1. Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness
At today’s city council meeting, councillor Reg Rankin will introduce the following motion:
That Halifax Regional Council direct staff to:
1. Initiate the public consultation and hearing process for an amendment to the Regional Municipal Planning Strategy to amend the concept plan (Map 11) for Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park with an established south-eastern boundary of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park area as pertaining to the Highway 102 West Corridor (lands of Annapolis Group Inc. and Susie Lake Developments Inc. and its associated companies): and further, that the Park Concept 3A showing the outlines of the proposed boundaries be made available to the public and advertised as the proposed park boundary for this process.
2. That, recognizing that adjacent development may affect the achievement of park objectives, their timing and cost, Council initiate and proceed with secondary planning for the Highway 102 West Corridor lands not within the proposed park boundary in concert with the public consultation and hearing process to establish the Regional Park boundary; and further that if through the public consultation and hearing processes lands are identified as not required for park purposes these lands may be included for secondary planning with the timing of development to be addressed through appropriate phasing.
3. That Council direct staff to return identifying the land which HRM requires for Regional Park purposes within two years of this resolution.
This is a baldfaced attempt to hand tens of millions of dollars to development companies that own 400 hectares within the boundaries of the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park; their land encircles four lakes on the eastern edge of the proposed park. The development companies are being led by the Annapolis Group, which is controlled by the Jodrey family, which has assets valued at about a half-billion dollars
This has always been about the valuation of the land. The development companies bought the land on speculation and now say it should be valued at the highest possible price, meaning the price it would fetch were they allowed to build gigantic apartment buildings surrounding the lakes and build monster suburban homes on the ridges overlooking the wilderness. Here’s a 3D video produced for the Annapolis Group, showing their vision for suburban development of the property:
But no one guaranteed the companies a profit for their speculation. The land has never been zoned for suburban development. In fact, the 2006 Regional Plan envisions it being incorporated into a park, and for the last 10 years everyone has been working under that premise.
An idea for how the land was valued by the companies themselves is revealed by a order in council from 2009.
Orders in council are decisions made by the premier’s cabinet. That is, they are executive decisions made outside the authority of the full legislature; as such, the orders themselves have always been a matter of public record. They’re posted on a website, and any attachments have been readily available — in the past, I’ve simply called up the Executive Council office and the attachments appeared in my email about 10 minutes later.
Not this time, however. I don’t know if it’s because Marilla Stephenson is already screwing up easy communication with the public from the Executive Council, or if it’s because the province has stupidly centralized all requests for information into one central office, but for whatever reason, when I called over last week to get the attachments for Order in Council 2009-367 I was told I’d have to file a Freedom of Information request for it — a process that can take two months or more.
Again, Orders in Council and their attachments and schedules have always been a matter of public record, available as a matter of course without filing a FOI request. No one would seriously argue that the attachments are not public record — in fact, they need to be public in order to be effective (secret orders have no effect). But, well, here we are.
In any event, Order in Council 2009-367 reads as follows:
The Governor in Council on the report and recommendation of the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal dated August 18, 2009, and pursuant to Section 18 of Chapter 371 of the Revised Statutes of Nova Scotia, 1989, the Public Highways Act, is pleased to:
(a) extinguish the right of the public to use that portion of the public highway system containing 1.76 acres, more or less, situate at or near Quarry Lake, Halifax Regional Municipality, and more particularly described in Schedule “A” as shown outlined in red on Schedule “B” which Schedules are attached to and form part of the Report and Recommendation;
(b) authorize the conveyance of the land to Annapolis Group Inc., a company incorporated under the laws of the Province of Nova Scotia, for the sale price of $4,400.00, plus HST of $572.00; and
(c) authorize the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to make and execute a Deed of Conveyance in such form as the Minister determines to effect the conveyance of the lands hereinabove described.
So in 2009, Annapolis Group accepted a valuation of 1.76 acres of land in the Quarry Lake area at $4,400, or $2,500/acre.
Now, however, Annapolis Group is arguing that, based on its value as prime suburban development land, 210 acres it owns in the same area is valued at $6 million, or $28,572/acre.
The city bureaucracy argues that that those same 210 acres should be valued at open space prices for a total of $2.8 million, or $13,333/acres.
I don’t know how we got from $2,500/acre to $13,333/acre in just seven years, but either figure is a far cry from the hyper-inflated $28,572/acre Annapolis Group wants.
