A citizen committee has approved a proposal for a 12-storey building on the site of the Great Wall Restaurant, despite some concerns about a blank wall on the back of the building.
The municipality’s Design Review Committee, which approves downtown Halifax developments, met virtually Thursday night, and unanimously approved the proposal for 1649 Bedford Row.
Root Architecture submitted the application on behalf of 3333257 Nova Scotia Ltd., owned by Jim Kennedy, David Englehutt, and Darryl Laviolette. According to Property Valuation Services Corporation, the property sold for about $1.4 million in January 2020.
The new building is expected to contain 33 residential units — 11 two-bedroom, 16 one-bedroom, six studio — 1,150 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, zero underground parking spaces for vehicles and 14 indoor spaces for bicycles. Two of the residential units are barrier-free.
Kendall Taylor with Root is the project architect, and intern Connor Clark presented the design to the committee.
The proposal required one variance from the land-use bylaw governing development in downtown Halifax, a requirement that buildings over a certain height be set back from the property line.
Municipal planner Dean MacDougall recommended in favour of the variance (and the proposal generally), noting the developer isn’t asking for maximum height.
“The proposed variance to the interior lot line setbacks is required to provide a clear and distinguished ‘top’ to the building as well as a pleasing roof scape from other adjacent, higher properties, both of which the Design Manual encourages,” MacDougall wrote in the report to the committee.
“The maximum permitted height for this site is 49 metres and the proposed total height of the development is ~39 metres. This 10-metre reduction in height is proportional to the requested reduction in the side yard setback from 11.5 metres to 0 metres. As such, staff recommends approval of this variance.”
The committee had no issues with the variance, but had some questions about the windowless wall on the side of the building facing the harbour.
All the apartments face Bedford Row, with the architect anticipating future redevelopment of the surrounding properties. To try to make the back more interesting in lieu of windows, the the design uses panelling of varying widths.
Taylor said the rear-most portion of the building contains the elevator, and on the other section, windows would be required to have fire shutters worth $5,000 each. When the other lots are developed, something Taylor considers an eventuality, those windows would have to be removed.
The design includes windows like that on one side, compete with fire shutters, that will need to be removed when the lot next door is built up.
Committee member Nathan Guy called it a “Jekyll and Hyde” building, but said he understood the reasoning behind the blank wall.
Before turning to that project, the committee had a discussion about the second half of the Centre Plan. If approved as drafted, that second half, known as Package B, will impose new design rules and height and density limits on downtown Halifax, and it will make the Design Review Committee almost redundant.
The Design Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations but not decisions on development proposals under the Centre Plan, will take over most of the downtown Halifax design review. The Design Review Committee will still deal with the heritage districts in downtown Halifax — the Barrington, Old South Suburb, and Schmidtville districts — but it will be a reduction in its workload. Eventually it will be disbanded completely, with the heritage districts folded into the Centre Plan.
Some members of the committee didn’t know about the change before receiving a letter from Design Advisory Committee chair Ted Farquhar, a former member of the Design Review Committee, urging them to write to council to fight to keep the committee’s decision-making power.
The committee voted to forward Farquhar’s letter, which wasn’t posted on the agenda, to council for its consideration.
Centre Plan Package B is expected to go to council this year.