A rendering of the revised 13-storey proposal for the property behind Victoria Hall on Gottingen Street. Photo: HRM/Fathom Studio

Council approved a substantial alteration to Victoria Hall during its meeting on Tuesday, paving the way for a revised 13-storey development proposed to be built behind the heritage property.

Through Fathom Studio, developer Joseph Arab applied to the municipality for a development agreement for 2438 Gottingen St., on the same lot as Victoria Hall, which dates back to 1884 and is a municipally-registered heritage building.

Because of the heritage building, the application follows two concurrent planning processes. The developer needs approval for a development agreement, ultimately from the Halifax and West Community Council, but he first needs approval to substantially alter a heritage property from regional council.

Arab originally applied for a 19-storey apartment building, municipal heritage planner Aaron Murnaghan told council on Tuesday. The height was later revised down to 16 storeys — with Halifax’s Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee recommending in favour of the planning aspect of the proposal and the Heritage Advisory Committee recommending against the heritage aspect of the proposal.

Murnaghan recommended against the heritage approval citing the “scale and design” of the proposed new building. Specifically, substantial alterations to heritage properties in HRM are weighed against a set of federal standards for the conservation of historic places. One such standard requires new buildings next to heritage buildings to be “physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.”

The developer is also planning to remove a 1904 addition from the back of Victoria Hall, but Murnaghan had no issue with that, per the staff report, “as the wing is not visible from the public right-of-way along Gottingen Street, contains few character defining elements relating to the overall structure, and will not diminish the heritage value of the property.”

The committee agreed that the proposed 16-storey building was too big, and its recommendation came to council last July. Council deferred a vote on the application, opting to give the developer a chance to revise the proposal to better fit the area.

The developer has now revised the design to make the building shorter and wider.

A slide from municipal planner Aaron Murnaghan’s presentation to council, showing the 16-storey proposal on the left and the 13-storey version on the right. Photo: HRM
A slide from municipal planner Aaron Murnaghan’s presentation to council, showing the 16-storey proposal on the left and the 13-storey version on the right. Photo: HRM

“Following its deferral by regional council, the applicant took some of the recommendations coming out of the Heritage Advisory Committee and discussions with staff, and brought the proposal down to a 13-storey proposal with a mid-rise portion of 10 storeys,” Murnaghan told councillors on Tuesday, showing comparative renderings in his presentation.

“As you can see, one of the main reasons that staff are recommending in favour of the new proposal is the amount of the new building that you can now see behind Victoria Hall. On the left is the 16-storey proposal. You can see that from the public right-of-way in front of Victoria Hall, you would’ve been able to see several storeys of that building. Following the change in the design, the proportion of that building that you can now see from the public right-of-way has been diminished significantly.”

A slide from municipal planner Aaron Murnaghan’s presentation to council, showing the 16-storey proposal on the left and the 13-storey version on the right, with the site line from Gottingen in red. Photo: HRM
A slide from municipal planner Aaron Murnaghan’s presentation to council, showing the 16-storey proposal on the left and the 13-storey version on the right, with the site line from Gottingen in red. Photo: HRM

Murnaghan said the developer has also simplified the design “to ensure that the much more ornate, colourful façade of Victoria Hall remains dominant on the site.” The Heritage Advisory Committee is now in favour of the proposal as well.

Coun. Lindell Smith, whose Peninsula North district includes the property, said he’s now satisfied with the heritage aspect of the proposal.

“I think that there are some positive aspects to this application as we talk about the heritage, but there are some concerning aspects when we talk about the planning pieces, and I think we need to dig a little deeper on the planning aspect of it,” Smith said.

Smith said he still has concerns about the Creighton Street side of the proposal, where there’ll be townhouse-style units right on the street, but he’s hoping they can be dealt with at the Halifax and West Community Council.

A rendering of the 16-storey version of the proposal as seen from Creighton Street.

Council voted with Smith, approving the substantial alteration to the heritage property.

The development agreement will now come to the community council for first reading with a staff recommendation for or against. If it passes first reading, the community council will schedule a public hearing for second reading.

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. Sadly this is a fact, frankly the reason why we didn’t see a changes in attitude or outcomes from council is because there has been only a minor shift in power.
    The bulk of decisions are noticably made by staff or upon occasion we have seen councilors hire a consultant if they clash with staff.

    Was there ever a development project that the public didn’t want to go forward and public pressure reversed the outcome or the project was refused approval or stopped…….I think never….but I could be wrong?

    This has been going on for a long time so to be fair we cannot place the blame on this particular group. However we now know our hopes for change have been extinguished.They are only going through the motions to give we the taxpayers the illusion of participation and fairness. It would take a political version of Dr. Abraham van Helsing to drive a stake through this monster’s heart.

    They have taken this gem,a once beautiful and historic little city that was an actual caring and thoughtful community akin to a large town and turned it into a business,a business catering to business. The community be damned seems to be the modern mantra and it hurts, Halifax is a cold and uncaring place now, its history forgotten except in controversial conversations of colonial times. The city of my birth is but a stranger.

    My,my,my.

  2. Unfortunately the development behind the Victoria Hall Heritage building makes clear that the new council is just as keen on supporting the uglyfacation of Halifax as the old one.