And that’s where Rankin’s motion comes in.
The 2006 Regional Plan designated all the land in question as “urban reserve.” That means that one day the land might be made available for development, but not before the 25-year planning horizon of the plan — that is, before the year 2031 there would be no planning for the land; it’d just remain open space. After 2031 a future council might decide to designate the land for development, or not — that future council would be entirely within its rights to deny any development on the property.
Rankin’s motion, however, tosses that designation aside. It calls for the city to “proceed with secondary planning for the Highway 102 West Corridor lands” — that is, to immediately start the planning processes that will lead to suburban development of the development companies’ land.
It’s true that the motion calls for such planning to be initiated for the developers’ land “not within the proposed park boundaries,” but as is, there’s no guarantee that that land can be developed either. The effect of Rankin’s motion is to sidestep 15 years of the planning process up to now — the five years it took to develop the regional plan, plus the 10 years that has transpired since — and to take away the power of a council 15 years in the future (after 2031) from making its own decision about the land.
Moreover, by immediately valuing the adjacent land at its potential as full suburban development, the land within the park boundaries would similarly be valued at a similar price.
That is, all the land, including the land in the proposed park, would be priced at the suburban development price, the $28,572/acre Annapolis Group says it wants.
I don’t know why Rankin wants to cave to the developers, but I can speculate. He’s announced he’s not running for reelection in October; maybe he’s envision taking a job, Richard Butts-style, with the Annapolis Group. After all, if his motion is successful, the company will get $3.2 million more than the city is now offering for its property. Surely that’s worth a cush consulting contract, eh?
(In total, all the land in question, including land owned by other development companies, would amount to tens of millions of dollars in extra costs for the city.)
In any event, council should reject Rankin’s motion and direct staff to continue to offer $13,333/acre for the land. If the development companies reject that price, the city should initiate expropriation proceedings and let a judge establish the price.
2. Sexual assaults in taxis
The police department issued the following release yesterday:
In response to the recent rash of sexual assaults involving taxi drivers, our Crime Analysis Unit has conducted a thorough analysis of similar incidents that have occurred in the last five years. We’re providing context so citizens can make informed decisions about their personal safety, and also outlining the police response so people are aware of what we’re doing to address the issue.
There have been 12 sexual assaults involving cab drivers since 2012: 2 in 2012, 1 in 2013, 1 in 2014, 3 in 2015 and 5 to date in 2016. We identified six suspects in seven of the twelve files. Charges have been laid in five; three are closed due to lack of solvability but will be reopened if additional information comes to light; another was closed at the request of the victim, a decision we respect as it’s her choice if she wishes to proceed with an investigation; and the remaining three are under active investigation. This chart depicts the disposition of each file:
Closed due to lack of solvability
Closed due to lack of solvability
Closed due to lack of solvability
Charge of sexual assault laid
Charge of sexual assault laid
Charge of sexual assault laid
Charge of sexual assault laid
Closed at request of victim
Charge of sexual assault laid
Offenders’ Profile: The offenders are described as men, in most cases with dark hair and between the ages 30-50. They commonly spoke with an accent.
Offenders’ Behaviour: The offenders are targeting women, aged 19-25 (in 11 of 12 cases), most of whom were travelling in the front seat. When committing the sexual assault, the offenders either had a lone female passenger in the taxi or waited until the woman was the only passenger left in the taxi.
In many of the incidents, the offenders insisted on no payment for the drive either before or after committing the sexual assault. The offenders often asked personal questions and attempted to flatter the victim.
In the majority of cases (9 of 12), the sexual assaults involved the offenders touching the woman in a sexual manner and forcibly kissing her, both during the taxi ride and at the woman’s destination. The offenders often attempted to pull the woman close to them. Some offenders asked for a kiss and/or forced a kiss.
Time & Place: All incidents took place between 8:30 p.m.-4:30 a.m., the majority on weekends and most often in spring/summer. The offenders most commonly picked up their fare in the downtown core.
The Police Response
We’re taking these sexual assaults very seriously and have a multi-faceted approach to addressing them:
- Our Sexual Assault Investigation Team (SAIT) is thoroughly investigating each file, which involves working with Taxi & Limousine Services and individual taxi companies, who have been assisting with the investigations.
