Halifax’s design advisory committee has unanimously approved plans for the block including the historic Kenny-Dennis and Acadian Recorder buildings.
The committee, tasked with approving downtown Halifax developments, met by teleconference Thursday afternoon to consider Dexel Developments’ proposal, designed by Fathom Studio, for the block bounded by Barrington, George and Granville streets.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in May:
Dexel Developments won the tender process to lease and develop the properties at 1724, 1730, and 1740 Granville St. from the provincial government, and posted the plan for what it calls the Press Block online in March. The developer wants to build about 120 one- and two-bedroom residential units, retail space on Barrington Street and underground parking. The building would be nine storeys tall on Granville Street and eight storeys tall on Barrington Street.
The history of the two buildings is rooted in journalism. In the early 1900s, the Kenny-Dennis building was home to what later became the Chronicle Herald, and the Acadian Recorder building hosted its namesake newspaper from 1900 to 1930.
Both provincially-owned buildings are now in rough shape and in need of restoration.
The Acadian Recorder building has been a registered heritage property since 1982. Council only added the Kenny-Dennis building to the registry in 2018 after a third-party application that was originally opposed by the provincial government.
The city’s heritage advisory recommended in favour of the plans from a heritage perspective, and Halifax regional council voted in favour of that recommendation in June.
Municipal planner Jamy-Ellen Klenavic recommended the design review committee approve the proposal, even though the design required six variances to the municipality’s design guidelines. Specifically, those variances are:
- “the maximum streetwall heights on the Barrington Street and George Street frontages;
- “the minimum streetwall height on the Barrington Street frontage;
- “the streetwall width on all three frontages;
- “the depth of the streetwall setback on all three frontages;
- “the minimum floor-to-floor height on the Barrington Street and Granville Street frontages; and,
- “the maximum building height.”
Klenavic recommended the committee approve all six variances, mostly because they’re required to properly match the existing buildings on the site.
The developer has to provide a public benefit in exchange for some of the extra height — equal to about $140,000. But Klenavic wrote that it’s more than offset by the estimated cost of “maintenance, preservation or enhancement of a registered heritage property:” approximately $2.8 million in this case.
Chris Crawford, vice-president and director of architecture and interiors at Fathom Studio, told the committee he and other architects have looked at the site for years.
“We’re really excited to see that this missing tooth to Barrington Street has the opportunity to be filled,” he said.
Crawford said Fathom especially focused on the corner of Barrington and George streets.
The empty lot at that corner was home to the Atlantic Trust building, also known as the Cragg Brothers building, which was the tallest in the Maritimes when it was built in 1912.
Next door was the Birk’s Building. According to a post by Peter Ziobrowski on halifaxbloggers.ca, both buildings were demolished in the 1980s.
“We spent a lot of time researching the history of the architecture that existed on this site before we started this project, and again a really critical part of the design of the new architecture was to honour the streetwall that was unfortunately lost,” Crawford said.
“I think the Cragg Brothers building really made this grand feature on the corner, so we were really happy to introduce a variance here to make a gesture at this corner.”
The committee was happy with the design.
“I think it’s quite exciting actually to see the integration and preservation of the heritage building facades integrated with modern architecture, and it’s really heartening to see that site take its place again,” committee member Jan Sheppard Kutcher told Crawford after his presentation.
“I also did appreciate the time that you took to really study the history of it, both architecturally and in terms of the function of the buildings that were there.”
The committee voted unanimously in favour of the staff-recommended motion, which approves the design and recommends the development officer accept the preservation of the heritage buildings as a public benefit.
The public benefit will come to Halifax regional council for final approval, but that doesn’t hold up the development process.
The new development will cover up Jason Botkin’s mural on the side of the Freak Lunchbox building, but Crawford said there are plans for a mural on the new building — in the same spot facing the other way.
I would like to have seen something about whether or not there is a plan to integrate geared to income units in this plan. can we know????