Zoning by-law infraction may lead to evictions in Sackville

A large historic white house set back on a green lawn.
131 Main St. in Sackville is the subject of a court proceeding over a bylaw infraction that may see tenants evicted this month. Image courtesy of Google Streetview, September 2018.
Erica Butler - CHMA - SackvilleNB | 20-01-2021

Fifteen people in Sackville, most if not all of them students, might be out of a place to live come the end of the month.

Tenants of 131 Main St. starting reaching out in search of new apartments on Tuesday, saying they were informed by their landlord’s lawyer that they would need to vacate their building by Jan. 31.

Town of Sackville CAO Jamie Burke says that a hearing regarding a by-law infraction on the property took place last Friday in a Moncton court.

That hearing was adjourned and will continue this Friday.

The owner of the building, Gordon Beal, said the matter is still unresolved and didn’t comment further.

131 Main St. is a Sackville historic landmark, known as Allison House, Fisher House or Fawcett house, among other names. It was first built in 1841, with a major addition built in 1997.

Up until recently, the building was occupied by commercial tenants.

In 2014, Beal applied for zoning changes to build an apartment building behind Allison House, on the same property. After passing first and second reading, Sackville town council rejected the zoning changes required to build the apartment building.

The property is zoned Residential Historic Commercial, and allows for a number of uses including boarding houses, restaurants, professional offices and funeral homes, but not apartments.

Six years after being turned down by council, in May of 2020, Beal cut down a small forest on the property, much to the chagrin of some people in town.

The lead up to the current court proceeding starts shortly after that, in the summer.

Lori Bickford, Sackville area planner, says the Southeast Regional Service Commission (SERSC) was alerted to work being done at the building without a permit, and also that parts of the building were being used as apartments.

A site visit confirmed this, as well as finding several safety issues, says Bickford.

On a walk-through, inspectors noted “improper separation between units, deficient bedroom egress windows, missing smoke detectors, non or improper fire rated walls and doors, AND exit doors with improper locking devices,” says Bickford.

Town of Sackville CAO Jamie Burke says an order to comply with current zoning was issued by the commission in August, but was ignored.

“As a result, we’ve had to proceed through the legal process to bring the property into compliance with the Zoning By-law," says Burke.

Bickford says the court agreed the apartments were added improperly, but it issued no order last week. Instead, the case was adjourned for a week to allow time for the students to be contacted, and to gather information on accommodations.

CHMA asked Burke about the desired outcome on behalf of the town. Burke said the town wants, “to see the property brought into compliance with the Zoning By-law and for all of the residents of the building to find safe housing.”

The Mount Allison Student’s Union is asking any students affected by the legal issues at 131 Main St. to contact them for support.

“What we’re doing is is trying to focus on identifying the gaps right now and getting in touch with students,” says MASU President Jon Ferguson.

Ferguson is hoping students will identify themselves to MASU, “because, of course, we don’t know the specific list of the tenants who live there.”

“One of our concerns right now is the fact that, you know, this is a very difficult time for students,” says Ferguson. With students potentially leaving isolation and starting classes, and now facing a new red level of COVID-19 restrictions, “this is a very difficult and stressful time for students,” he says.

“We are going to be working with the university to make sure that students absolutely have somewhere to stay,” says Ferguson.