A rendering of an eight storey building set in between other apartment buildings, homes, and townhouses.
The proposed addition to Stairs House. — Screenshot/HRM/WSP

Halifax’s heritage committee is recommending in favour of a big addition to an old building in the south end.

The proposal from Summer Wind Holdings, owned by Paul Murphy, Jim Spatz, and Gordon Laing, the same owners as Southwest Properties, has been a long time coming. The Halifax Examiner first reported on the proposal more than two years ago:

Summer Wind Holdings … wants to build a total of 112 units in the space between South and Harvey streets, ranging from 500-square foot one-bedroom units to 1,700-square foot three-bedroom units. The developer is proposing 83 underground parking spaces, and the main entrance would face Harvey Street.

The developer is also proposing to restore Stairs House and connect the municipally-registered heritage property to the new building. Dating back to 1838, the building is named for its second owner, “merchant, banker, and politician” William James Stairs.

“While it has endured some questionable additions of form and material, and has been converted to multi-tenant use, it has retained its essential original form, detailing and residential use, presenting to the street a clear image of a well-proportioned Georgian cottage,” reads a heritage impact statement by WSP, submitted as part of the application.

The developer would remove an addition made in 1863, restore the front porch, and remove the vinyl siding and restore the wood shingle siding underneath.

It would also tear down two existing apartment buildings on Harvey Street and one between those and Stairs House.

Back then, council’s Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee voted in favour of the project. Later that year, the proposal went to the Heritage Advisory Committee and then regional council for approval of the substantial alteration of a registered heritage property, passing muster again.

On Wednesday, the proposal was back at the Heritage Advisory Committee for another step in the approval process, where the committee was tasked with considering the actual development.

Planner Aaron Murnaghan, who wrote the report to the committee, recommending in favour of the project, gave a presentation.

“I have for you, finally, a development agreement that has been in the works for a number of years now,” Murnaghan said.

Coun. David Hendsbee raised concerns about the Harvey Street buildings.

A slide with the Halifax logo containing two photos of an old multi-unit building.
The Harvey Street buildings are shown in screenshot from a July 2020 slidedeck.

Murnaghan said there was an effort made to keep at least the facades of those buildings, but it was found they encroached on the city’s right-of-way.

“Why could not the structures in the right of way be pulled back 12 or 15 feet? They’d be out of the right of way and still be retained,” Hendsbee said.

“That option was extensively analyzed,” Murnaghan said. “Unfortunately, the the [architectural] integrity of of those buildings was not extremely high. They had been changed quite a bit over the years.”

He said there were structural issues with those buildings, too, making them difficult to move.

“In this case, we feel that the applicant did do their due diligence in terms of trying to save those properties,” Murnaghan said.

The committee didn’t raise any concerns about affordability on Wednesday. The Peninsula Planning Advisory Committee did, in 2020:

“Members questioned the number of existing units that will be lost when the buildings on Harvey Street are demolished … The Committee would like to see the same number of affordable housing units remain in the new development,” the minutes say.

“Morton indicated there is no criteria for staff to request affordable housing units and that the 27 existing units will be lost when the buildings are demolished.”

Hendsbee’s concerns weren’t enough to change his vote. The committee voted unanimously in favour of the motion, recommending the Halifax and West Community Council approval the development agreement.

The proposal next heads to that community council for first reading, then second reading with a public hearing.

Also on Wednesday, the Heritage Advisory Committee voted to recommend registration for 65 Tulip St. in Dartmouth, built in 1878, scoring the property 58 out of 100 points. That potential addition to the heritage registry moves onto Halifax regional council.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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