North end residents play with ideas for the former St. Pat's-Alexandra school site. Photo: Hilary Beaumont
North end residents play with ideas for the former St. Pat’s-Alexandra school site. Photo: Hilary Beaumont
North end residents play with ideas for the former St. Pat’s-Alexandra school site. Photo: Hilary Beaumont

North end residents dreamed big about the future of St. Pat’s-Alexandra at a meeting last night, but heard they may have to compromise on their housing goals.

About 70 people attended the consultation at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library to yet again speak their minds on the future of the former school site. It was the first of at least a couple consultations planned this summer.

The disposal process for the school has been ongoing for the last three years in a rollercoaster of hope and apparent defeat. Now, the North Central Community Council—an amalgamation of the three non-profits that took the city to court over its decision to sell the site to JONO Developments—needs two-thirds of council to vote to sell them the property.

Meanwhile, JONO is appealing the Supreme Court decision that gave the NCCC another shot at the site, meaning the NCCC will need some luck before their plans can come to fruition.

But plan they did.

At the front of the room, a scale model of the property allowed participants to play with orange blocks, each representing a number of housing units.

At previous consultations, people who have lived in the area for years said they worried about rising housing prices pushing them out. Hearing their concerns, the NCCC proposal for the site includes development of subsidized and market rate housing.

Last night, NCCC board member Rhonda Britton said the group is looking at a 60/40 percent split of market rate to low-income housing. The proposal aims to bring 250 units to the property. As people added orange blocks nearing 275 units, however, the site that already accommodates two large buildings became increasingly crowded.

During a small group discussion, Ross Cantwell, who plans to build a mix of market and low-income housing on the former MET and Diamond lands across from St. Pat’s-Alexandra, added his two cents. Sketching on a scale map of the property, he couldn’t see how so many units plus parking could fit without either increasing the height of residential developments, or “condominiumizing” one of the existing former school buildings.

Whether Cantwell invents a new word for it or not, “condo” is widely considered a bad word in the Gottingen Street area. As for residential height, several groups expressed both distaste for high-rise development on the site, and strong desire for outdoor recreational and green space.

Cantwell told the group, in his opinion, they can’t have it both ways. “You can’t get 300 units of housing on this site unless you cover every bit, and I don’t think people want that,” he said.

Neighbouring land owned by the city and partially occupied by gardening project Hope Blooms could provide some green space. NCCC board member Margaret Casey said last night the land will soon have a new playground. Hope Blooms is building a greenhouse, too.

Other ideas expressed for the site included increased connectivity with the downtown through the Cogswell lands, rent-to-own housing, a memorial for missing and murdered women, and a rooftop garden.

Councillors Waye Mason and Jennifer Watts as well as MLA Maureen MacDonald attended last night’s meeting.

MacDonald arranged a $50,000 provincial grant to help the NCCC develop their proposal. The group has offered to buy the St. Pat’s-A property for $3.7 million, financed with a loan from Housing NS.

The process of ditching the property has cost the city nearly $1 million so far, and that number will continue to increase as long as the city-owned site sits vacant.

Tim Bousquet

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

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