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.
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.”
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.”
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.