After four years and as many tries, a Vernon Street resident is now allowed to build a backyard addition that doesn’t quite meet the land-use bylaw.
Halifax and West Community Council voted Tuesday night to allow an appeal of a variance refusal for 1891 Vernon St., the corner of Vernon and Shirley streets.
The property owner, Ali Alwraith, wants to build a two-unit addition to the back of his home, with a driveway onto Shirley Street. The plan requires variances to the land-use bylaws for the area. Namely, the building covers more of the lot than allowed — 40% rather than 35% — and it’s too close to the neighbour’s lot line, matching the existing house.
Alwraith first applied for those variances in May 2016, and the municipality allowed them. But the neighbours appealed and the community council allowed the appeal, tossing out the approval.
In April 2018, another plan was again approved and appealed, and Alwraith withdrew the variance application before it went to community council.
A year later, Alwraith applied again with some new surveying, finding the side yard setback, the distance to the neighbour’s lot line, was too little. That application was denied and Alwraith did not appeal.
In May 2020, Robe LeBlanc, president of Fathom Studio, submitted the latest plan to the municipality. It was denied, and LeBlanc appealed on Alwraith’s behalf, sending the matter to the community council on Tuesday.
The applicant is “persistent,” noted Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the community council.
Variance hearings are public hearings, and after a presentation from municipal staff, LeBlanc made the case for allowing the variance.
“I think this is a great example of gentle density within a walkable distance of Robie Street and the Quinpool corridor,” LeBlanc said.
Next, four members of the public spoke.
First was Jacob Glover, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Judith Wright, the nextdoor neighbour.
“The building would eclipse much of the sunlight that enters her yard and her space, and this development would effectively remove most of the accessible sunlight and green space that Judith has access to in her own home,” Glover said.
The other three speakers — Victor Goldberg, Patsy Jones, and Mary Evans — were in favour of the variances.
The councillors were in favour, too.
Coun. Waye Mason said he voted against the proposal in 2016, but he’s since changed his mind. He noted that the property owner could follow a different path to creating the same amount of density using a backyard suite and a smaller addition, that would add less to the street.
Coun. Shawn Cleary agreed.
“We’re talking about very minimal variances,” Cleary said.
The motion passed unanimously.
Tower Road apartments approved
The community council also voted in favour of a proposal for a three-storey apartment building on the same lot as a registered heritage property, Dr. James Doull House.
That house is located at 1029 Tower Rd., and as the Halifax Examiner reported in the fall, “the developer wants to rotate the house 90 degrees to face Tower Road and make room for the new three-storey building.”
Halifax regional council approved the heritage aspect of the proposal in November, leaving the community council to approve the commercial use proposed for the renovated Dr. James Doull House and the three-storey building next door, which will contain up to eight units.
A few councillors asked about the compatibility of the new building with the old, and municipal heritage planner Seamus McGreal told them there were no issues for staff.
“It wasn’t determined that the new building really detracted or overwhelmed the cottage. They really will appear as though they’re on separate lots even though they’re essentially on the same parcel,” McGreal said.
McGreal noted there would be an amendment to the development agreement attached to the staff report. That agreement states that Stefen Frent is the property owner, but he sold the property. Frent sold the property for $600,000 in January, according to ViewPoint Realty. McGreal didn’t say who bought it, but developer Trystan James, who was working with Frent on the project before, was on the call Tuesday.
No one signed up to speak for the public hearing, and the motion passed unanimously.
Councillors reluctantly rubber stamp gas station proposal
The lawyers said they had no choice, so councillors approved a gas station proposed for Prospect Road.
The community council rejected the proposal for a gas station, convenience store, and drive-through at 1656 Prospect Rd. in September. The provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB) overturned that decision and ordered the community council to approve it.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, the community council deferred a vote on that order:
Coun. Shawn Cleary, who was on the community council in September, questioned why the proposal even comes back before the community council if it has no choice.
“In a judicial environment, if the higher court overturns the decision of a lower court, it’s just automatically overturned. It doesn’t go back to that other judge and they have to re-decide. They’re asking us to re-decide,” he said. “My position hasn’t changed.”
Cleary wanted a municipal lawyer to explain the reasoning to him, “citing the charter section and legal precedence that would force me to vote a different way than I voted the first time.”
At first, there was no lawyer on the teleconference for the meeting. Lawyer Meg MacDougall signed in a few minutes later.
MacDougall told Cleary the community council has to follow the UARB’s order. Cleary asked what happens in the community council doesn’t approve it. MacDougall explained that only chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé could decide to appeal the UARB decision to the courts.
Working with MacDougall on the wording, Cleary moved to defer the decision until municipal staff outlined the community council’s legal options and why it had to vote on the matter.
The lawyers provided councillors with an in camera report attached to Tuesday’s agenda on why they had to approve the proposal. It’s unclear why it was in camera because municipal solicitor John Traves made the case in public, telling councillors “there is no choice at this point.”
“The period for any appeal has expired and in any event there was no grounds for appeal,” Traves said.
Coun. Patty Cuttell acknowledged that her constituents are opposed to the project, but said the council’s hands were tied.
“I too have issues with this development and its impact on neighbouring properties, the environment, the overall development pattern of Prospect Road,” Cuttell said.
She said it highlights the need to review the planning rules for the area.
“We simply cannot continue to rely on outdated planning strategies to guide current growth and development.”
Cleary said he still doesn’t like it either, but council needs to change its bylaws, not just wish they were different.
“I’m satisfied that I don’t like this but I have to vote for it and I will vote for it,” he said.
The motion passed unanimously.
Public hearing coming for development already under construction
Councillors voted Tuesday to schedule a public hearing for Westwood’s Richmond Yards development on Almon Street.
It’s a massive development, with five towers of up to 30 storeys rising above a shared base, along with a row of townhouses. In total, the development would contain more than 500 residential units. It’s been in the works since 2016, well before the Centre Plan was approved, so it follows a development agreement process based on old rules.
But construction is already well underway, as seen above. According to municipal building permit data, the developer has had a permit to construct a multi-unit dwelling on the site since November.