A concept rendering of the proposed development, as seen in the developer’s presentation to council.
A concept rendering of the proposed development, as seen in the developer’s presentation to council.

Twin 17-storey apartment buildings represent “smart growth” for the corner of Dunbrack and Willett streets, the councillor for the area argued Tuesday night.

Halifax regional council held a public hearing to consider rezoning for 210 and 214 Willett St.

Toronto developer and real estate investment firm Hazelview Investments (formerly known as Timbercreek Asset Management) owns the properties. It wants to tear down the vacant 123-unit, 11-storey building on the corner lot and the 47-unit, four-storey building on the other lot and build about 500 units in two buildings.

The zoning on the lots limits density to 75 people per acre, and according to municipal staff, “does not permit mixed-use development in support of the Regional Plan or the Integrated Mobility Plan.”

“These R-4 Zone requirements have resulted in a few tower-in-the-park developments: tall buildings surrounded by lawns and parking lots,” municipal planner Sean Gillis wrote in a report to the Halifax and West Community Council last year.

The vacant buildings at 210 and 214 Willett St., as seen in a Google Maps screenshot in the developer’s presentation.
The vacant buildings at 210 and 214 Willett St., as seen in a Google Maps screenshot in the developer’s presentation.

Gillis originally recommended rezoning the whole area surrounding the proposal.

“This area has many nearby amenities, including parks, schools, a library, a major recreation centre, transit routes, and shopping plazas. Based on the Regional Plan, the Integrated Mobility Plan and the Rapid Transit Study, this is a good place to direct new, high-density development,” he wrote in last year’s report.

But hearing concerns from residents, the Halifax and West Community Council, and then regional council in passing first reading for the proposal, preferred to spot zone the properties at 210 and 214 Willett St. instead.

What came to council Tuesday night was a rezoning just for 210 and 214 Willett St. to allow buildings of up to 17 storeys on the site. Five people signed up to speak for the public hearing.

One of them, Bill Campbell president of the group Walk and Roll Halifax, was in favour of density on the site, but not the spot zoning used to get there.

The others, all nearby residents, were opposed. Their reasoning included unease with high rises, concerns about parking, and the developer’s intent.

“Hazelview Investments has $8.8 billion globally under management. They could give a damn about the future well-being of our citizens and communities,” neighbour Bruce Smith told councillors. (It’s actually $8.9 billion.)

“As elected representatives and employees of Halifax Regional Municipality, your first obligation is to protect the interests of your citizens and communities, not to embellish the fortunes of foreign entities.”

Michael Williams, Hazelview Investments’ executive director of real estate development, said the investment firm isn’t all about profiteering.

“It is important to us that we don’t get painted with that brush,” Williams said, noting the company manages pension funds and builds apartments, not condos.

Noting the community opposition, councillors followed Kathryn Morse, the councillor for Halifax–Bedford Basin West, including this area, in approving the proposal.

A concept rendering of the proposed development, as seen in the developer’s presentation to council.
A concept rendering of the proposed development, as seen in the developer’s presentation to council.

“It’s been a really difficult project for me and decision for me,” Morse said.

“Ultimately what it comes down to is the type of growth that we have to have in Halifax. I think it’s much more sustainable if we get denser, and that’s what staff is recommending, that this is a place that it makes sense to grow up, rather than spread and sprawl all over. Given that there are a lot of amenities nearby, that it can be a walkable community, that we [will] have bus rapid transit in place, I think this represents smart growth.”

With council’s approval, the developer will now have to finalize its design and apply to municipal planning staff for all the necessary permits. Plans shown at council on Tuesday were conceptual only, but any plans that fit with the new zoning will be approved, subject to HRM’s other bylaws and requirements.

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. Managing pension funds is a hugely profitable and under-regulated business. It sounds like they’re keeping everyone’s grandparents safe and warm, but it’s a field rife with corruption that often results in diminishing returns for pensioners and enormous fees for managers. See the California state pension system (search CALPERS) for some hair-raising stuff.