Cape Breton regional councillors are pushing ahead with proposed planning changes that could allow a doctor's office to open in a residential zone.
Some councillors were concerned the move could set a precedent and open up all kinds of commercial development in residential neighbourhoods.
CBRM staff initially recommended against the change for that reason and during Tuesday's council meeting, Coun. Steve Gillespie initially sided with staff.
"I'm not in favour of allowing this to proceed any farther," he said. "I do not believe commercial should be in with residential."
Dr. Margaret Fraser wants to move her family practice from the regional hospital to a residential neighbourhood in Sydney. She has bought a home on Cottage Road that she wants to transform into a medical clinic.
Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger said Tuesday he understood the dilemma, but also said with concerns about failing health care and the need to attract more doctors, council should do what it can to support physicians.
"Now at the same time, do I want the floodgates to open for businesses in residential zones? Absolutely not," he said.
Deputy mayor Earlene MacMullin said council should make a distinction between medical practices and commercial enterprises.
"They are not selling bottles of wine," she said. "They are not selling hair elastics. They are not selling trinkets. It's a medical clinic."
Gillespie maintained that doctors should not be allowed to move their businesses into residential zones, saying that could start a migration of other professionals and could empty out the downtown core.
He then touched off a heated exchange.
"It's been indicated from several councillors that 'I wouldn't mind having a doctor's office next door.' Maybe not, but what if the doctor's office next door decided to become a methadone clinic? Would you have a concern then, with the amount of people that were coming and going?" he said.
"I can tell you that I wouldn't want that in my community."
MacMullin took the comment personally and admitted that her hands were shaking and she was enraged.
"I appreciate your privilege to never have to be exposed to that or live in a close area," she said.
"Every single pharmacy you see is a methadone or suboxone clinic. People that you see walk down the road that you don't know go there, go there. And I will tell you because I've gone. I've brought my own child there."
Gillespie eventually backtracked, saying he has a history of "saying stupid stuff" and did not mean to offend.
He said he has also taken a loved one to a methadone clinic, but was trying to point out that there could be unintended consequences.
Coun. Gordon MacDonald asked if there was a way for the municipality to allow doctor's offices while limiting other businesses.
Senior planner Karen Neville said medical clinics are not allowed in residential zones under the municipal planning strategy, but she told council the document is not written in stone.
"It is your policy," she said. "You do have the option to make that change."
Neville said council could consider amending the residential zoning rules to allow medical clinics "as of right," meaning they could go anywhere without a permit, or they could be allowed under certain conditions, such as with an application for a development permit.
There are also several other options that could be considered, she said.
"As it stands now, I think we have seven or eight different options for council's consideration, so there's a lot of debate that could potentially happen moving forward, depending on the direction of council," Neville said.
Council eventually voted to have staff come back with more information.
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