- Our beat officers, members in both our Liquor Enforcement Unit and Quick Response Unit, as well as officers assigned to the Downtown Safety Strategy detail are actively engaging with door staff and patrons in the downtown core, seeking any information on suspicious activity that’s worthy of note.
- Our officers are discussing personal safety with downtown bar patrons and we’re also providing it here so people have full information about what they can do for their own personal safety:
- Call a taxi instead of hailing one; this way, there’s a record of your request and which driver has been dispatched.
- Before you get into a taxi, make note/take a photo of the taxi company name and roof light number. Once inside, make note of both the taxi license and driver license photo of the operator, both of which need to be clearly visible inside the taxi. Also ensure the taxi has a meter. If the required information or a meter is not present, don’t get in/get out immediately and call 3-1-1 to report a possible illegal taxi.
- Sit in the back seat on the right-hand side of the vehicle, particularly if travelling alone, as it’s farthest from the driver and curb-side in the event you need to exit quickly.
- Have your phone handy. If you ever feel uncomfortable while in a taxi, get out and/or call 9-1-1 immediately.
- We’re interacting with taxi operators, highlighting that they, too, should report any suspicious behaviour to police. For their own safety, they should insist on lone passengers sitting in the back seat on the right-hand side of the vehicle. We remind the taxi industry that officers are available if they need police assistance at any time.
We have said this many times but must reiterate once again that the women who have been sexually assaulted have done absolutely nothing wrong and have every right to believe it’s safe to get into a taxi; it’s the perpetrators who are purposely targeting young women accessing their taxis. The offenders must stop this unacceptable and violent behaviour.
3. Be afraid!
“A downtown Halifax street was closed to traffic for about a half hour Monday morning after someone called the police about an unattended lunch bag,” reports Zane Woodford for Metro. (Woodford’s lede calls it a lunch bag, but the police are quoted as saying it was a blue and white lunch pail.) The article continues:
Though this incident turned out to be less than serious — unless you’re the person missing their lunch — [Police spokesperson Alicia] Joseph was happy that the person who made the call was vigilant.
“We’re really happy the public is actually calling the police when they see anything suspicious,” she said. “We are encouraging them to do so, and they are certainly fulfilling that.”
No! Don’t be an idiot! Nobody’s going to blow up a Brunswick Street sidewalk with a lunch pail. Instead of calling the cops and disrupting the centre of downtown for an hour, how ’bout you go home, duct tape the door shut, draw the curtains, put on a tin foil hat, and pray to whatever sky god is going to protect you from evildoers.
But let’s add yesterday’s hysteria to our list of ridiculous “suspicious package” incidents:
April 2013: police closed Barrington Street after someone called in a suspicious package that turned out to be a briefcase full of bricks. This is the first use of the police robot, I think.
May 2013: a suspicious package full of something that vaguely looked electrical was discovered at the Halifax Shopping Centre, causing much mayhem and worry until a sheepish salesman explained that he had accidentally left his bag of hearing aids behind.
May 2013: a supsicious package is reported in a parking lot near Stadacona. I later wrote: “The very best in anti-terrorism technology — a water cannon-wielding robot! — is employed to blast the innocent bag someone left next to a car to smithereens. Freedumb!”
June 2014: unidentified package found near Dockyard.
January 2015 a Cole Harbour neighbourhood and a Grand Desert street were shut down for fears that Christopher Phillips was stockpiling a dangerous chemical, osmium tetroxide. Phillips was subsequently acquitted of all charges; in a hearing, a chemist testified that the chemical could not be used as a weapon.
May 2015: a suspicious package that closed Robie Street turned out to be a suitcase full of clothes.
September 2015: unidentified package exploded by military police at Rainbow Gate at HMC Dockyard.
July 2016: An empty briefcase was left near the corner of Almon and Gottingen Streets, which required the efforts of the bomb squad, the closure of various streets, and police thanking everyone for being forever watchful.
July 2016: A “vigilant” citizen alerted authorities to a lunch pail left a block from where dozens of construction workers are building the Nova Centre, and so Brunswick Street was closed, ironically at lunchtime.
“A coast guard ship has dredged up a piece of Nova Scotia’s maritime history about 150 kilometres southwest of Yarmouth,” reports Chris Lambie for Local Xpress:
The CCGS Alfred Needler was trawling near the bottom of the ocean on Georges Bank on July 9 as part of a fish survey when it found pieces of a shipwreck on the ocean floor about 292 metres beneath the waves.
