Construction has long been underway, but Danny Chedrawe got the official go-ahead for his company’s massive north end Halifax development on Tuesday.
Chedrawe’s company, Westwood Developments, applied back in 2016 to construct a multi-tower building on the property between Almon and St Albans streets. In the years since, there have been 14 changes to the design, with the architect replaced in 2018. The final product came to a public hearing at Halifax and West Community Council’s virtual meeting on Tuesday, with municipal planners recommending in favour.
Known as Richmond Yards, the proposal is for five towers rising out of a shared underground parking garage. The tallest is 30 storeys, or 103.3 metres, tall, containing up to 257 residential units and the others are 13, 12, 10, and eight storeys. There’s also a row of townhouses containing up to eight units. The total residential unit count is 620. There’s also 4,950 square metres of commercial space. The parking garage will contain 550 spaces.
Work on the parking garage began last year, and councillors learned on Tuesday that there was recently a stop-work order placed on the site.
Planner Jennifer Chapman explained that although the development agreement is being considered under old rules, the property is now subject to the Centre Plan, and it allows for some construction without a development permit, just a building permit.
“In this case, anything under 0.6 metres in height is permitted without requiring that development permit. So the applicant did decide to apply for permits to develop the underground parking structure knowing that there was risk associated with that as this development was not approved, and with the understanding that if this development does not get approved, they’ll proceed with a different form that complies with the Centre Plan on top,” Chapman said.
“I know that a construction permit was issued which stipulates that the building can’t go over 0.6 metres and the development did proceed over this heights and a stop-work order was issued.”
Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the community council and councillor for the area, asked Chapman for more details on the stop-work order.
“You may have noticed on site there’s a lot of activity occurring,” Chapman said. “And that is in accordance with the regional centre plan. So a permit was issued for all of the below-grade work. The activity went a little bit higher than it was supposed to which is anything in excess of .6 of a metre. So a stop work order was issued.”
During his presentation to the community council, Chedrawe said construction started a year and a half ago to remediate what he called a “heavily contaminated” site.
“It wasn’t just the soil, but also the rock was impacted with hydrocarbons … As we remove the contaminated material, we wanted to replace it with a non-occupiable structure to fill that while we go through the process of getting approval for the above-grade development that we are looking at tonight,” Chedrawe said.
“As work continued out throughout the year, there was a miscommunication where they poured columns above-grade, and this is where the issue came, where the stop-work order came. It wasn’t a stop-work order on the entire site, it was on the portion that has exceeded above grade.”
It wasn’t a deal-breaker for the community council, which voted unanimously in favour of the proposal.
One person spoke during the public hearing. Martha Purdy, a physiotherapist and owner of a building on Robie Street directly abutting the property, raised concerns about a lack of parking in the neighbourhood.
Chedrawe said 100 of the 550 parking spots in the underground garage will be paid, hourly parking for people visiting the site or the area.
That prompted Coun. Iona Stoddard to ask how the developer would provide parking for the building’s residents, given there’d be far fewer spaces than units.
“I know we’re trying to get away from cars, but there are families that have two cars, potentially, if they work in different areas of HRM,” Stoddard said.
Chapman said there is also a small surface parking lot on the site, but she said the location is well-serviced by Halifax Transit and the developer wanted to create a “transit-oriented development.”
There were also concerns about whether there’s enough park space in the area, with Coun. Patty Cuttell arguing the municipality should be considering the amount of open space near this kind of added density. Despite its proximity to the Halifax Common and other spaces, the municipality acknowledges the immediate area is lacking that kind of space.
Coun. Shawn Cleary said he too is concerned about a “dearth of open green spaces” in the north end, but noted the municipality is considering adding a park to the Halifax Forum property.
“I have confidence that there’s enough green space nearby and we will create more in the next few years,” he said.
Coun. Waye Mason said he was worried two open spaces planned on the property would be shaded, especially in the winter.
“Other than that, I don’t have any substantial concerns about it and I’m really pleased to see 620 units already under construction on the peninsula, so I will be supporting it,” Mason said.
The community council’s vote directs staff to execute a development agreement with Chedrawe’s company, which has to be signed within 240 days.
Though it can’t be required in the development agreement, Chedrawe told councillors he’s applying to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for funding to make some of the units affordable.
In 2019, Chedrawe said one of the towers would contain only affordable units — 60 in total, renting for 70% of market value. As I reported for StarMetro at the time:
“All the development in our city now is a race to the top, all they can put in, the more they can charge rent and all that. To me, it’s a race to the bottom. I’m going the opposite direction,” he said.
These units won’t have high-end finishes like granite countertops and the building won’t have “fancy lobbies,” Chedrawe said. They won’t even have washers and dryers in the units.
Instead, he said the building would have an “amazing laundry room with pool tables and with Wi-Fi.” That saves $100 a month, he said.
Chedrawe said he’d “sacrifice” on his end financially, and tap into some of Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s affordable housing incentives to pay for it. He wouldn’t say whether he’d use the up to $50,000 per unit available from the provincial government.
“We haven’t gone down that road yet,” he said. “But to me, I don’t want to be a beggar sitting at the municipal level, at the provincial level looking for handouts. To me, it’s that I can stand on my two feet and do this, and show the public, show the politicians it can be done.”