Photo: Halifax Examiner
Photo: Halifax Examiner


Dexter construction awards

I’ve been keeping an on-going chronicle of tenders awarded to Dexter Construction. I am not implying that there is anything improper in these awards, but rather I’m just pointing out how very much public money they receive, far more than any other company.

This week
$1,122,638.79 for the replacement of curbs and sidewalks and water and sewer lines on Queen Street.

CAO Awards, April-June, 204
(these do not require council approval)
$286,473.64 —paving Carver Street, Day Avenue to Portland Street
$464,281.27 —paving and curb replacement on Crystal Drive
$234,643.50 —street recapitalization and sidewalk repair, Oxford Street
$315,256.58 —repaving Eisner Street, Brentwood to Riverwood
$319,010.87—Caldwell Road, MacDonald’s Beach Road to Atholea Drive
$222,384.68—chip sealing, various locations
$236,030.50—repaving Mountain Ash Court, Beckfoot Drive to end

Development proposals

North/Oxford development proposal

Mythos Developments is proposing a seven-story, 75-unit apartment building at the northeast corner of North and Oxford Streets. Most of the site consists of the old St. Theresa Convent, a three-storey building built in the 1950s. In the 1970s Dalhousie University bought the convent and used it for dorms. It was sold again in the late 1980s and converted into apartments.

Because the proposed building isn’t allowed under existing zoning codes, the developer is asking that the codes be amended. City staff, however, is opposed to changing the codes. It’s unlikely council will approve the development over staff’s objections.

Armco’s Hines Road proposal

Armco has been trying to develop 33 acres south of Hines Road since at least 2009, when it submitted an application for three 60-unit apartment buildings and 74 townhouses on the site. The proposal went nowhere after the Harbour East Community Council declined to take action on it and the full city council rejected it outright. Now, Armco is asking that the development be kickstarted by going through a public engagement process to find what can work on the site.

The development is contentious, for several reasons. One reason, which doesn’t show up in the staff report, is that the development would be adjacent to, to the north, of the Shearwater Trail section of the Canada Trail. This would be the recently improved section of the trail west of the Caldwell Road parking lot, which reaches to Shearwater. It’s now mostly a lonely trail through scrub forest, and the development would certainly change that character.

Another problem facing the development is the existence of extensive wetlands on the site. To get around the environmental constraints, Armco is proposing to exceed the existing zoning restrictions of the property that limit apartment buildings to 12 units. “Economically, the construction of such small apartment buildings is less viable,” explains the staff report, which is largely favourable to the development. “Further, with an aging population, twelve-unit apartment buildings are less likely to contain elevators which would be necessary to provide appropriate accessibility for seniors,” and that’s the first time (but I’m sure not the last) I’ve seen that explanation trotted out.

The biggest problem facing Armco, however, is probably traffic. Most of Hines Road is owned by the Department of National Defence as part of its Shearwater base, and so the city can approve no new road connections to it. The city-owned portion of Hines is farther to the west, but most of the property along that stretch already consists of private homes. The lone exception is a mere 70-foot section that Armco owns. That means all the traffic from the development will either go through that 70-foot section, or through an extension of Howard Avenue, a road that reaches through an existing neighbourhood to Main Road, which is what Pleasant Street is called when it passes through to Eastern Passage. That’s sure to concern both sets of neighbours.

Here’s a map of the area, showing the road constraints:

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 10.56.36 AM

City staff is keen to get the DND to give up its section of Hines Road, because it is trying to recoup a $7 million loss from the Mt. Hope interchange. As I explained last week:

[Developer fee] calculations for the [Highway 111] Mount Hope interchange in Dartmouth were based on the assumption that the Shearwater air base would be sold off and developed into housing, but after the federal government reversed its decision to sell the land, the city ended up eating $7 million in construction costs that had been allotted to developers. Now, in a desperate attempt to recoup the loss, the city is trying to get other land in the area developed, with the new subdivisions connecting to the interchange via a dubiously placed new road parallel to the Shearwater air strip.

