A muddy bit of access road is seen a freshly cut forested area. There's an orange '5' painted on a tree that's been left standing.
An access road on Clayton Developments property near the Eisner Cove wetland in March 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Clayton Developments has applied to “enable early tree removal and earthworks” at two of its special planning areas in Dartmouth — the Port Wallace and Eisner Cove lands.

The provincial government’s housing task force identified the two properties as special planning areas in March, along with seven others in the Halifax area. That means they won’t be subject to the usual public or Halifax regional council scrutiny, with recommendations being made by the unelected housing task force, comprising three provincial and two municipal appointees, and decisions being made by Housing Minister John Lohr.

The are environmental concerns about many of the special planning areas, including these two in Dartmouth.

The trails through the Port Wallace Holdings land that Clayton Developments wants to convert to a subdivision are through healthy woodlands, with old hemlocks, as show here. Photo: Joan Baxter
Trail through Port Wallace lands with old hemlocks. Photo: Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter has written a four-part series for the Halifax Examiner about the concerns at Port Wallace, where the ground is contaminated from historical mine tailings. Part 4, published in April, looks at what the special planning area designation means for the area, and especially for Lake Charles, downstream.

On that site, Clayton wants to build up to 4,900 homes over the phases of the project, starting this fall.

And the proposal to developer the Eisner Cove Wetland, or as the province calls it, Southdale – Mount Hope, has been met with opposition from the community. Development there will destroy the carbon-sequestering wetland, opponents argue.

Clayton, along with A.J. Legrow Holdings, wants to build 1,200 units on that site, also starting this fall.

Significant tree-clearing has already happened there, as the Examiner witnessed in March. The planned road network is completely cut out, right up to the wetland, where the developer plans a causeway to connect to Mount Hope Avenue. Nearby residents say the cutting happened in the dead of night.

A man standing among a partially-felled forest points at the ground. It's a sunny day, and the trees still standing are mostly evergreens.
Bill Zebedee of the Save Our Southdale Wetland Society walks over cutdown trees on Clayton Developments property near the Eisner Cove wetland in March 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Now, Clayton Developments wants to amp up its tree-clearing, and has applied to do so, according to a post on the city’s website:

The Port Wallace and Southdale planning areas are currently undertaking separate planning application processes which would create policies and apply Development Agreements to these respective future communities. Work continues on both of these applications, and they are expected to be finalized in the coming months. Current policies stipulate that a Development Agreement is required to be applied to these properties in advance of any site work taking place inclusive of earth works, land grading, and tree removal.

To this end, Clayton Developments are requesting an amendment to the Regional Plan and Development Agreements to enable early tree removal and mass works consideration for the first phases of the special planning areas (SPA) for Port Wallace and Southdale. The Regional Plan amendment would also have the effect of creating a clear policy pathway for future development agreements within special planning areas should they be necessary in the future. Since any solution regarding low housing supply in the municipality will not be fully resolved in the 2022 construction season, this flexibility would be beneficial to expedite housing development.

This Regional Plan amendment and these Development Agreements would not enable the full development of these communities and would only permit early construction activities as outlined above. The full development plan for these communities will be decided upon via the Development Agreement processes outlined at the following links for Port Wallace and Southdale respectively.

The municipality’s post, which went live on Tuesday, also includes letters from Clayton dated May 3 (regarding Port Wallace) and May 6 (regarding Southdale – Mount Hope).

On Port Wallace, Andrew Bone, director of planning and development at Clayton, and Jared Dalziel, senior planner, wrote that the developer is most concerned with the Port Wallace special planning area, because it will include such a high number of homes.

“Since any solution regarding housing will not be fully resolved in the 2022 construction season, this flexibility would be beneficial to expedite housing development,” Bone and Dalziel wrote. “We feel the proposed amendment has a clear alignment with the statement of provincial interest on housing as well as the intent of the Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality Act to help meet housing market demand and enable new housing quickly.”

The post is little more than a formality, as Halifax councillors will have no say in whether the clearing can go ahead or not:

In accordance with the Housing for the Halifax Regional Municipality Act and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for the Province of Nova Scotia, both Southdale/Mount Hope as well as Port Wallace have been designated as a Special Planning Area. In accordance with this new Provincial Act, planning decisions for these areas inclusive of changes to policy, zones, or the application of Development Agreements to these lands will no longer be considered via the Public Hearing process and a Council decision. Instead, applications will be seen by the newly established Executive Panel on Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality and decided upon by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Once made, this decision will then be posted to this website.

Coun. Sam Austin, who represents the Southdale area, said that post is all the public consultation that will happen on the request.

“That’s the extent of what the public gets to know,” Austin said.

Austin noted there hasn’t really been any discussion with the community about what it wants to see on the site, except for one meeting in February. At that meeting, residents spoke against the proposal. It was just the beginning of a master planning process by the municipality at the time. Now, it’s a near-guaranteed development.

“I think they just want to get going in this construction season,” Austin said.

Bill Zebedee of the Save Our Southdale Wetland Society said he’s concerned about the ongoing lack of consultation.

“They made it seem like they cared what HRM had to say about it, but again, what we’ve seen before is the minister, with the wave of a pen, can overrule HRM,” Zebedee said.

“He could say, ‘Yeah, go ahead and start levelling the trees today’ if he wanted, without public participation, without any knowledge about our concerns.”

Zebedee is worried about animals and birds living in and around the wetland. He believes the developer’s land suitability assessment wasn’t comprehensive enough, and says there are wood turtles, bats, and other species at risk living there.

“What should happen is there should be a moratorium on any further destruction of trees until the migratory bird time is over and until there’s a proper environmental assessment done in the wetland, with boots on the ground,” Zebedee said.

“We need to know exactly what’s in that wetland.”

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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 totally agree with Eric Wagner and Paul Morgan.
    Leaving the fate of old growth forest in the hands of the province has time and again proven to be an utter disaster! I urge Halifax Regional Council to stand up for our ecological treasures and insist on our right to standard municipal consultation and approval processes. Please don’t let this happen.

  2. We can’t have immigration quotas of 400,000 a year – the same number the United States admits – and not expect to have to destroy natural spaces to find room for people.

  3. Why would the Municipality agree to amend the Regional Plan or the Regional Subdivision By-law to allow clearcutting of trees and earthwork for development which neither the Regional Council or Community Council will have any say over?  The fact that clearcutting has already taken place in apparent contravention of current subdivision regulations only demonstrates how disingenuous these requests are.

    Clayton Developments and the Provincial Housing Task Force are just trying to legitimize a very undemocratic approval process that is in complete contradiction of municipal consultation and approval processes.  Council should not only reject this farcical request but should direct that municipal staff not participate on the Task Force.

  4. This is terrible. There will be not one tree standing. Several of these are old growth Hemlocks. We can’t just plant new old growth forest.