Photo: Halifax Examiner
Photo: Halifax Examiner

Tuesday’s council meeting proceeded more or less as I predicted in the council preview, with the following exceptions and issues of note:

Hell-bent on development

Boy was I ever wrong. Monday, I predicted that council would concur with a staff recommendation to deny the development of a seven-storey, 75-unit apartment building on the old St. Theresa Convent site at North and Oxford Streets. My thinking was that staff’s take on it was direct and blunt, and the two councillors for the area—the site itself is in Jennifer Watts’ district, but Linda Mosher’s district is across the street—were opposed to the development. Rarely does council as a whole vote against the wishes of a local councillor on a land use issue.

The objection to the development is that it is simply too big for the neighbourhood of single family homes. “The uniform height of seven storeys across the site lacks an appropriate transition to adjacent lower density homes to the north, along Seaforth Street, and east of the site,” reads the staff report. “An alternative design approach could include a reduction in height to match the height of the adjacent houses, especially in the area to the north of the site, given the low density character of Seaforth Street.”

But council would have none of this. Councillor after councillor spoke about the need for higher density housing on the peninsula, and implied that the neighbours’ concerns were misplaced NIMBYism. The attitude was that we cannot meet the population goals for the peninsula if apartment buildings are denied.

Watts and Mosher, however, pointed out that the Halifax and West Community Council routinely approves apartment buildings. “I can’t remember the last meeting when we didn’t approve 17-, 18-storey buildings, seven- and eight-storey apartment buildings all the time,” said Mosher.

And anyone who thinks this city is in any way “anti-development” is simply ill informed. Here’s a partial list of active development proposals now before the city, including on the peninsula:

Case 18270 – Application by Genivar for the lands of 5885 Spring Garden Road, Halifax, to enter into a development agreement to allow for an 18-storey residential building addition to the rear of the existing building.

Case 18322 – Application by Geoff Keddy and Associates for the lands at the corner of Coburg Road and Seymour Street, Halifax, to amend the Municipal Planning Strategy for Halifax and Land Use By-law for Halifax Peninsula to develop a 5 storey mixed use building with penthouse through a development agreement.

Case 18462 – Application by W.M. Fares Group to amend the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy and Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to permit an additional three storeys of office space at the former Bay department store, 7067 Chebucto Road, Halifax (formerly Case 17397).

Case 18464 – Application by W.M. Fares Group to amend the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy and Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to allow for a multiple-unit residential development at 3631 and 3639 Bright Place, 6100 Normandy Drive and the former Bright Place street right-of-way off Lady Hammond Road, Halifax, by development agreement.

Case 18510 – Application by R.C. Jane Properties Limited to amend the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy and Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to allow for a 6-storey mixed-use building at 3400 Dutch Village Road and 3343 Westerwald Street, Halifax, by development agreement.

Case 18547 – Application by the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia for lands at 2183 Gottingen Street, Halifax, to amend the Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-Law to include the site within Schedule Q, and to enter into a development agreement to allow a 6-storey, 115-unit building.

Case 18548 – Application by the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia for lands at 2215 Gottingen Street, Halifax, to amend the Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-Law to include the site within Schedule Q, and to enter into a development agreement to allow a 9-storey, 124-unit building.

Case 18555 – Application by Genivar, on behalf of Onyx Properties, to amend the Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to include 2857-61 Isleville Street, Halifax within Schedule Q to allow for a residential building by development agreement.

Case 18591 – Application by Genivar, on behalf of FH Construction Ltd., to amend the Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to include 5530-5532 Bilby Street, Halifax, within Schedule Q to allow for a residential building by development agreement.

Case 18708 – Application by Argyle Developments to amend the Downtown Halifax Secondary Municipal Planning Strategy and Downtown Halifax Land Use By-law to permit a new design of the Nova Centre, on the lands bounded by Argyle, Market, Sackville, and Prince Streets, Halifax.

Case 18771 – Application by Westwood Construction Limited to amend the development agreement for “Gladstone North” located at Gladstone and Almon Streets, Halifax, to allow for the replacement of two approved semi-detached dwellings (4 units) with a commercial surface parking lot and associated landscaping and seating area.

Case 18950 – Application by WSP Canada Inc., for the lands of Urban Capital (Barrington) Inc. and Killam Investments Inc., to consider amending the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy and the Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to permit a 6 storey mixed use building containing ground floor commercial and 142 residential units at 1057 and 1065 Barrington Street, Halifax (Southport).

Case 18966 – Application by APL Properties Limited to amend the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law (LUB) to permit the application of a development agreement allowing a mixed use development consisting of two new residential towers of 22 and 11 storeys respectively on a common two to three storey podium at 6009-6017 Quinpool Road, Halifax. The development would contain a total of 165 residential units, 11,500 square feet of commercial space, and 166 parking stalls.

Case 19050 – Application by Westwood Developments Limited to amend the existing development agreement for 5881-5883 Spring Garden Road, Halifax, by extending the ground floor and second floor commercial portions of the existing 12-storey building closer to Spring Garden Road.

