Regional Plan Review
After three years of public input, delays, debate, more delays, subcommittee meetings and more delays, Halifax council has finally completed the “five year” review of the regional plan developed eight years ago, and has approved all the recommendations of the review.
The revisions are not radical, but they tighten up planning policies a bit, and act as a partial check on sprawl. It’s probably the best that could be politically achieved, with this council.
That’s saying a lot. There were many attempts to derail the good work that was done by hundreds of citizens, both informally through the consultation process and those involved in the committees that hammered out compromises. Some councillors tried to introduce last-minute changes that would gut some of the protections given to rural areas. Stephen Adams, for example, wanted the Purcells Cove backlands rezoned so development could proceed immediately. David Hendsbee wanted the Home for Coloured Children land in Cole Harbour opened up for development. But both were frustrated in the end.
Council’s vote to adopt the revisions didn’t occur until this morning, because yesterday’s ’s public hearing on the revisions went well into the night. I’m told one subjected dominated the hearing (I wasn’t there): a designation involving Musquodoboit Harbour. That issue is too complex and, frankly, too inconsequential to get into here, and everybody seems happy with the result, which is the status quo. But it gives me the excuse to plug a new online community newspaper on the Eastern Shore, the Eastern Shore Cooperator, which covered the Musquodoboit issues. I’m much impressed with the vision and purpose of the venture, and wish them the best of luck. Please check it out.
Solid Waste Review
Council was also to vote on momentous changes to the city’s solid waste system, including policy changes that would extend the life of the Otter Lake Landfill past its scheduled 2025 closure date, to increase the height of the landfill by 15 metres, and to allow garbage collected from businesses to be shipped to landfills outside of HRM.
But Councillor Reg Rankin preempted debate on the issues by putting forward a motion of deferral, sending the whole mess to an ad hoc committee comprised of city staff and the directors of something called the Halifax Waste/Resource Society. I had never heard of the HWRS before, but it is a registered non-profit society that’s been around since 1999, and whose directorship reads like a Who’s Who of local mucky muckdom over the past 20 years. Here’s the list:
Notably, the directorship includes three sitting councillors—Russell Walker, Reg Rankin, and Stephen Adams. For some reason this caused a bit of consternation among some other councillors.
Rankin’s argument was that the community around the landfill felt that there had been no real community consultation, and while meeting with the HWRS won’t serve as a public consultation, that group has good connections to the local communities and so will have the community’s best interest in mind. Maybe. But there seemed to be an acknowledgement that some compromises and back room deals will be made at the ad hoc committee, and so maybe all the controversy is simply being kicked down the road a bit.
In any event, council agreed to the arrangement, and the ad hoc is to report back in late October.
Africville dog park
As I wrote this morning, the Africville dog park issue was and is fraught with unease over the city’s long racist relationship with Africville.
The dog park is in a fenced area to the west of the Africville Park parking lot, stretching to just before Seaview Church, which was rebuilt as part of the 2010 settlement between the city and the the former residents of Africville. That settlement also included an apology, the establishment of a trust fund, the “conveyance” of 2.5 acres of land the church sits on and, crucially, an agreement for joint management of Africville Park, where the dog park was subsequently established.
The dog park was apparently agreed to by Africville Genealogy Society president Irvine Carvery, but other former Africville residents have long bristled at the land being used for that purpose. City staffer Peter Bigelow told council Tuesday that residents have asked for the dog park to be decommissioned “year after year,” but that no action had been taken.
Councillor Jennifer Watts had put forward a motion to close the dog park by next month’s Africville Reunion, and to open a temporary dog park to the east of the parking lot, on land stretching to beneath the MacKay Bridge. That land was created when fill was dumped into the Bedford Basin as part of the bridge construction in the 1960s. After the shift in dog park location, Watts wanted a thorough review of dog parks, such that the Africville Park dog park would eventually be replaced by in a more suitable location that would be agreeable to dog owners.
Without rehashing the blow-by-blow, the conflict over the dog park is a good example of how politics often play out at a local level. Councillors respond first to what they perceive as their constituency, and often that is simply the most organized group of citizens. And dog owners are super organized. They started on-line petitions, email campaigns, phone trees, etc, to resist being moved out of the park. People from all over HRM, and even from all over North America, wrote to councillors, saying the park should not be abandoned. In comparison, the former residents of Africville had, well, not much active political support beyond themselves.
So councillors objected that dog walkers shouldn’t be kicked off the land with no other place to go, as if such a eviction was equal to the original Africville wrong. The irony was breath-taking, but not commented on at council.
There were a lot of (I’ll assume) unintentionally ugly things said Tuesday. For instance, Stephen Adams for some reason made a big deal out of the fact that the church land was “conveyed” to the Africville Trust, implying that it was a gift. It was not. It was settlement in a lawsuit, and so implicitly a payment in return for a wrong done to the residents of Africville. There’s a big difference. I can’t understand why Adams brought up the issue in the first place; it was completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. The effect, though, was a sense that the former Africville residents were somehow trying to take more than they deserve.
In the end, council voted on an amended motion to decommission the dog park within a year, but that the dog park will not be decommissioned until a replacement park opens. To get a sense of the varying opinions of the vote, consider these two headlines. CBC: “Africville off-leash dog park to be decommissioned,” and Chronicle Herald: “Plans to close Africville off-leash park put on hold.”
The vote was unanimous, save one vote: Watts’.
Renamed Metro Centre
Tuesday, council voted to accept a then-secret deal to rename the Metro Centre, the secrecy based not on any legal principle I’m aware of, but rather to accommodate a press conference/celebration to announce the deal today.
To wit: Scotiabank has agreed to pay $6.3 million over 10 years for naming rights to the arena. The actual name will be the Scotiabank Centre.
I’m still opposed to selling naming rights to municipal facilities, but I’ll admit that this deal is better than I had feared.
The sale of naming rights is at its heart simply crass commercialism: everything has a price. The city is free to enter into such a deal, but I don’t see why any of the rest of us have to agree to it. For myself, I’ll join the crass commercialism bandwagon: I’ll call the arena Scotiabank Centre as soon the bank pays me to. A hundred bucks a pop is my price, Scotiabank. Until then, it’s still the Metro Centre as far as I’m concerned.