The municipality’s Design Review Committee has approved the addition to and restoration of the historic Elmwood hotel building, despite some concerns about the plan for the building’s main floor.
It’s the final step in the approval process after Halifax regional council previously approved a recommendation from the Heritage Advisory Committee in favour of the developer’s plan to pick up the Elmwood, move it four metres, and set it down on a new foundation.
The committee held a virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss the proposal from Zzap Consulting on behalf of Galaxy Properties, owned by Anthony, David, and Elias Metlej and Anna Kabalen. The building dates back to 1826, but was mostly completed in 1896, when it was converted to a Victorian hotel.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in May, the developer plans to restore the Elmwood on its new foundation, tear down an old addition, and then build a nine-storey, 79-unit apartment building in the back.
The Design Review Committee was tasked with approving the plan as a whole. Municipal planner Carl Purvis outlined six variances the developer sought from the design guidelines in the land-use bylaw for the area, including setbacks and streetwall heights. Those variances were all requested to complement either the heritage building or the one next door, and municipal staff recommended in favour of all six of them.
The committee wasn’t concerned about the variances.
“We all know that these adaptive reuse and urban infill projects are extremely difficult especially on these very tiny sites,” said Rob LeBlanc, an architect.
“I think of the [six] variances you guys are requesting and have a general comfort level and I understand kind of why you’re requesting those ones.”
But the committee was concerned about the plan for the bottom floor of the restored Elmwood.
Renderings show a sort of dark passageway at the street level, under the wraparound veranda, with brick cladding on the building and columns matching those above. Underneath, in the shade, the renderings show grass.
“It would be a really dark kind of patio for the tenants to have in that spot. And it would probably pile up with, unfortunately garbage over time because people would just chuck it in that little hole there because nobody can see it and be a nightmare,” Charlotte Fouquet, a landscape architect, said about the Barrington Street side.
Fouquet suggested closing off the Barrington Street side on the bottom. On the South Street side, Fouquet said there’s more room for an enjoyable patio for the two ground floor apartments there, but the surface would have to be hardscaped with patio stones or paving.
“Grass would definitely not work there … Nothing’s gonna grow in that kind of light,” Fouquet said.
“Have lighting as well to make it you know an area people you know, feel bad putting trash are going into and destroying and whatever.”
Marilee Sulewski, chair of the committee, agreed the darkness could be problematic in terms of maintaining the property.
“People will be people, especially in the downtown at night,” Sulewski said.
Landscape lighting would go a long way with that, Fouquet said.
“Have lighting as well to make it you know an area people you know, feel bad putting trash are going into and destroying and whatever,” Fouquet said.
Connor Wallace from Zzap told the committee the design was inspired by old photos of the Elmwood showing a more elaborate veranda than what’s on the building today.
“The intent is here to provide light to those units on the base level but we also want to not contradict the architectural intent of the original heritage structure which is really to have that veranda, have those columns come down to that stone foundation that is prominent at the ground level,” Wallace said.
“That is going to require some careful thought in terms of functionality and also improving that streetwall experience through landscape.”
Despite its concerns, the committee didn’t entertain any amendment to try to improve that streetwall experience, and the motion to approve the project passed unanimously.