Saint John councillors concerned A&W trouble signifies larger breakdown

Saint John council seems to have a beef with an A&W looking to open in east Saint John, voting to delay rezoning the property until staff talks to the developer and a resident who has concerns.

Councillors concerned public wasn't properly consulted about rezoning of corner lot

Some councillors used the opportunity a slower night provides to examine how the hurdles one developer looking to build an A&W is facing are a microcosm of the many problems of Saint John. (Foodology.ca)

Saint John council has a beef with a developer looking to open an A&W fast-food restaurant on the east side of the city.

At a busier council meeting, the rezoning of the lot at Bayside Drive and Mount Pleasant Avenue East might be regarded as a small-fry issue.

But this week, council voted to delay the rezoning while staff talks it over with the developer and a resident who objects to the way the project has been handled.

Some councillors used the opportunity a slower night provides to examine how the hurdles the burger joint faced were a microcosm of Saint John's many problems. 

"We are a city that's supposed to be open for business," Coun. Ray Strowbridge said. "I mean, honest to God. I would never in a million years tell any business owner, 'This is when you can open and this is when you can close.'

"If I ever said that, fire me from this chair."

Resident complains

The property was recently rezoned after the planning advisory committee reviewed the application and held a hearing.

Prior to that, some east side citizens received a letter from the city that said the committee had received an application from Hamton Holdings Inc. to rezone a section of the lot from neighbourhood community facility to corridor commercial.

The rezoning would allow for a drive-thru to exit onto Mount Pleasant Avenue East, which previously wasn't allowed, and would rescind previous restrictions on any car wash's hours of operations.

The core complaint Monday night came from a resident, Claire Fairweather, who said the neighbourhood was told a gas bar, convenience store and car wash were planned for the location, but no clear communication reached her ears about a fast-food restaurant.

"Great," she said during half-hour debate at council. "At 2 o'clock in the morning I'm going to hear, 'Mama burger, fries and a Coke.'"

She said a city staff member told her it was a staff member's fault that nothing about a diner was mentioned in the letter. 

The core complaint Monday night came from a resident, Claire Fairweather, who said the neighbourhood was told a gas bar, convenience store and car wash were planned for the location. No clear communication reached her ears regarding a fast-food restaurant, she said. (Joseph Tunney)

While Fairweather doesn't oppose development of the lot, which once hosted a now-closed Petro-Canada, she was concerned the city didn't make Hamton Holdings submit upgraded plans for approval. She thinks a new letter should have to be sent out before work was allowed.

She was also against the proposed drive-thru exiting on to an already busy street and said the hours for the A&W should have been made public.

"These people are allowed to change their minds with nothing said to the neighbourhood about this being a restaurant," she said.

No councillor against A&W

Like Fairweather, no councillors were against the development of an A&W outright.

Most hoped only to push the development back, either to the public consultation stage or pause the development until some sort of understanding could be found among all those involved.

Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary asked if council could restrict the hours of operations, while Coun. David Merrithew wondered if proper protocol hadn't been followed and if the plans needed to go back to the drawing board as a result.

"This is appealable," Coun. Gerry Lowe said. "To me, without the proper notification clearly to the people in that are … I can see it being appealed. I don't think we need another appeal or another court case."

Development delayed

The proposed drive-thru would empty onto the already busy Mount Pleasant East.

In the end, council voted to have staff hold discussions with the developer and Fairweather. They will report back to council in two weeks.

Coun. Sean Casey and Strowbridge voted against the motion, and others weren't pleased with council's decision.

"This is likely a multi-million dollar investment in our city," Mayor Don Darling said.

"I think council has to be very conscious about the message we send out to the development industry."

About the Author

Joseph Tunney

Joseph Tunney is a casual reporter for CBC News in Saint John. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca