One of the speakers at Tuesday night’s public hearing was just nine years old when the idea of the Centre Plan was born.
And although that speaker, 24-year-old Caden Hebb, asked councillors to further delay the plan, they unanimously passed Centre Plan Package B, the second half of the plan that promises to transform the urban Halifax and Dartmouth in the coming years.
The plan rezones all of peninsular Halifax, and urban Dartmouth, generally consisting of the area within the Circumferential Highway. The idea is to add thousands of units in that area, the regional centre, where there are already services like water, sewer, roads and transit. It also disposes of the outdated and inconsistent planning rules that have long drowned HRM’s planning department in one-off development agreements and unpredictable approval processes.
“There was no clarity on what sort of development we wanted where, and it turned every single project proposal into a neighbourhood by neighbourhood fight over every one of them. It sucked up resources, and I don’t think it produced very good outcomes for community or for developer,” Coun. Sam Austin said before Tuesday’s vote.
“With the Centre Plan, with the stitching together here of the second half of it onto Package A, we have closed the door on that era.”
Tuesday’s vote is the end of a process that started in 2006, when the municipality’s Regional Plan identified a need to push HRM’s population growth back to its core. The next version of the Regional Plan, passed in 2014, officially starting the march toward the Centre Plan, and in 2016, the municipality got to work on public consultation.
Then came years of delays, and finally, municipal planners decided to split the plan in two. In 2019, council passed the first half, focused on higher growth areas called centres, corridors, higher-order residential areas, and future growth nodes.
Package B, which came to council for second reading and public hearing Tuesday night, handles everything else, and primarily the city’s established residential neighbourhoods. It also makes some changes to design requirements in Package A, and rezones some specific Package A properties.
Thirteen people spoke during the public hearing on Tuesday, including a few who asked the municipality to hit pause on the plan, like Hebb, who was speaking on behalf of Development Options Halifax. That group tabled a petition at council with more than 500 digital signatures.
Hebb said the petition called on the municipality to lower height limits, require carbon accounting with development proposals, and delay the adoption of Centre Plan Package B.
“We ask that council take an active role in preventing the unnecessary release of further greenhouse gases and to consider options that will protect the health and well being of the next seven generations,” Hebb said.
But most speakers were in favour of the plan and seeking a few tweaks.
Eugene Pieczonka was one of a few architects who spoke, and asked council to consider amending some new design rules in the plan.
“I’m speaking to you tonight because I really love this city. As architects we are the front line workers who must design buildings that conform with the Centre Plan. Hopefully our professional opinion matters. The Centre Plan is our toolbox. It’s a good toolbox. It could be better. And what we decide now is going to directly impact if our city meets its true potential, so let’s please get it right,” Pieczonka said.
Pieczonka, a partner at Lydon Lynch Architects, argued that the design rules around towers in Package A produced better results than those in Package B. The latter discourages stepped designs where the tower gets narrower as it rises in favour of straight towers protruding from podiums, Pieczonka said.
Coun. Waye Mason addressed those concerns in a three-part amendment, seeking a staff report after the adoption of the plan to look at a few specific zoning changes, along with those tower design guidelines.
In all, Mason said he felt the municipality had the plan right.
“I feel like we’ve achieved our goal of finding a balance on development and in the regional centre with this plan,” Mason said.
“There’s a lot of nuance and there’s a lot of sensitivity that’s gone into protecting the character of what’s important in Halifax while also enabling significant development in the centres, corridors and higher order residential areas, and that’s what’s important.”
Council also passed an amendment from Coun. David Hendsbee asking staff to look into the effect of the adoption of Package B on property owners who had approved plans under Package A but had yet to pull building permits. Due to changes between the two packages, their developments may not still be in line with the plan, as one developer told councillors. Another part of Hendsbee’s amendment will look at rezoning a couple’s property in west end Halifax to allow for more development rights.
And council passed an amendment from Austin that would allow for bigger towers on the Mic Mac Mall site, which will eventually be redeveloped with office and residential buildings.
None of the amendments delays the plan.
After the vote at council, the plan now awaits the provincial government’s official stamp of approval. That can take up to a month, and then developers can submit applications under the plan.