Coun. Shawn Cleary

Coun. Shawn Cleary’s colleagues on the Halifax and West community council approved a development agreement for his house Wednesday night following a virtual public hearing.

Michelle and Shawn Cleary have been running a preschool — Maple Tree Montessori, one of two campuses in Halifax — out of their home at the corner of Quinpool Road and Poplar Street since September 2012 with spaces for 14 children between the ages of 3 and 5.

They applied to expand the number of children allowed there from 14 to 20 with a development agreement under the city’s municipal planning strategy.

The R1 zoning on the property only allows up to 14 children in detached one-family homes, but the planning strategy allows the community council to consider allowing more capacity by development agreement — “to encourage the establishment of child care centres in a variety of locations to meet the varied needs of families, and to allow the consideration of the specific circumstances of an individual location.”

The development agreement also governs parking and access, lighting and signs, and operating hours of 6:30am to 7pm.

“The exterior of the building is not expecting to change, the primary use will remain residential, and the number of required employees is not increasing. Staff parking is expected to be facilitated on the property and is not expected to impede traffic,” planner Cameron Robertson wrote in the report to community council.

“Therefore, staff recommend that the Halifax and West Community Council approve proposed development agreement.”

Cleary, who sits on the committee, declared a conflict of interest at the start of the meeting and logged off when the public hearing began. He logged back on after.

Under the rules for the city’s virtual public hearings, speakers have to register by 4:30pm the day before the meeting. No one registered to speak on the Clearys’ application.

Robertson, the planner, said during his presentation to the committee that one person showed up to a public information meeting held in October 2019, asking about signage. There is none proposed.

Aside from the meeting, another neighbour called the city asking for a fence or vegetation between their yard and the Clearys’. They agreed to build a taller fence.

Michelle Cleary made a presentation following Robertson’s, saying she and the councillor have made big improvements to the property since they moved in eight years ago, and they just want to add six more children to their preschool.

“When we moved here, our neighbours were very happy that we took what was becoming an increasingly dilapidated building that was rented out to 12 university students and turned it into a lovely preschool and family home,” Cleary said.

“It is my belief that children need and deserve more home-based childcare options as it helps to create a more natural environment for them to explore, learn and grow.”

Coun. Russell Walker asked whether it would be possible to put up both a fence and more vegetation between their property and the neighbour’s. Cleary said there’s already vegetation and it’s a “fairly heavily-treed area,” so the backyard would be too shaded if they added more.

Coun. Lindell Smith asked whether Cleary had heard from many of her neighbours. Cleary said she’s been “very transparent” about her application, and “everyone’s been tremendously supportive.”

The motion passed unanimously.

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 can also see a future need to revisit this by-law. In the near future there will likely be a need for larger localized day care options, so in that sense it is not a stretch to bring this before Council — barring some added restrictions.

    Does the Councillor have the support of his neighbours (especially immediate neighbours) in this venture. Should one of his immediately adjacent neighbours object to this — would that constitute fair enough reason to reject his application??

    Plus this also highlights a very real problem with our Democratic process, and why I would like to make changes to it.

    By Shawn citing his clear conflict of interest and signing off — he did the right thing. But what about the voice of this constituents, which now is lost because he did that? Should they not be allowed to have a say as well? What if three, four or even five City Council Members were in a similar discussion where there was all equal conflict of interest??

    The inability of those voters to be heard by having their representative silenced is not a good thing. It means those voters are suddenly pushed out of the way and cannot have their concerns brought up for debate. That is not how governance and representative democracy should work.

    It is why I think initiatives like CDM have to become the norm, even at the Municipal level. Otherwise there is no proper way to deal with city or provincial business in a fair way.

  2. I am not familiar with the house or the property, but if 12 university students lived there the house may be able to accommodate 20 kids 3-5 years old without a problem. But, how will the operators deal with Covid-19 issues, such as 20 parents all dropping off or picking up their children at the same time? Are there pandemic guidelines to minimize the risk of Covid-19 being spread among parents – and possibly the children?

  3. It’s actually a wonderful day care. Both locations are extremely serene with caring staff and absolutely delicious food. We still use their recipes years later.

  4. Sean Cleary is looking ahead past his coming defeat, not a problem getting a non conforming development agreement in an R1 zone. Isn’t that special? Would you leave your kids with a jackass?

    1. I think if you are looking for a Jack ass maybe you should try looking in the mirror.