1. Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park
It’s hard to understand what councillor Reg Rankin is up to.
You’ll recall that Justice Heather Robertson was hired as a “facilitator” for the city and four development companies that own property within the boundaries of the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park to come to an agreement about the value of the developers’ property. Last month, however, Robertson issued a report that seems to have exceeded her authority — she basically decided that the city has enough park land and acquiring all the land in the proposed park was a step too far.
Here are the originally proposed boundaries, laid out in the 2006 general plan:
Over the past decade, I’ve attended dozens of council discussions about the park, and the intent from the very beginning has been to make the park boundaries “ridgetop to ridgetop,” so that runoff from surrounding suburban development would not despoil the Birch Cove Lakes, and the park experience for users would be unsullied by views of apartment buildings and monster homes overlooking the wilderness. Robertson’s report, however, envisions a much smaller park, and the developers (led by the Annapolis Group) put forward a map showing suburban development snaking all around the lakes:
That developers’ vision was further expressed via a “3D video” I obtained:
For yesterday’s council meeting, the first since Robertson issued her report, Rankin had agendized a discussion of the boundaries for the park (item 15.1), but at the beginning of the meeting he pulled his motion and replaced it with a notice of motion for next week’s meeting. That multi-part motion was too detailed for anyone to understand, and copies of the motion were not given to reporters. It will be available Friday, albeit without an accompanying map.
Park advocates are worried about Rankin. During a break in the meeting, I was told Rankin had previously said publicly that he wanted to proceed with “secondary planning” for the area owned by the development companies — that is, the first step to getting the property developed. I think, but am not certain, they may be misreading Rankin. I think Rankin’s attempt is to get the park solidified at the originally proposed boundaries. But it’s hard to say. Here’s how Remo Zaccagna at Local Xpress explained it:
Rankin had also withdrawn the original motion, which would have asked municipal staff to look at whether the municipality needs a policy over how much parkland it needs and is ready to pay for.
“This motion, if it passes, seems to me, moves the markers quite a bit,” Rankin told reporters during a break of Tuesday’s regional council meeting.
“The public now has the map of the developers that was part of an attachment of the facilitator’s report. Now the motion is asking, in terms of explanation, to provide what is the true aspiration of the HRM.”
That certainly sounds like Rankin wants to talk money — how much are citizens willing to pay for the park land?
And that’s what this all boils down to. I don’t think the Annapolis Group is hell-bent on developing the property, but there’s no question that they want top dollar for it. So the developers have been pushing to get the land valued at suburban development land prices as opposed to non-developable green space prices. Robertson’s report played right into their hands.
And in a way, so does the public outcry over the threatened loss of half the park. No doubt the developers are quite heartened by the thousands of people who are demanding the proposed park land be protected at all costs — because “all costs” means millions of dollars in their pockets.
Specifically, reports Elizabeth McMillan for the CBC:
One of the developers, Annapolis Group, is willing to sell 210 acres of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes site to the city for $6 million.
Halifax’s appraisal estimates the value of the land as $2.8 million.
The city needs to fight back on this — and not just on the development designation of the land, but also on Robertson’s report. She had no authority to say how much parkland the city needs, or that the city should give up its dream of a ridgetop-to-ridgetop wilderness park. Instead, Robertson should have worked at finding a creative solution to the impasse — the developers could have been given “bonus” rights on other land they own, or there could have been a land swap for, say, the Cogswell Interchange land.
Regardless, the developers’ land should be valued at open space pricing and not a penny more — their purchase of the land was speculative in the first place, and no one guaranteed them immense profits for simply taking a bet.
2. Wrong way
Also at its meeting yesterday, Halifax council pushed forward a development proposal for another shitty apartment building in the north end, for the corner of Maynard and Roberts Streets.
As I noted last month:
WM Fares wants to build an eight-storey apartment building at Maynard and Roberts Streets; the council should reject the proposal if only because Fares submitted the above architectural rendering, which shows an impossible view of the building, unless the developer is also proposing to tear down the block opposite the building, paint the adjacent building all white, plant a four-storey tall tree that does not now exist, and import a sky found only on Europa, the moon of Jupiter.
The architectural rendering doesn’t even get the street flow right — Maynard Street is one-way in the opposite direction.
“Premier Stephen McNeil gave his former Deputy Minister a nearly $17,000 raise (9%) a few months after freezing the salaries of his non-unionized staff,” claims the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour in a press release.
The salary bump came via “performance bonuses” over and above the declared salaries of deputy ministers Catherine Blewett, George MacLellan, and Fred Crooksthat.
1. Matt Whitman’s mom
“Halifax Deputy Mayor* Matt Whitman was shocked to logon to Twitter this morning only to discover he’d been blocked by his own mother,” writes Matt Brand:
When reached for comment, Matt Whitman’s Mom says Whitman had been teaching her how to use Twitter, and he gave very clear instructions that it’s best to block anyone who disagrees with you.
“Last night, for some reason, Matt starts discussing the best Deputy Mayor ever, and I told him I was quite fond of Marie O’Malley,” she said.
According to her, Whitman argued that he was the best deputy mayor ever and that O’Malley didn’t count because she served pre-amalgamation.
“The argument was cordial. But, I did not agree with what he had so say, so I had to block him,” she said.
* Brand actually wrote “deputy councillor,” which makes no sense at all. He should get a copy editor.
2. Cranky letter of the day
Here’s a prediction: Someone is going to get killed trying to cross George Street in Sydney. The crosswalk markings are dangerously faded, impairing the vision of pedestrians and drivers. Third-world cities have better crosswalk signage and street markings.
Then there are traffic lights that simply do not give pedestrians the necessary time to cross. They should be called chase the race. At the three-quarter mark of the crossing the red hand appears before people have successfully crossed the street. Seniors are both baffled and startled by the rapidly changing lights.
Crazy King George III may have had it in for Cape Bretoners and their guests when he ordered the construction of one of the widest streets in Canada so that his royal carriage could promenade. Not a great way to welcome all of those Americans fleeing from Donald Trump’s presidency.
Good luck getting across.
Jim Guy, Sydney
Audit & Finance (10am, City Hall) — we’re going to spend $60,000 on two drones for the fire department.
No public meetings.
Thesis defence, Earth Sciences (1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Leslie Samuel Eliuk will be defend his thesis, “Abenaki Carbonate Platform in Relation to the Jurassic-Cretaceous Sable Island Delta, Offshore Nova Scotia, Canada.”
In the harbour
6am: ZIM Virginia, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
7am: Spiekeroog, general cargo, sails from Bedford Anchorage to Algeciras, Spain
7:15am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
10am: NYK Nebula, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
4pm: Agios Minas, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
4pm: ZIM Virginia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for San Juan, Puerto Rico
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm, with Lezlie Lowe.
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