“It’s an exciting discovery and we’re trying to determine exactly what it is,” Katie Cottreau-Robins, curator of archeology for the Nova Scotia Museum, told Local Xpress.
1. Yarmouth ferry
It’s a huge money-loser, writes Stephen Kimber.
2. Purple house
“Steele Auto Group has started the demolition of 19 homes to expand a Honda dealership in the core of the Halifax peninsula,” writes Tristan Cleveland:
Many residents may feel that the issue is a lost cause now that the homes are coming down.
Possibly the highest priority house to save is still standing, however, and it should still be possible to convince Steele Auto Group to do right by the community and sell this one building intact. Meet the Purple House.
It can be hard to appreciate how much impact losing a corner-house can have on a street, but I hope the following diagram will help. The blue represents what you can see.
Imagine yourself standing at the corner of Robie and May—maybe because you are walking to Agricola from the Coastal Cafe, Good Robot, Mary’s Place, the barber shop or the mosque. From that perspective, the dealership is barely visible and there is no evidence of the 5 demolished homes on nearby Fern Lane. Despite the destruction, this could remain an attractive street where people would want to walk and spend time.
Without the purple house, two thirds of the parking lot becomes visible. Instead of feeling like a close-knit residential street, it would feel like the grey extension of a parking lot. This one house constitutes the difference between this project having only minimal impact on this street, or totally undermining what it feels like to be there.
It’s almost cute that Cleveland thinks the Steele Auto Group cares about walkability or the feel of a residential street for pedestrians. They’re interesting in selling cars, and the better views of those cars, the more cars they’ll sell, pedestrians be damned.
3. Marilla Stephenson
Parker Donham makes a distinction between Stephen McNeil’s hiring of Laurie Graham and his hiring of Marilla Stephenson:
Graham received a discretionary political appointment. When Stephen McNeil’s term as premier ends, so will her employment.
Stephenson received a civil service appointment. She has a job for life, and will continue to draw a salary long after McNeil leaves 1 Government Place.
Records the Government Employees’ Union obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show the government initially hoped to hire Stephenson without a competition, but received advice it had to hold one.
So the senior bureaucrats charged with creating the position designed a “competition” so narrow as to remove all doubt about the outcome. They limited applicants to the handful of people working in the Office of the Executive Council. They invited Stephenson to personally vet the job description — an opportunity afforded no other candidate.
To no one’s surprise, Stephenson was the only applicant. The bespoke job won her a 27 per cent raise, from $83,259 to $106,000.
Like any other premier, McNeil is entitled to create whatever political positions he thinks he needs. But he is not entitled to create permanent civil service positions and stock them with cronies.
Doing so harkens back to the corrupt practices of the Buchanan Government, one of the most wasteful and destructive periods in modern Nova Scotia history.
City Council (1pm, City Hall) — I’ll be live-blogging the meeting via the Examiner’s Twitter account, @hfxExaminer.
No public meetings.
TanCam (11am – 2pm, Dal SUB) — Sun Safe Nova Scotia and the Canadian Cancer Society have this dealy called the TanCam Booth, which tells you how bad your skin is damaged by the sun.
Thesis defence, Biology (1:30pm, Room 429/430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Mauricio Cantor will defend his thesis “On the Interplay between Society and Culture: Causes, Consequences and Stability of Sperm Whale Clans.”
In the harbour
Scheduled as of 7am:
6am: Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
6am: Vera D, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Leixoes, Portugal
7am: Queen Mary 2, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from New York with up to 2,620 passengers
8:30am: Cristobal Colon, Spanish warship, sails from NB3 for sea
10am: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, arrives at Pier 41 from St. John’s
3:30pm: Atlantic Conveyor, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
4pm: Vera D, container ship, sails from HalTerm for sea
5pm: Queen Mary 2, cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Southhampton, England (the nine-day New York-Halifax-Southhampton trans-Atlantic crossing starts at $999 per passenger at double occupancy cabin rates)
5am: Alm Crystal, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
10:30am: Berlin Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
11am: ZIM Alabama, container ship, arrives at HalTerm from Barcelona, Spain
5pm: Tokyo Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
Too much to do.
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