Halifax councillors green-lit two developments for Robie Street Tuesday night, approving up to 679 residential units.
The Halifax and West Community Council, comprising councillors from districts 7 through 12, held two virtual public hearings.
First was for the corner of Robie and College streets. Zzap Consulting applied on behalf of Peter and Argyris Rouvalis’ 3088962 Nova Scotia Ltd. to build two towers of 30 and 29 storeys with a three-storey streetwall.
It’s one of two proposals for the city block bounded by Robie Street, Spring Garden Road, Carlton Street, and College Street. The other, from Dexel Developments, is for two towers of 30 storeys. Halifax regional council approved a set of special rules for the two projects, which came before the Centre Plan was approved, back in 2019.
The Halifax Examiner first reported on this iteration of the Rouvalis proposal in July 2020:
Rouvalis’ original proposal contemplated towers of 26 and 20 storeys, with about 400 residential units, 32,000 square feet of commercial space, and more than 350 parking spaces.
The towers in the updated proposal would be 29 and 28 storeys, plus mechanical penthouses. The number of units has increased to 577, commercial space to about 43,000 square feet, and the number of parking spaces to more than 500.
The proposal also includes substantial alterations to three registered heritage properties in the area. The plan is to integrate them into the larger building near the corner of College and Carlton streets, moving one registered and one unregistered heritage property.
Construction would happen in two phases, with the developer first restoring and moving the heritage buildings, and then building the new towers and podium.
The design still isn’t finalized, but it went to the community council anyway.
Connor Wallace, with Zzap, presented the design to councillors, but couldn’t provide details about how many units would be two-bedrooms or more, or even how many parking stalls would be built. Wallace said the Centre Plan doesn’t require any parking, and that policy is being applied to this proposal.
During the public hearing, every one of the 11 speakers on the call was opposed to the development.
The first four speakers made one presentation, starting with Hadrian Laing, architecture masters grad with Development Options Halifax, which says it advocates for better design and public engagement.
Laing previously created detailed modelling of the proposal and 3D-printed it. Since it’s changed, he’s now created a virtual 3-D model that can be toggled around like Google Earth. He argued developers should be required to create more advanced modelling.
“When armed with this information citizen experts can better critique the design,” Laing said.
“This development will demolish existing affordable housing units during a housing crisis. It will contribute unnecessary embodied carbon during a climate crisis.”
Development Options said that this proposal, along with the other one for the block, will displace 110 affordable units. An older design rationale from the developer said there are 75 apartments on the properties used for this one development.
Another one of the first four speakers, Peggy Cameron, focused on the building’s carbon footprint, arguing for shorter buildings in the municipality.
Coun. Shawn Cleary took issue with Cameron’s claim that the proposal would create more greenhouse gas emissions than a six-storey building would.
“It would just be important for any of our speakers to actually speak in facts and truth, and not make stuff up,” Cleary said, arguing the development would reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with commuting from outside the core.
“The point is, the taller the building, the greater the carbon emissions associated with that building,” Cameron said.
“It was a fact-based presentation that I made and I don’t find your comment helpful or respectful.”
Larry Haiven asked the community council to defer the two proposals, require 3-D modelling, require affordable housing, reduce demolitions, and require a carbon budget.
Coun. Waye Mason said the only thing HRM can require from the group’s list is 3-D models. HRM can’t require affordable housing, it can’t stop demolitions, and it can’t require a carbon budget because building code is up to the province, he said.
Most of the speakers said the two proposals for the block should’ve come to the council at the same time.
Planner Tyson Simms said it’s “unfortunate” that the other proposal didn’t come to a public hearing at the same time.
“It would be nice to have both at the same time. However, we’re not in a position to require both applicants to meet at the same time in the process,” Simms said.
Coun. Patty Cuttell, a planner by trade, argued the proposal does not represent good planning.
“You wouldn’t do this. This is not something you would do on a single block,” Cuttell said.
But Cuttell said she felt, based on the approved policy, that councillors had no choice but to approve the development agreement.
The community council approved the development agreement with only Cuttell voting no.
Tower further north on Robie approved unanimously
The second public hearing of the evening saw councillors considering a 23-storey proposal from Danny Chedrawe’s Westwood Developments at 2032-2050 Robie St.
The site has a long history, and regional council agreed to bake an exception to allow this project into the Centre Plan, as the Examiner reported in May 2020:
Back in 2014, Westwood and Armco were jointly applying to develop the Willow Tree site and this one, with Chedrawe looking for 18 storeys.
The Willow Tree proposal was approved in 2018 at 25 storeys and sold off earlier this year to Shannex for $16.5 million.
In 2015, Westwood submitted a plan for a 25-storey tower that included three levels of hotel space.
Then in 2017, they floated two options at a public meeting: a plan for a six-storey commercial building and a plan for a 22-storey tower.
Opting for the tower, Westwood brought the proposal to the city as the Centre Plan was in its final stages in late 2018.
In June 2019, municipal planning staff recommended against the project, basically telling council to tell Westwood to bring back a shorter proposal under the new Centre Plan.
Council rejected the staff recommendation and passed a motion from Coun. Lindell Smith to amend the Centre Plan to permit the proposal.
That amendment in the Centre Plan created the “Robie Street Special Area,” where a tower of up to 22 storeys would be permitted on top of a two-storey podium. The unit count was capped at 102.
On Tuesday, planner Meaghan Maund told councillors that most feedback from the public was negative. And the public hearing was no exception, with all four speakers (three of whom also spoke against the other proposal) opposing it. They cited shadows and wind on the Halifax Common, and argued in favour of a shorter building on the site.
Chedrawe claimed the current design would provide maximum sunlight and minimum wind. He said it would be a condominium building.
Councillors approved that development agreement unanimously.
Because the building was approved under the Centre Plan, Chedrawe will have to make a density bonus payment to HRM’s affordable housing fund. With the building’s footprint totalling more than 10,000 square metres, that payment could be more than $100,000. It’s payable when Chedrawe applies for a building permit.
Money is supposed to start to flow soon from that fund to non-profits, using the municipality’s grant program approved almost a year ago.
We need a citizens lawsuit against city council for willfully ignoring the desires of their constituents to keep their city short friendly and livable. These buildings are so out of step with current reality, covid concerns and environmental concerns and income inequality. Lies and ignorance in our so called representatives abounds. They have failed us utterly. As to the greedy developers- Shame! Shameful !