The developer behind a controversial 16-storey hotel project in Dartmouth has applied to convert the unfinished commercial building to residential.

Monaco Investments originally sought approval to build an apartment building at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Glenwood Avenue.

After a contentious public hearing in 2018, the Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council approved an eight-storey building for the site. Residents of the area felt it was too big, while councillors felt it was a fair compromise after earlier proposals for 15 and then nine storeys.

A rendering of a mid-rise apartment building is superimposed on a photo showing Lake Banook in the foreground and Prince Albert Road in the distance.
A rendering of the eight-storey apartment building approved by the community council for Prince Albert Rd. next to Lake Banook in Dartmouth. Credit: Monaco Investments Partnership

But the zoning at the time allowed the developer to build a hotel with no height limit at all. The company decided to move ahead with a 16-storey hotel, and it’s under construction now.

Halifax regional council looked at options to stop the hotel development. But in an information report in July 2019, then manager of current planning, Steven Higgins, advised council it had no viable options.

Higgins’ report mentioned the possibility of a future residential conversion under the Centre Plan, which had yet to be approved at the time.

A simple architectural rendering shows a tall modern building with nothing around it. The sign on the main floor says "PRINCE ALBERT HOTEL."
A rendering of the 16-storey “Prince Albert Hotel.” Credit: Monaco Investments Partnership

“The current version of the draft plan and bylaw, if adopted without further amendments, would allow conversion from a hotel to any permitted use (including residential),” Higgins wrote.

“Council should note that the developer has indicated their intention is to develop the hotel as planned and they have no intent to convert the structure for residential purposes.”

Years later, the developer’s intention has changed.

Developer applies for residential conversion

On Feb. 1, HRM’s open data portal shows the developer applied for a renovation permit to convert the building, with an estimated value of $10 million. The number of storeys is listed as 17.

The description reads:

Renovation and internal conversion from the proposed 154 room hotel started under Building Permit 168044 to create a 99 unit residential occupancy.

The former hotel lobby restaurant/serving area to be converted to commercial space.

Level 3 parking garage to be converted to residential occupancy.

Clearstory on Level 2 to be filled in and used as amenity space.

The status of the permit, as of May 21, is “Applicant Revisions.”

Councillor not surprised

Deputy Mayor Sam Austin, the councillor for Dartmouth Centre, said he’s not surprised to see the developer change tack “given how much the world has changed since they started construction of that thing.”

While he would’ve preferred a shorter building, Austin said residential use is preferable.

“The building scale is wrong for the location, but residential is a better use than a hotel,” Austin said.

“We need more housing in the area … Not everyone who is downsizing out of their house wants to go live on Baker Drive. It gives another option in the area, and people living in an apartment building, they’re part of your community, they’re there every day. A hotel is much more transitory and much more intensive in terms of land use.”

Austin said he understands some people in the community will be upset about the change, but he doesn’t think this was the developer’s plan from the start.

The developer will have to substantially complete the building before HRM will approve a conversion, Austin said.

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. ‘Did I say hotel on my original application? Silly me. I meant apartment complex’.
    ‘That’s okay (wink) we’ll just pencil whip this change through. No worries. We need housing more than hotels anyway’.

    What a farse. Might as well jsut let them do whatever they want in the first place. That’s what we will end up with anyway.

  2. Once again a developer makes a fool of the City planning process. It doesn’t matter what master plan the City has or wants, developers will do whatever they want to do in the end with no consequences.

  3. This building should never have been approved. Sam Austin overruled 535 local residents who protested against it. It should now be turned into affordable housing for low income people at the developers expense.

  4. Once again a developer gets to do what they originally intended and the city rolls over and bleats, “oh thank you Mr. Developer for gracing us with your genius.” This is just like the developer in the South End that had to move the heritage house, tried to lift it with 2 cranes, demolished it and then was like, “my bad, can I build my building now?” And if Sam Austin doesn’t think that this is what the developer planned all along, then he is undoubtedly the most naive person ever elected to City Council.

  5. I am so tired of the “too big for the area” nonsense. Just establish actual clear rules for every area, allow in general a lot more density, and stop having these drag out fights everytime someone wants to build a building over 3 stories. It is disheartening that so many building projects just being built now where in the approval stages 5+ years ago. And that we are having public meetings fighting about growth nodes that won’t be built for another 10-20 years. This is absolutely glacial pace when we are dealing with an actual crisis of housing

    1. If it doesn’t have commercial on the ground floor, it will be illegal to use the units as AirBnBs before the building is done. Of course, if the penalties for illegally operating an AirBNB are slaps on the wrist like most of our rental related rules, some people will try it any way.

      The simplest way to enforce the new short term rental rules would be to make the financial penalties significant (5 figures) and to operate a snitch line where information that leads to a prosecution is rewarded with a meaningful amount of money.

  6. Almost every day when I walk my dog I look at this structure and think, “I don’t think it took this long to build the pyramids. I think this developer is dragging it out to see if he can get the apartment building he wanted in the first place.” I tend to agree with Margaret Anne and would go one further — i.e. the Provincial Dept of Housing buy the structure; lop off a few stories (to meet centre plan and concerns of residents) and turn it into public housing – to be owned and managed by the provincial government.

  7. Sam is right that we need housing… But what we really need is affordable housing – so let them convert as long as the apt’s will rent for less than $1200 a month. Things may have changed – I told my husband at the time – they will build the 16 stoies and then turn it into long stay hotel (in other words furnished residences) so I don’t know how people can be so sure that they really just wanted to build a hotel? Felt like a “work around” at the time, but I was assured tht it would be a hotel (I was skeptical) I am pretty sure they wanted to build a 16 story apt building where one was approved only for 1/2 that height… so I do not think the city should approve the conversion without asking for a lot in return… (and not just more pricey rentals) – or developers will just continue to use these tactics to avoid the city planning rules. Then, just yesterday, we went by, and the windows are not uniform as they would be in a hotel but large and small windows — looks much more like apt’s than hotel rooms… mentioned it just yesterday and here is the story today…

    1. It costs a minimum of 500 dollars a square foot to build a structure like this. Based on a 4% interest rate (optimistic), 1200 a month only pays the interest on 300 square feet. If the units are 500 square feet for a one bedroom, rent needs to be about $2000 a month for it to make financial sense.

    2. I made a math mistake – at 4% interest rates $1200 a month pays the interest on 720 square feet at $500/sqft. But buildings cost money once they are built, and the principle needs paying down.