A Sydney doctor is asking the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to rewrite its planning rules so that she can open a practice closer to her patients and other members of the community.
Dr. Margaret Fraser wants to move her family practice to a residential neighbourhood from the regional hospital, but CBRM planning staff say that's not allowed and it could set a precedent.
Fraser said until 2004, doctors were allowed to open offices downtown and in residential areas.
"Since the new land-use bylaw, it's less possible for physicians to do that and I think that's actually a mistake," said Fraser, who has purchased a home on Cottage Road that she wants to transform into a medical clinic.
"By moving to this space, I'm moving out into the community, which I think is important," she said. "A number of my patients would be able to walk to the office, where they certainly can't now.
"I think that it has the potential to do some good for the neighbourhood and for the municipality."
Fraser said rent in the Health Park building next to the hospital is expensive and some patients find the offices too clinical, despite efforts to make them more welcoming by adding art to the walls and books on shelves.
The property on Cottage Road could be transformed to include memory clinics for seniors, dietary and cooking classes, and foot care. Those services aren't possible now because of lease conditions at Health Park, she said.
"[Moving to Cottage Road] would give me more freedom to do some of the things that I think are needed in the community," she said.
Clinic would include rental suite
Fraser also said medical students and visiting doctors often complain about the lack of quality, affordable housing in the area.
She plans to rent out the basement suite to make Sydney a more attractive location for physician recruitment.
At Tuesday's online council meeting, municipal staff said the planning strategy and land-use bylaw allow some home-based businesses in residential zones, but stand-alone commercial operations are not allowed.
They said approving Fraser's request would open all residential areas throughout CBRM to businesses.
Coun. Glenn Paruch, who lives near the proposed medical clinic, said Fraser's proposal makes sense.
"We're crying for doctors," he said.
But Paruch also said the public would need to be consulted on the issue because of the wider implications of changing the rules.
Council votes to seek public input
Coun. Eldon MacDonald agreed and urged caution.
"We have to be careful when we're looking at precedent-setting issues," he said. "And this being one, I look forward to hearing back from the residents."
In the end, council voted to seek public input, with Coun. Steve Parsons voting against it.
The building on Cottage Road is a former clergy house for St. Joseph's Catholic Church that was sold in 1999 for use as a single-family dwelling.
A daycare facility is next door and a couple of other home-based businesses are nearby.
Fraser said the former clergy house has a parking lot with eight spaces, so the clinic would not cause traffic problems on the busy street.
'Where do you think my patients live?'
She said putting medical clinics in residential neighbourhoods makes sense.
"It was interesting, when I was talking to the city planner, one of the things she brought up is that daycares are allowed in residential neighbourhoods because children live in neighbourhoods," said Fraser, "and I thought, well, where do you think my patients live?"
After the public weighs in, it is possible for council to amend the zone to allow medical clinics but not other commercial developments, said planner Kristen Knudskov. The change would still affect all low-density residential neighbourhoods in all of CBRM's communities.
Planning director Michael Ruus said the issue will be put on CBRM's website and Facebook page soon.
Fraser said the municipal planning strategy has led to urban sprawl as people move away from downtown, encouraging people to drive to other areas for goods and services.
"If Sydney wants to revitalize its downtown and wants to draw people back into the city, they also need to draw some of those services back into the city," she said.
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