The old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. Photo: David Harrison

Council approved bylaw amendments Tuesday night allowing for new development on the site of the old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

Halifax regional council held a public hearing at its meeting, hearing from 14 people, mostly in favour of the proposal to rezone the land on Highway 7 in Westphal.

The Halifax Examiner laid out the history of the property, the zoning, and the development proposal here in September:

Akoma Holdings is proposing to transform its 320-acre property, located along Highway 7 where Westphal meets Cherry Brook.

The first stage of the project will see the old home building renovated and turned into a heritage zone to recognize the site’s history.

The second phase is a two- or three-storey seniors home on the property and the third phase includes an affordable mixed-use residential and commercial building, a new children’s centre, townhouse units and eight single-family homes.

“All in all, we want to basically change the land. There’s no point in having it just sitting there, not doing anything with it,” says Spencer Colley, a member of Akoma’s board.

Seniors originally from the area he describes as the Preston Townships — North and East Preston and Cherry Brook — are living in the city and want to return to their roots, Colley says, and others stayed around home and want to age in their community.

“There’s a lot of seniors living in areas now where they’d rather be back and be part of the community where they come from. It would really make a big difference for them,” Colley says.

“We want to help everybody, we want to make a difference.”

The bylaw amendments passed on Tuesday enable a new planning process, broken into zones, where Akoma will be able to apply for site-plan approval for smaller uses and development agreements for larger uses, like multi-unit buildings.

The municipality is also extending water service to the portion of the property fronting Highway 7, and allowing Akoma to extend roads through the property.

It’s the first of two planning process the municipality has launched for the property. It’s also taking a look at the zoning for the back portion, further from Highway 7, as part of its regional plan review.

During Tuesday’s public hearing, council heard from speakers including Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, who spoke in favour of the proposal.

“It is time to move forward, Halifax regional council,” Bernard said.

“This will have tremendous impact on the economic, social and political economy of this region. This development will bring pride. This development will bring empowerment. This development will bring … economic justice. This development must be allowed to proceed. To block this development would be to block our economic progress.”

Former MLA Yvonne Atwell, the first Black woman elected to the Nova Scotia legislature, told council that this kind of development is something the community has never seen.

“We have had pieces, the glimpse of possibilities, but this is a big deal,” Atwell said.

“It is so important for us now to take the lead in our communities around housing, employment, looking at ways in which we can engage seniors with young people, make this our own. Finally after all these years we have an opportunity, an opportunity to move forward.”

Two speakers were opposed to the proposal — former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children residents and members of VOICES (Victims of Institutionalized Child Exploitation Society) Tony Smith and Gerald Morrison. Smith and Morrison raised concerns about the way ownership of the land was transferred from the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children’s board to Akoma Holdings, funding for the development, and about the consultation with VOICES.

“I disagree with the fact that this is being rushed,” Smith said.

After the public hearing portion of the meeting, the municipality’s live stream froze and went offline. According to the city’s text-only captioning, the motion passed unanimously.

According to the captioning, councillors Trish Purdy, Becky Kent, Lindell Smith, and Iona Stoddard spoke in favour of the proposal.

Coun. David Hendsbee, who sits on Akoma’s board, declared a conflict of interest for Tuesday’s public hearing and was not present for that portion of the meeting.

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. If Akoma Holdings is good to the word, why not get the ball rolling today rather than five years from the plan? The community impacted by the existence of this site’s history should have full voice in development and if Akoma works with them, fast track and don’t look back