosted a public hearing on the proposal. While several business people were there only Kevin Nelson voiced his opinion.
“I know you want revitalization, but this isn’t going to work,” Nelson told council. “You’re not going to dictate to the province where they can put their offices. If you pass this, you’ll see nothing in Amherst.”
The mayor said he brought the matter forward to get input from the community.
“We’ve seen what happens in other communities when nothing is done. You see the government offices go where they want and quite frankly it takes the core out of the downtown,” the mayor said. “We want to look at ways to sustain our downtown and at the same time allow for growth. It’s not like there’s a big list of government offices going to move to Amherst. When I brought this forward it was with the understanding that it’s better to do something or try something rather than doing nothing.”
During the council meeting, Baker said he could not support enacting the bylaw since councillors were elected to represent the entire community.
“I think government has heard from us many times before that we want government offices downtown, but I don’t think we can tell them where to locate,” Baker said. “We’ve heard from people who don’t like this and I don’t think we should proceed.”
When preparing the bylaw, town planner Jason MacDonald said he looked at legislation in other municipal units and found that Yarmouth has a bylaw restricting all offices to the downtown. He said other towns and cities, including Moncton, have been encouraging government offices to locate in the downtown, but stop short of making it a policy or bylaw.
The Centre First Downtown Action Strategy recommended that all offices be restricted to the downtown core. MacDonald said a previous public hearing at the committee stage had no input and the planning advisory committee recommended against the measure.