That means staff and council have opened huge new tracts of land in Eastern Passage and Cow Bay to development, far ahead of the initial timeline for development in the area, which had been 25 years in the future. You can almost hear the desperation for new development, and the fees it will bring, in the staff report:

A new connector road intended to link Highway 111 and Caldwell Road is required by the Regional MPS to allow significant new development to occur in much of Eastern Passage and Cole Harbour. For the connector road to be feasible, infrastructure charges will inevitably have to be imposed on new development in the area. It is possible that the Armco lands should be subject to these charges as development of the site would increase traffic levels on Caldwell Road.

Council is being asked to start a public engagement process, and I’m guessing that will be approved. Expect lots of fireworks in coming months.

Surplus Property

Khyber for sale?

Last year, council directed staff to bring back an annual “surplus property” list, and lo and behold the very first item on the very first year of the list is the Khyber Centre for the Arts, with the implied recommendation that it be “disposed” of—put up for sale.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.29.36 AM

What’s going on here?

The context is a city bureaucracy led by CAO Richard Butts that is hell-bent on seeing nothing much beyond the immediate bottom line, especially as regards to city property. This explains the St. Pat’s-Alexandra School fiasco. It explains the worrying decision to sell Bloomfield School to Housing Nova Scotia rather than to other developers with more nuanced and, arguably, socially beneficial plans. And now it explains the Khyber. Nothing matters except the immediate dollar return. There is no room for social values, artistic development, local non-profits… unless they can outbid the market players.

To be fair, there was a need for a surplus property process. The various municipalities that eventually became HRM had acquired a hodgepodge of property—old schools, former public works buildings no longer used, abandoned properties, small “remnant” properties left over from subdivisions, etc., and when municipal services were amalgamated many more public properties were no longer needed. There was no systematic review of city property, and yet community groups and potential private buyers wanted to have access to them. So it makes sense to have a review.

Still, including the Khyber on the list feels like a gigantic “fuck you” to the arts community, the city’s moribund arts plan, the historic preservationists, the Barrington Street Historic District portion of HRM  By Design.

Mere inclusion on the staff list, however, does not necessarily mean the building will be sold. There are lots of checks on this process: First, council has to vote to include the Khyber, or not, on the list of surplus properties. And even if it is included on the list, the policy outlines that properties in the “economic development” category (the Khyber is the only one) can be shuffled off to a committee to give more study to the issue.

I haven’t been able to reach councillor Waye Mason, who has asked for a staff review of the Khyber for use for future arts programming. I suspect that both he and Mayor Mike Savage, who has championed the arts plan, will make a good case for as much. We’ll see how this plays out.

Update: 1:16pm: This morning, Mason posted about the Khyber on his web page.

Tear down The Forum?

The Arena Consolidation portion of the Long Term Arena Strategy is before council. As with the surplus property discussion above, the only thing that matters is the dollar bottom line. Maybe that should trump, but it would’ve been nice to see the report at least acknowledge that loss of neighbourhood rinks is a real cost to residents who will have to travel farther to get to bigger complexes, as is the loss of a historic building, The Forum.

The report essentially calls for building a four-pad arena on Connolly Street as a joint project with CFB Halifax, and then tearing down The Forum and selling it off for development. This hugely affects the neighbourhood, and there is much opposition from residents.


Councillor Darren Fisher is asking for a staff report on weeds in Lake Banook.

Fisher also want the definition of “shipping container” clarified, because he says residents are complaining that warehouses are using truck trailers as permanent storage units.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. It is so disappointing that Halifax seems unable to understand that it is, with a handful of other East coast cities, unique in Canada because of its age. There are still a few buildings that haven’t been razed that were standing when cities further West were nothing more than forest or prairie…..

  2. … and a nose thumbed at the Heritage Trust who were, with the Arts Group, licked out of their offices on the pretext of that developers friend – asbestos -even though the reports showed no danger if leaving it undisturbed.
    Now instead of inviting back these cultural groups so rudely expelled, city admin. want no part of not-for-profits in downtown!