January 26, 2024
In support of our Mission to provide quality leadership, services, opportunities and resources for the benefit of our citizens, Amherst Town Council recently adopted a set of 2024 Strategic Priorities that will support the town’s growth and development in a fair, equitable and transparent manner.
“Town staff, our Mayor and Councillors meet every year and hold a strategic priorities planning day, where we review the previous year’s areas of focus and determine the best way to move our organization forward,” said Jason MacDonald, CAO of the Town of Amherst. “We focus on developing four main priorities, but they don’t change annually just for the sake of changing; this year, we changed only one because, although we’ve made great progress across the board, our work in three of our categories is ongoing.”
Focus will be maintained on the important topics of constructing a new Community Centre, increasing the supply of suitable and affordable housing, and developing a new Municipal Planning Strategy. On January 22, Council adopted a fourth strategic priority, which is the development of a Mobility Strategy.
“We are very happy with how staff and Council have advanced each of our strategic priority areas in 2023, and I know that work will continue,” said David Kogon, Mayor of Amherst. “The addition of our Mobility Strategy to the mix is significant; we will continue to drive our existing priorities forward while also developing important new resources that will consider and address how our citizens actually move in and around our community.”
Amherst’s Mobility Strategy will target improvements to active transportation, identify physical activity opportunities, and study a potential transit system for the town.
A group of Ongoing Priorities was also adopted by the Town, which maintains focus on other key subjects throughout 2024, including: Drugs and Addiction; Social Needs; Community Collaboration; Community Vibrancy; and, Economic Development.
Amherst partnered with the Municipality of Cumberland to undertake a feasibility study for the construction of a new, multi-purpose community centre to best serve our region’s citizens. Throughout the research phase, best practices and trends were sought by examining similar developments in various communities. Initial engagement has taken place with potential project partners, user groups and stakeholders, in order to gauge levels of interest and commitment. Once the project progresses further, there will be broader public consultation. This will ensure the best understanding of stakeholders’ needs and interests.
Meetings continue to take place with potential partners as rough financial estimates are being drawn up. As more information emerges regarding desired facility uses, costs can more accurately be estimated. Currently, the project continues to move forward, although a lot of work remains, including finalizing the group of key project participants.
Town Council is focused on the positive impacts a new community centre would have on our region – economically and culturally – and more updates will be made as details emerge.
Progress has been achieved across the housing spectrum in recent years.
In 2022, the Town helped to establish our area’s first emergency shelter, which was run in partnership with the Cumberland Homelessness and Housing Support Association, also known as Cornerstone. Then, Amherst provided financial support to cover the salary of Cornerstone’s Executive Director, who, on land donated by the Town, has been able to secure multi-level funding agreements to construct a wrap-around facility in downtown Amherst to serve our most vulnerable citizens.
The Town has taken bold steps to attract residential development projects, such as the creation of the Housing Infrastructure Investment Policy, which allows developers to enter into an agreement with the Town to finance construction of new municipal infrastructure (e.g. sewer and water lines, and streets), allowing developers to focus on the construction of residential units.
Projects are in various stages of approval for multiple locations throughout Amherst that will see hundreds of new rental units being constructed, as well as hundreds of single-family homes that will span the spectrum from subsidized entry level, all the way up to executive builds.
Amherst entered into a multi-year project to review and re-write its Municipal Planning Strategy and corresponding Land Use By-law – the core documents that guide development.
A thorough review of the Town’s existing documents was conducted, and these findings helped identify areas of the plan that work, and other areas that do not. Upland Planning + Design Studio of Dartmouth was engaged and public consultations were conducted, used to develop a report of findings – entitled the What We Heard Report – related to participants’ perspectives on land use and development in Amherst. Major themes that emerged included: a focus on Housing; various Social Issues, including Addictions and Mental Health; Economic Development; Transportation; Service and Amenities; and, Recreation.
The next component was the team’s Issues Report, which: established the primary challenges our community will face over the next 10 years; outlined potential best practices to address primary challenges; highlighted policy and regulatory gaps in Amherst’s existing planning documents; and, established potential policy directions and recommendations for the updated documents. Each of these components was examined within the context of the enabling provisions of the Municipal Government Act for land use and planning.
The Planning Advisory Committee has remained engaged throughout this process, and continues to provide support and direction as the Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use By-Law undergo updates and progress through rounds of review. It is projected that the final documents will be presented to the Planning Advisory Committee this spring for approval, before being presented to Council for adoption.
The newest addition to Amherst’s list of Strategic Priorities is the development of a Mobility Strategy. Town Council and Staff want to focus on how citizens physically move within Amherst, including active transportation routes along sidewalks, our trail network, and identifying gaps and opportunities in those resources.
This strategy will also examine existing and future opportunities for physical activity throughout our community, for a variety of demographic groups.
Another element of the mobility strategy will be undertaking a transit study for Amherst. Not everyone has access to a vehicle; we have people moving to town who find it challenging to get to work on time due to a lack of options or financial resources. The aim of the transit study is to identify our community’s transportation challenges and present a potential solution in the form of a bus service. Town staff have begun this process by investigating similar transit systems in Nova Scotia and meeting with the parties involved. It will be determined if the provision of a similar service in Amherst will help to serve a segment of our population currently experiencing transportation difficulties – and others who desire an alternate mode of transportation – and whether such a service will help our town to continue to grow into the future.