For the first time in recent memory Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart had to use his ceremonial gavel on Monday to bring order to a city council meeting.
Stewart did so during an exchange with angry residents of the Briggs Street area, upset over a proposed development in their neighbourhood.
The group consisted of about 15 people who live near 3 Briggs St. They are opposed to the development of four townhouse-style units on the property.
The vote had just concluded with councillors voting 6-2 in favour of allowing the development and council was moving on to other business when the exchange broke out.
“You mean you’re not going to let the people speak?” demanded one resident.
“We were told we could speak,” called out another.
Stewart started explaining that the public’s opportunity to address council on the issue had been at two previous meetings in late July and earlier this month.
On her way out, Toby MacDonald, a resident who collected more than 42 names on a petition calling for the project to be stopped, took a verbal jab at Coun. Barb Ramsay. She and Ramsay had exchanged terse words at the last council committee meeting regarding the application.
Ramsay had said at that meeting that council has to weigh the recommendations of staff with the wants of residents, but they always listen to the concerns of citizens.
“So much for listening to residents,” called MacDonald.
Ramsay started to respond but some residents interrupted, speaking loudly and drowning her out. Stewart banged his gavel, called for order and directed the meeting to continue.
Most of the group had left at that point and those who remained followed them out.
The lot’s owner, Ryan Collicutt, had requested a rezoning from R2 to R3 to allow the project. The final two council votes needed to approve or deny that request were Monday night.
Residents of the area have expressed concern that if the project goes ahead, more like it will follow in the same general area. They have said that the row-housing doesn’t fit with the neighbourhood, which is largely single-family homes and will ultimately lower their property values, increase traffic and have other undesirable implications for the families who’ve lived in the area for decades.
Coun. Bruce MacDougall represents that part of the city and urged his council colleagues not to approve the rezoning.
“This new council has become known for listening to residents’ concerns and we have another opportunity to listen to the resident’s concerns this evening,”
MacDougall went on to list a number of initiatives undertaken by the new council, including adding stop signs where residents demanded them, new sidewalks, changes to the Pope Road and Central Street Intersection and other projects.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we continue to be a very open council and are listening to the residents’ concerns all over this city. Tonight, I ask you to listen to the residents of (this) subdivision,” said MacDougall. He recieved a round of applause from the crowd.
His pleas were ultimately futile, though, as council approved the developer’s request.
Several councillors previously spoke of the need for more housing in the community and city staff’s positive recommendation as reasons for wanting to approve the rezoning.