Case 19165 – Application by Dalhousie University to consider an amendment to the Land Use By-law (LUB) for Halifax Peninsula, to amend Section 71 of the LUB to allow for a larger percentage of rooftop equipment to exceed the height requirements for institutional buildings in the U-1 (Low-Density University) and U-2 (High-Density University) Zones.

Case 19171 – Application by 3258146 Nova Scotia Limited to amend the Downtown Halifax Secondary Municipal Planning Strategy and to amend an existing development agreement to change the required dates for the commencement and completion of an already approved 16 storey building at 1593 Barrington Street, Halifax.

Case 19281 – Application by Westwood Construction Limited to amend the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy and Halifax Peninsula Land Use By-law to permit the application of a development agreement allowing an 18-storey development containing a mix of residential, commercial, and hotel uses at 2032-2050 Robie Street, Halifax.

Case 19293 – Application by Templeton Place Ltd. to amend the existing development agreement for 5599 Fenwick Street, Halifax (Fenwick Tower Property) to allow for changes to various building elements.

Case 19326 – Application by Dino Capital Limited to amend the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy and to enter into a development agreement which would allow a multi-unit residential development consisting of 2 towers of eight and ten storeys respectively containing a total of 142 dwelling units and 150 parking stalls on the properties located at 1034, 1042, 1050 and 1056 Wellington Street, Halifax.

I doubt any of those proposals will be denied. No, council is not anti-development. On the contrary, there’s too much development as speculative money is foolishly being dumped into real estate. I’ve reported before that vacancy rates for commercial space downtown are skyrocketing, and now I’m hearing anecdotally that landlords are having problems renting out the new apartment buildings and so are offering premiums like free iPads with signed leases. A collapse in the housing market wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing—it might bring rents down (but might not), but I fear the new stock of buildings is of such low quality that many of them will be uninhabitable in 20 or 30 years, creating a crisis of a different sort

In any event, only councillors Mason, Watts, and Mosher agreed with staff on the St. Theresa issue. The rest of council pushed the development forward, albeit at a new starting stage that will require consultation with neighbours and, perhaps, revisions in the proposal.

Door-to-door mail delivery

Councillor Watts had asked council to send a letter—and not an email, as some wag on Twitter noted—to the federal minister overseeing Canada Post, asking that urban door-to-door mail delivery not be discontinued.

It was astonishing to watch councillors fall over themselves to condemn the proposal. Linda Mosher was first to make the startling claim that council had no business telling another level of government what to do, but that disingenuous argument was seconded by Darren Fisher, David Hendsbee, Steve Craig, Russell Walker, and Stephen Adams.

City council, of course, consistently, constantly, makes requests of other governments. Later in the very same meeting council voted unanimously to ask the very same federal government for $398 million for future capital projects, a kind of revolving wish list that is submitted every year. So “we can’t tell Canada Post what to do” was simply a stupid argument, and those councillors know it. If they don’t want to be seen as siding with the postal worker unions—which undoubtedly this is all about—they should simply say so, instead of making up bullshit.

In the end, only three councillors voted for the letter—Watts, Mason, and a third I didn’t catch (and the vote tallies are not yet posted on the city’s site). So the letter won’t be sent.

Elections

Remember how electronic voting was going to increase voter turnout? Ha! Voter turnout last election—the first full election that used electronic voting—was an abysmal 37 percent, unchanged from the previous election.

The elections office, which is run by the city clerk, Cathy Mellet, has been talking with Jeffrey Roy, a prof in the Dalhousie school of Public Administration, about creating an “engagement” process with voters and experts to get some insight into the failures of electronic voting. This will cost $55,000.

I was heartened that two councillors—Waye Mason and Steve Craig—brought up concerns about the safety of electronic voting, and Craig made the important observation that we can no longer guarantee a secret ballot with e-votes. (I’ve made the same argument.)

I don’t know if issues of security and secrecy will actually be looked at in the review. It seems an awful lot to hope for for a measly $55,000. But we can, indeed, hope.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Thanks for this report. I have long known that Council is pro so-called development. But I am stunned that they would vote against a letter asking that door to door mail delivery not be discontinued in urban areas. i suppose it will be a moot point once we all have to live in apartment buildings, but right now, whose side are they on, anyway?

  2. Years ago, developers pushed for better planning documents and policies so that “we all know what the rules are.” What they didn’t say was that they wanted to obey these rules. Apparently, most developers wanted to buy land cheap presumably because of the existing zoning, and then lobby like mad to get the zoning changed and then “amend” any other sensible rules that might protect the neighbourhood but restrict their dreams of gold. And,when it suited them, they complained about how long it took HRM to make all these outrageous changes!

  3. Stunned that all except first development proposal include either “to amend” or “consider amending.”

    Kudos on identifying councillors and how they vote. It’s vital, distinct info that cannot be dissembled. Good we’re catching up to Americans who have long recognized the value of knowing who votes; how; and the pattern their voting forms.