The old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. Photo: David Harrison Credit: David Harrison

A development proposal for the former Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and the surrounding property cleared a significant hurdle on Tuesday, with regional council voting to send the plans to a public hearing.

The Halifax Examiner detailed the history of the property and its zoning, and the development proposal here last summer:

Akoma Holdings is proposing to transform its 320-acre property, located along Highway 7 where Westphal meets Cherry Brook.

The first stage of the project will see the old home building renovated and turned into a heritage zone to recognize the site’s history.

The second phase is a two- or three-storey seniors home on the property and the third phase includes an affordable mixed-use residential and commercial building, a new children’s centre, townhouse units and eight single-family homes.

“All in all, we want to basically change the land. There’s no point in having it just sitting there, not doing anything with it,” says Spencer Colley, a member of Akoma’s board.

Seniors originally from the area he describes as the Preston Townships — North and East Preston and Cherry Brook — are living in the city and want to return to their roots, Colley says, and others stayed around home and want to age in their community.

“There’s a lot of seniors living in areas now where they’d rather be back and be part of the community where they come from. It would really make a big difference for them,” Colley says.

“We want to help everybody, we want to make a difference.”

The bylaw amendments before council for first reading on Tuesday would enable the development by rezoning part of Akoma’s property and creating a new “Mixed Opportunity District,” where low-rise and single-use buildings can go ahead as-of-right or through site plan approval processes and more complex uses go through a development agreement process.

That means the Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council would approve larger, more complicated plans like multi-unit dwellings, while municipal planning staff would handle the smaller uses.

The amendments would also allow Akoma to build new roads through the property. The latest site plan contemplates extensions of some existing roads in the area.

Planner Stephanie Salloum, who wrote the report to council, said on Tuesday that the public hearing is likely to be scheduled for May.

Council voted unanimously in favour of moving to that next step.

‘Africville Visioning Process’ coming

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, councillors voted in favour of a motion from Coun. Lindell Smith for a staff report on a process aimed at doing right by former residents of Africville and their descendants.

Smith said he didn’t write the motion alone, but with the help of the community members and municipal staff.

“The story of Africville is not one that I should have to share or reshare with any of the folks here, or hopefully any of the folks listening. It’s not a new one,” Smith said.

“It’s a story of racial injustice, institutionalized racism, deception, but also one of perseverance, resilience, and legacy.”

Africville’s Seaview Baptist Church. Photo: HRM Archives

Smith said Africville wasn’t the “Black slum” it’s made out to be, but was a thriving, self-sufficient community until the city put a dump in it and then razed it to build the MacKay Bridge.

“We know that government has played a piece in causing the issues of the past, and we can now play a piece in supporting the future of Africville,” Smith said.

Here’s the full motion:

That Halifax Regional Council request a staff report that will look at developing a collaborative process that will ultimately create an Africville Visioning Process. Africville Visioning process should include, but will not be limited to:

  1. Determine a cooperative working partnership between HRM and community partners and organizations that are working on behalf of the interest of descendants.
  2. Engage with other organizations, businesses, and levels of Government whose interest could potentially impact Africville lands and/or Africville descendants to determine how they can support the Africville Visioning Process and its outcomes.
  3. Reviewing the 2010 Africville Agreement and determining which commitments have been met, where further action is required, and whether these past commitments address the current desires of the community
  4. Identifying all municipal led or partnered projects and initiatives that have a direct impact on the lands at Africville, lands surrounding Africville, and its users (current/future) to understand the full effect they will have on the Africville lands.
  5. Developing a comprehensive, co-facilitated public engagement process in partnership with Africville descendants, Africville focused organizations, and community partners that will inform the outcomes of the visioning process.
  6. Re-visiting the 2003 Bayne Street Master Plan, and work with partners to collaborate to reimagine the Master Plan that would include land specifically dedicated to descendants of Africville and/or uses that would be supported by descendants, community members or organizations who broadly represent the interest of Africville descendants.
  7. Examine the possibility of using the Africville Visioning Process to address the ongoing class action court proceedings against HRM and working with claimants and descendants to address their concerns outside of the court system.

Coun. Iona Stoddard seconded the motion, and said she was excited to see it come to fruition.

“I know this is going to be a way for this community that was torn apart to heal,” Stoddard said.

Smith said the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the provincial government have agreed in principle to support the project financially, and there are other potential funding partners lined up too.

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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