Councillors on the Halifax side of the harbour don’t like being told how to vote.
At a meeting Tuesday evening, the Halifax and West Community Council considered a development agreement for a gas station, convenience store and drive-through at 1656 Prospect Rd. — for the second time.
The lot isn’t zoned for a service station, but under the municipal planning strategy for the area, the owner can apply for a development agreement to allow one. The planning strategy includes specific criteria the community council can use to make its decision, and in a staff report in September, municipal planner Maria Jacobs advised that it met those criteria and should be approved.
“The development includes architectural features to reinforce the character of the area, controlled site access and vehicular and pedestrian provisions to promote efficient on-site circulation, and landscaped buffering to provide wetland protection and a visual barrier,” Jacobs wrote, recommending in favour of the proposal.
In September, the community council voted unanimously against the proposal from Hatchet Lake Plaza Ltd., siding with nearby residents who voiced concerns during a public hearing about groundwater contamination, the proximity of the gas station to their homes, and a lack of buffer between the gas station, those homes, and wetlands.
The developer appealed that decision to the provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB). There was a hearing in December, and in a decision dated Jan. 29, attached to the staff report to the community council on Tuesday, the board sided with the developer.
The board agreed with arguments from lawyers for Hatchet Lake Plaza Ltd. that the community council needed a better reason to deny the development. It ordered the community council to approve the development agreement.
On Tuesday, Coun. Patty Cuttell, who represents District 11 – Spryfield-Sambro Loop-Prospect Road, said she doesn’t support the proposal but she believed she had to vote for it.
“I understand my legal obligation here, but it will be the fourth gas station built along Prospect Road,” she said.
Cuttell was elected in October, after the community council turned down the project. She argued the municipal planning strategy for the area is outdated and doesn’t consider the importance of the road as a well-used route to Peggy’s Cove.
“But as it stands now, without an updated plan, we have little or no say about the development that happens there, we have no grounds or room if the proposed use fits with the municipal planning strategy,” Cuttell said.
Coun. Shawn Cleary, who was on the community council in September, questioned why the proposal even comes back before the community council if it has no choice.
“In a judicial environment, if the higher court overturns the decision of a lower court, it’s just automatically overturned. It doesn’t go back to that other judge and they have to re-decide. They’re asking us to re-decide,” he said. “My position hasn’t changed.”
Cleary wanted a municipal lawyer to explain the reasoning to him, “citing the charter section and legal precedence that would force me to vote a different way than I voted the first time.”
At first, there was no lawyer on the teleconference for the meeting. Lawyer Meg MacDougall signed in a few minutes later.
MacDougall told Cleary the community council has to follow the UARB’s order. Cleary asked what happens in the community council doesn’t approve it. MacDougall explained that only chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé could decide to appeal the UARB decision to the courts.
Working with MacDougall on the wording, Cleary moved to defer the decision until municipal staff outlined the community council’s legal options and why it had to vote on the matter.
Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the community council, supported Cleary’s motion.
“It almost kind of felt like we were being told to do something that we don’t want to do,” Smith said. “And not to put it too simply, but [it felt like] a slap in the face.”
The community council voted unanimously in favour of Cleary’s motion, so the decision is deferred until a future meeting.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the community council voted to move a development proposal for a heritage property on Tower Road ahead, schedule a public hearing for a development proposal in Spryfield, and it gave first reading of amendments to clean up some typos in the city’s secondary suites bylaw.
I keep saying the same thing. We give this unelected committee of people too much power. They have become the “other parent” kids go running to when they don’t get their way.
Being told to follow the law is not ‘a slap in the face’.