An architectural rendering showing the building design from Gottingen Street. — HRM/Fathom Studio Credit: HRM/Fathom Studio

Halifax councillors have approved two developments following public hearings — one on Gottingen Street with four affordable units promised and the other replacing the McDonald’s on Quinpool Road.

The Halifax and West Community Council met virtually Tuesday night with the two public hearings on the agenda, starting with 2438 Gottingen St.

That site is already home to Victoria Hall, a municipally-registered heritage building constructed in 1884. Through Fathom Studio, developer and landlord Joseph Arab applied to build a new apartment building behind the heritage property. The application has followed two concurrent processes, with regional council approving the heritage alteration and restoration in March, and the final decision on the new build happening at Halifax and West on Tuesday.

Since Arab first made the pitch in 2019, the size of the proposal has shrunken from 19 storeys down to 16 and then 13. That last change got municipal heritage planner Aaron Murnaghan on board with the proposal, and staff recommended in favour of the project.

The plan is now for 100 units in the 13-storey building, with 30 in the restored Victoria Hall. The new building will front on Creighton Street.

Rob LeBlanc, planner, and Chris Crawford, architect, from Fathom Studio presented the design to the committee. They said Philippa Ovonji-Odida, listed on the website as an intern architect, was the project architect.

An architectural rendering showing the building design from Creighton Street. — HRM/Fathom Studio Credit: HRM/Fathom Studio

LeBlanc said Arab is spending $3 million on the heritage restoration — new windows, siding, roofing, along with the removal of an addition.

Crawford said the developer is going to include four affordable units, to rent at 50% below market value for at least 15 years, along with three more units to rent at 10% less than market value for 15 years.

There’s also a community room proposed for Victoria Hall that will be made available to people in the neighbourhood for 15 years. Neither of those commitments is baked into the development agreement, so there’s no legal requirement for Arab to stick to them.

An architectural rendering showing the building design from Gottingen Street. — HRM/Fathom Studio Credit: HRM/Fathom Studio

Seventeen people spoke during the public hearing, 15 of them in favour of the proposal, mostly because of the heritage restoration and the need for more housing supply in Halifax. Many of those speakers identified themselves as landlords.

One speaker, Hilary Hlagy, said she’s currently living in one of Arab’s buildings:

I’ve been living there for about a year now and would live otherwise, if there were other opportunities. I think we all understand the limitations of housing in Halifax.

Our current property contains multiple health concerns including undisclosed pre-existing mold conditions that cause copious health issues for my family and our cats and pets; a leaking ceiling in the new unit we moved into in the same building that has yet to be fixed; fire maintenance issues including fire extinguishers that expired in 2014; blocked, partially, fire access; faulty fire alarms; and leaking foundations. Once we brought this to Joseph Arab’s and his maintenance team’s attention, maintenance still hasn’t been done and in fact the sprinkler system was further disassembled.

I understand that Halifax is in need of housing. And on paper this building and maintenance, seems like a great addition to the community, but I question the lives and the condition of the maintenance of those buildings and the potential 130 households would be further put into his hands. If he can’t maintain the properties to a healthy and safety condition currently, why should he have more properties?

Arab is also named in this Halifax Examiner article about landlords who charge different rents for monthly and annual leases.

The next speaker, Alexander Arab, said councillors couldn’t wait for the perfect developer, or else nothing would ever be built.

After the speakers, Coun. Lindell Smith said he wished council could require affordable units in development agreements, but it’s not permitted under the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter.

“I know it’s going to be very difficult for neighbours to see something like this go up and know there’s only a few units of affordability in there,” Smith said. “But at the same time, we don’t have the mechanisms to not only support the developer in making more units but the mechanisms to require it.”

He also noted the building is larger than those in the area and there are traffic concerns on the Creighton Street side.

The motion passed with only Smith voting no.

An architectural rendering of the design for building replacing the McDonald’s on Quinpool Road. — HRM/Dexel Developments Credit: HRM/Dexel Developments

For the second public hearing of the evening, no one signed up to speak to the community council.

Dexel Developments applied to put up a nine-storey residential building on the site of the McDonald’s and Fitness FX at 6330 and 6324 Quinpool Rd. The developer is planning 160 units, commercial space on the ground floor, and 160 underground parking spots. On the Pepperell Street side, the units are designed to look like townhouses.

Municipal staff recommended in favour of the proposal, first brought to the city back in 2016.

Coun. Waye Mason spoke in favour of the building adding housing stock without displacing anyone.

The motion passed unanimously.

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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. I am fed up with the discussion on affordable housing. There clearly is an issue of affordability. But HRM is being railroaded by developers to build one more tower after the next of unaffordable apartment buildings with apartments that no one with the requisite income will live in for the long haul. In my area these new buildings abound and are clearly largely empty. [There are no curtains on the windows, nothing on most of the balconies, and one sees no one walking in and out.] By the way, some of these buildings did replace affordable housing. Of course the developers will say that they need to charge high rents to recover their development costs. But this is at the expense of downtown neighbourhoods and small displaced businesses.

    HRM should require that as a prerequisite for any approval of new development within the Centre, the developer contractually agree to provide 10% of the units to HRM at the going rate for social housing (or some other affordable rent) for a period of 20 years. Similarly, if a newly developed building ( in the last 2 years) is still 50% vacant, the developer should have to offer up 10% of the housing along the same terms.

    HRM should really reconsider whether new development is justified or desired. COVID19 has changed how many downtown businesses will operate in the future and has put a kibosh on the numbers of international students looking for housing in HRM. HRM’s population is tilting towards older. Retired individuals tend to have reduced incomes. Perhaps, the developers should be encouraged to undertake retrofitting and refurbishing existing buildings to keep existing housing stock and small businesses.