A 2018 rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block, seen from the harbour.
A 2018 rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block, seen from the harbour.

The city’s design review committee has rejected advice from planning staff and approved an application from Southwest Properties for a 16-storey building on the waterfront.

The site is known as the Cunard lot — located on the waterfront along Lower Water Street between Morris and Bishop streets, next to Southwest’s Bishop’s Landing condo development. It’s currently a parking lot. Southwest would lease the land from Develop Nova Scotia, formerly known as Waterfront Development Corporation.

Southwest is proposing a 16-storey building with more than 250 one- or two-bedroom residential units, 90,000 square feet of commercial space and 229 indoor parking spaces.

In a staff report, planner Jennifer Chapman advised the design review committee that the building is too big for the site.

The proposal does not conform to five sections of the downtown Halifax land-use bylaw. Among those, the building is too wide and too deep, its mechanical penthouse takes up too much of the roof area, and its balconies cover too much of the face.

A 2018 rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street.
A 2018 rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street.

The developer asked for variances for nine elements of the design from those five sections of the bylaw. Staff recommended in favour of only three of those.

“Staff advise the extent of the proposed variances suggests the proposed building is too large for the site due to its failure to meet many of the requirements of the Land Use By-law related to size and height,” Chapman wrote. “Staff acknowledge that multiple attempts by the applicant to reconfigure the building while still retaining the proposed amount of floorspace has resulted in the requirement for new and additional variances.”

A rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street. — Zeidler Partnership Architects
A rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street. — Zeidler Partnership Architects

The site is in “an area of high importance,” Chapman wrote, and “any attempt to shift the building around on the site in its current form, results in the triggering of a new set of variances.”

The height also triggers the city’s downtown Halifax density bonusing requirements — a trade for public benefit in exchange for the extra density. The developer proposed LEED Gold certification, making the building more efficient, valuing the public benefit at $138,039.

That would ultimately be approved by Halifax regional council.

Committee votes down staff recommendation, approves project

The design review committee met Thursday afternoon by teleconference and the draft minutes were posted online on Friday afternoon.

The minutes indicate the committee was comfortable with the proposal, but noted some concerns with the design:

  • “Members questioned the lack of engagement of people walking along Lower Water Street and
    indicated the pedestrian experience should be enhanced
  • “Members noted they would like to see the residential units at grade replaced with retail
  • “Comments were made regarding the public space being in shadow
  • “The Committee questioned whether or not a light study had been completed
  • “It was noted enhancements could be made to the south side of the project.
  • “Members questioned whether Net Zero 2032 was being addressed with this project.”

“The Committee would really like to see a penthouse public space and feel the balconies are not too large for the development and enhanced the appearance of the building,” the minutes say.

Southwest chairman and CEO Jim Spatz told the committee that the penthouse is mechanical space, “but they will have a look and see if anything could possibly be done for the public.”

A rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street. — Zeidler Partnership Architects
A rendering of Southwest Properties’ proposal for the Cunard Block on Lower Water Street. — Zeidler Partnership Architects

Though the committee approved all the variances staff recommended against, it looks like there may be another hurdle for the project based on the size of the balconies.

The committee passed a motion recommending regional council “initiate the process to consider amendments to the Downtown Halifax Land Use By-law to allow for balconies in excess of 50% of the building face.” Those amendments would likely be a months-long process including a public hearing.

Zane Woodford

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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  1. No smokestacks?

    Imagine the possibility if exhaust from the boiler room could be continuously blown back towards the Citadel… now there’s pizzazz! Land ho! Man the lifeboats!

  2. Utterly repulsive. One more nail in the Halifax coffin. I used to love being downtown. Avoid it now whenever possible and we seldom ever bother to take visitors to tour the city.

  3. I didn’t think the waterfront could become any uglier and less appealing …. but then I hadn’t seen this monstrosity.

  4. Well, that’s the end of the pleasant, tourist-attracting and resident-pleasing boardwalk. And what about rising sea levels? Rolls eyes.

  5. Net Zero should be a basic requirement, not a public benefit. Have the greenhouse gases required to construct this building from the glass and the concrete been accounted for?

    Density bonusing could mean affordable housing. If the building only has one- or two- bedroom units, what about families? What will such a high building do to the public’s view of the waterfront?

    Why do we ask for so little public benefit, especially when this is public land?

    (by the way, these kinds of things made me want to run for council in District 7)

  6. Another ugly building that will take away space where people could go and enjoy the outdoors. I used to love the Halifax waterfront. Not anymore. Why even bother with staff reports and committees and bylaws if nothing that comes out of them is even going to be followed? Queen’s Marque was’t the first ugly building put up on our waterfront. There must be something we can do to make this newest building (assuming the balcony issue is not enough to stop it – and I doubt very much that it will be based on the decisions already made) the last!

  7. Unbelievable how ugly and inhospitable the waterfront is becoming. Don’t enough monuments celebrating poor planning and gross misuse of space already exist. What kind of shenanigans must be going on behind closed doors to allow these monstrosities to be constructed. A very bad odor is returning to the harbour.

  8. Can there be any doubt now that the Design Review Committee is a useless body in the pocket of developers? 16 storeys on the waterfront? Unbelievable!!

    Along with the Queen’s Marque the privatization of the Halifax waterfront has well and truly begun.

    1. F’g horrible. They don’t know what they’re doing because they’ve never been anywhere to know how special Halifax was. It’s a real tragedy.

  9. As a member of a tango group that regularly enjoys summer Saturday night milongas on the Waterfront, I find this comment by Jim Spatz beyond offensive ! “But they will have a look and see if anything could possibly be done for the public.” The waterfront IS public land, maybe he could bow down at our feet and we’ll see what we can do for him.

    All of those on the so called “City Design Committee” should be sacked. The building is too tall, blocks out light, destroys public use of the waterfront, and … it’s ugly! Please defend our outdoor public spaces ! Hasn’t COVID-19 taught you guys anything ? People need to have access to large outdoor spaces.