Development proposals

Wellington Street

This development proposal from Dino Capital has its neighbours greatly concerned. At issue are four adjoining parcels—1034, 1042, 1050, and 1056 Wellington Street—with a house on each that long ago were divided into apartments. The properties have “as a right” approval for additions to the houses that would result in a total of 23 apartments with 201 bedrooms.

Rather than go with that awkward proposal, the developer brought forward an alternative proposal that would see two new buildings constructed, of 10 and 12 storeys. In total, the two buildings would have 58 apartments. But a public hearing for the proposal scheduled in April was abruptly cancelled at the behest of Dino.

The developer then brought forward the current proposal, which while slightly shorter than the first proposal—it calls for two towers of eight and 10 storeys—is considerably larger, with 142 apartments. It gets that higher number of apartments by basically violating every planning and design guideline the city has—the staff report blasted the proposal, and recommended council decline to allow it to move forward to the public hearing stage. As councillor Waye Mason said yesterday, the development would not be allowed downtown, “where we want high-rises,” or anywhere else in HRM, but it is being proposed in a residential neighbourhood of mostly single family homes.

On the other hand, the developer points to nearby buildings of 10 and 13 storeys that were allowed to be built in the 1980s. Opponents of Dino’s proposal, however, point out that it was those very buildings that caused new planning rules to be implemented in the 1980s, prohibiting the size of the buildings in Dino’s application.

Remarkably, even though staff had recommended council not schedule a public hearing, and even though the councillor for the area, Mason, was opposed, council voted 10-7 to allow the buildings to go to public hearing. What’s going on here?

For the developer, it appears Dino has been caught up in the unrealistic expectation that housing prices would continue to increase. The four parcels were purchased in 2010 and 2011 for a total price of $3,630,000. I’ll run the dollar per square foot calculations at a later date, but it seems to me that’s far over-priced. Basically, Dino can’t make a profit with anything smaller because it paid too much for the property.

Often, when councillors approve controversial developments, neighbours contact me and suggest that there is some “corruption” at work, that councillors must be on the take, etc. With this particular development, I’ve had a record number of such complaints.

But “corruption” is an actionable word in Nova Scotia—if a reporter accuses someone of being corrupt, he or she can (and probably will) be sued, and will lose, unless there is solid, defendable support for the accusation. Simply not liking a council decision is not enough for such an accusation.

Moreover, there is no evidence whatsoever that anything illegal or underhanded is going on here. This is simply how local politics work, in city after city: Developers don’t often bribe politicians outright, because they don’t need to. Rather, it’s a form of self-selection and mutual support. Those politicians with a pro-development mindset tend to get promoted as candidates, and receive large and perfectly legal campaign contributions from developers, which help the pro-development politicians get elected. Developers don’t have to bribe politicians, because the politicians are already in their camp. That’s just the way it is.

In any event, the public hearing will be scheduled in coming months, and we’ll see what happens then. I’ll pay more attention to this development before then.

Barrington Street

WSP Canada is proposing a six-storey, 142-unit building with ground floor retail at 1057 and 1065 Barrington Street—where the Tim Hortons is just south of the Superstore.

I’ve never heard any opposition to this proposal, but that’s because it’s a creative proposal that nicely meets planning rules and will add to the neighbourhood. Staff liked it, and council approved it unanimously, scheduling a public hearing.

Canada Games Centre

Back in 2008, the city, provincial and federal governments agreed to each fund one-third of the cost of constructing the Canada Games Centre, minus $2 million that was to come from “community fundraising,” which was left undefined. The facility was opened for the Canada Games in 2011, then turned over to the Canada Games Society, the non-profit board that operates it.

There’s not a single management or governance structure for rec centres in HRM. Some are operated by the city, others by non-profit boards. Some were built by the city (or pre-amalgamation governments), others through property tax assessments applied to the local community. There is a huge range of debt incurred by each facility, and different membership costs. For the past several years, the bureaucracy has been trying to rationalize the system, but there’s no possible way to do that without considerable political turmoil. We’ll probably start seeing some concrete proposals in the next few months. That’s the context of the CGC discussion.

Staff simply wanted to kick the CGC operational agreement a year down the road, while it works on the broader rationalization of rec centre management. The agreement with the Canada Games Society would be extended a year, and hopefully by then management of the CGC will be brought into whatever the new management and governance structure is.

To its credit, the Canada Games Society has operated the CGC at break-even or better. Critics, however, say it has done so only because its membership costs are high—so high that the CGC is not affordable to many people. An indication of the financial health of the Canada Games Society is that the city was set to pay it $300,000 this past year to take over swim programs from the recently closed Northcliff Pool. The Society ran the programs, but didn’t need the extra money. Staff suggested that the $300,000 therefore be applied to the $2 million community fundraising requirement.

Remember the $2 million? Well, turns out, that nobody paid any attention to it. Not a penny—not a nickel, I guess—has been raised, and nobody quite understood how that was supposed to happen or who was responsible for it. Staff is worried about it, though, because, conceivably, the federal government could pull back its contribution to the CGC construction costs if the $2 million doesn’t materialize.

The proposal to offset the $2 million in “community fundraising” straight from the city budget rankled some councillors. Barry Dalrymple said Fall River residents didn’t even want their rec centre, and voted against a local tax assessment for it, but the city went ahead and built it and taxed them anyway, and here was the city moving to bail out the rec centre in Clayton Park. Councillor Jennifer Watts didn’t object to the $300,000 being spent on the CGC, but she didn’t want the money going to the $2 million debt; instead, she wanted it spent for more programming or to offset the high membership fees.

Then councillor Russell Walker made the bizarre statement that the residents of Clayton Park never wanted the CGC to be put in their community in the first place, and so shouldn’t be responsible for the $2 million. This is simply false. There were no bigger boosters for the CGC than then-Clayton Park councillors Mary Wile and Debbie Hum, and the community did in fact lobby for the CGC to be put in their neighbourhood.

Staffer Denise Schofield then pulled the magic rabbit out of the hat. The $2 million “community fundraising” would come  from….[drum beat]… selling naming rights to the CGC. Regular readers will know how much I oppose selling naming rights to city facilities, but Schofield explained that the plan is to start selling naming right to all rec centres, starting with the Dartmouth Sportsplex. Oh joy.

Regardless, on a split vote council agreed to apply the $300,000 to the debt.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Right on Tim!!!

    Our politicians don’t need to be «corrupt» because the SYSTEM and «tradition» ensures that the the «corrupt thing» gets done — kissing the derrières of the favoured few «developers» and troughers while screwing the taxpaying citizenry. I can go back to the early 50s in Halifax, and guess what? Same old, same old, same old….. and shame on us voters!