When councillor Gloria McCluskey voted for the Wellington Street development last week, she said she was upset about a very tall and dense development that was approved on Irishtown Road in downtown Dartmouth. But here’s the thing: she voted FOR the planning changes that made the Irishtown development possible.
This is the first of a three-part series on the Wellington Street development.
Last week, Halifax council approved changes in the planning laws that will allow for Dino Capital’s proposed development on Wellington Street in the south end. I explained the issue back in October, as follows:
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.
The hearing was held in December, and lasted four hours as over 50 people spoke against the proposal. But last week, council voted 9-to-6 in favour of it. Technically, the development proposal now goes back to the Halifax and West Community Council for specific approval, but that’s a foregone conclusion.
One of the yes votes came from Gloria McCluskey, the councillor representing Dartmouth. Here is McCluskey’s explanation for her vote in favour of the development (at the 3:19 mark):
I’m going to vote in favour of the motion, and since the residents would like to know why, I will make it very clear.
A couple of years ago, this same planning department, in my district, put in three buildings, 14, 15, and seven storeys, over 600 people in one acre of land. There was no thought of compatibility. There was no test of sensitivity. There was no thought on the affect on the community. Eighty people spoke against it. These towers, these buildings, towered over the lovely little five storey condominium building in downtown Dartmouth. The closest tall building was three blocks away. This also was nine feet from the corner of the lovely heritage Greenvale lofts. Nine feet. And bordered on the parkland, the canal greenway and its historical significance.
So if I sat here today and I said this is wrong, how would the people in Dartmouth feel? They don’t have any sensitivity when it comes to this, the compatibility doesn’t matter over there. I couldn’t do that. They would have settled for an eight-storey building over there. They would have been happy with an eight-storey building. But they didn’t get that. So that’s the reason I can’t. I don’t see anything wrong with a nine- and a 10-storey building. And this isn’t the only time it’s happened over there. But I don’t see anything wrong with it, and that’s why I tested it against this, and I feel it’s OK. Thank you.
McCluskey was talking about the three-building project on Irishtown Road, at the end of Queen Street. I think it’s a terrible project, for many of the reasons McCluskey laid out.
There’s also a bureaucratic similarity between the Irishtown Road and Wellington Street developments: both development proposals needed changes in municipal planning strategies in order to proceed. And McCluskey is right: staff recommended approval of the changes for Irishtown, but recommended against them for Wellington. In both cases, the proposed changes in planning rules were first approved by the community council for the area, then by full council. Then, in both cases, the community council gave (Irishtown) or will give (Wellington) actual approval of the exact development proposal.
But here’s the thing: McCluskey voted for the planning changes that allowed the Irishtown development. Here’s how it unfolded:
August 6, 2010: staff writes a report recommending changes to allow the Irishtown development. The staff report is quite explicit as to what was allowed (apologies for the screenshot; the document is not in a readable format):
September 16, 2010: The Harbour East Community Council considered the proposed changes in the planning rules that would accommodate the Irishtown Road “Opportunity Site.” McCluskey was absent from the meeting, but the rest of the community council—councillors Lorelei Nicoll, Bill Karsten, Darren Fisher, Jackie Barkhouse, and Jim Smith—approved the changes on a voice vote.
November 16, 2010: The proposed changes in planning policies that would allow the Irishtown development were brought to the full city council for first reading. McCluskey made the motion for approval:
December 7, 2010: Regional council holds a public hearing on the proposed changes to development rules to accommodate the proposed Irishtown Road development. Thirteen members of the public spoke on the issue, both for and against it.
After the public hearing was closed, staff said that the proposed 23-storey building had been reduced to 18 storeys. There was a bit of clarification on several issues, and a few amendments that don’t change this discussion. If you’re interested, you can read them here. After the debate, councillor McCluskey again made the motion for the changes, and they carried on a voice vote:
“I do no recall ever, ever, ever approving buildings of that size,” McCluskey told me when I contacted her this afternoon by phone. I gave McCluskey the dates of her votes, and explained that they were changes in the Municipal Planning Strategy, at the exact same spot in the process as last week’s Wellington Street vote.
“Well, I may have approved an opportunity site, but that’s not a development proposal,” she said.
On March 23, 2013, there was a public hearing at the Harbour East Community Council for the specific Irishtown Road development agreement that was allowed under the planning rules that were previously changed by council. I was at the hearing and remember it well. Twenty-nine people spoke, both for and against, but the mood of the room was very definitely on the “against” side.
From the minutes of the meeting, here were McCluskey’s comments:
Councillor McCluskey advised that she is for development in downtown Dartmouth, but believes that this development is too large, suggesting that 600 people on 1.6 acres of land is not healthy living. She indicated that as an accredited appraiser, she believes that this proposal will devalue the adjacent condominium units because of the shadow and wind affects. Councillor McCluskey noted that the applicant could have built to eight storeys on the lands. She noted that she represents many of the residents at the public information meetings that spoke against this development. Councillor McCluskey noted that the petition asks for support of the “Seagate mixed use development in downtown Dartmouth” but gives not details about the development. She noted that people living away don’t know where the property is. Councillor McCluskey noted that there are plenty of vacant lots in downtown Dartmouth, and not all of the density needs to be put in one spot. She advised for the reasons of density and height she will not be supporting the development.
Councillor McCluskey noted concern with the term “compatible” in HRM planning documents as she feels the term does not mean anything.
The vote passed, but was not recorded. McCluskey says she voted against it, and it’s my recollection that hers was the sole “no” vote.
McCluskey today said that she would never had approved buildings of the size that were approved in 2013, but clearly, the changes in planning policies she voted for in 2010 made the development proposal possible. Moreover, she voted for those changes in the exact spot in the bureaucratic process for Irishtown Road that Wellington Street was in last week.
As for the actual development, the approval was given to 3200892 Nova Scotia Limited, a company whose directors are Darrell Dixon and R. Blois Colpitts. The community council’s approval required the company to sign a development agreement within 120 days. After that, they would have two years to initiate construction. There’s still no construction on the site, and I’m told that Colpitts was trying to sell the site and the approval a few months ago, but to no avail.
McCluskey told me today that she expects Colpitts to soon come back before the community council to ask for an extension to the timeline for construction.
On the Wellington issue, McCluskey said to “make sure you write that Waye Mason threatened to vote against everything that comes from Harbour East Community council.”