Halifax city council meets Tuesday for the third week in a row. The unusual back-to-back meetings allow councillors to take the next four weeks off, so Tuesday’s will be the last council meeting until September 9. The meeting starts at 1pm, and I’ll be live-blogging it via the Examiner’s @hfxExaminer Twitter account.
Council will likely approve all the following tender awards:
Overland Custom Coach—$2,460,018.10 for up to 25 Access-A-Buses. The current fleet consists of 34 buses; this three-year purchasing plan replaces 21 of those, and additionally expands the fleet by four buses. Unlike the more sturdy regular buses, which can last decades, Access-A-Buses only last five years before they become too costly to maintain. The staff report notes that last year over 1,000 requests for Access-A-Bus service were denied for lack of a bus. Council Tuesday will approve the overall purchase plan, but specifically only authorize $576,472.14 for a six-bus purchase, the first year component of the three-year plan.
Update, 3:30pm: Gus Reed, of the James McGregor Stewart Society, writes with these comments:
I don’t know why Metro Transit continues to invest in Access-a-Bus instead of improving access to regular Metro Transit Services.Access-a-Bus is a demonstrably inferior and discriminatory service. The fact that people rely on it doesn’t make it defensible.It’s not an easy problem, but that doesn’t mean there is no optimum solution. The current answer, providing a service deemed separate-but-equal is untenable in a society that prides itself on equality of opportunity.In its own 2010 Access–A–Bus Strategic Plan, HRM Metro Transit says:The longer term vision is to move towards the concept of universal access to conventional public transit services.Staff defends the investment with a simple argument:The demand for Access-A-Bus service has continually increased over the last number of years.This assigns the problem to the ridership, instead of where it belongs. Has there been an epidemic of paraplegia? Or are pesky seniors insisting on their right to public transit? The problem, Dear Metro, lies with you, not me.A better statement is:Metro Transit is unable to serve a growing number of citizens.And a better plan is to ease the demand for Access-s-Bus by making conventional transit universally accessible and available. Wouldn’t it save money for council to insist Metro Transit ramp up the retrofitting of its fleet and infrastructure? Spending $576,472.14 on making a bus route accessible might make it possible to retire an Access-a-bus or two.But no one at Metro Transit seems capable of connecting the Access-a-Bus problem with the original commitment: The longer term vision is to move towards the concept of universal access to conventional public transit services.
Dexter Construction—$1,017,101.35 for the repaving of Waterwheel Crescent and Noria Crescent from Beaver Bank Street Cross Road to Beaver Bank Cross Road.
Dexter Construction—$642,506.05 for new sidewalks on Sackville Drive from Lucasville Road to Melham Drive. Halifax Water is paying about $100,000 of the costs.
This issue was on last week’s agenda, but was deferred to this week because of the lengthy Forum and capital projects discussions. As I wrote last week:
Mythos Developments is proposing a seven-story, 75-unit apartment building at the northeast corner of North and Oxford Streets. Most of the site consists of the old St. Theresa Convent, a three-storey building built in the 1950s. In the 1970s Dalhousie University bought the convent and used it for dorms. It was sold again in the late 1980s and converted into apartments.
Because the proposed building isn’t allowed under existing zoning codes, the developer is asking that the codes be amended. City staff, however, is opposed to changing the codes. It’s unlikely council will approve the development over staff’s objections.
8 Linden Lea
Linden Lea is a dead end street off Pleasant Street in Dartmouth, one block west of Old Ferry Road. It is a quirky neighbourhood with an almost rural sensibility just a stone’s throw from downtown Dartmouth: There are no sidewalks or curbs for most of the road, but there is an open road-side ditch, some old knotty trees, and a delightful lily-filled pond—this quiet respite is where the Sullivan Pond ducks hang out most of the time. The old city of Dartmouth had approved three apartment buildings and a couple of duplexes along the road, but past the pond six single family homes remain. The apartment buildings have seen the stress of time, but they provide a few dozen units of affordable housing along the Pleasant Street bus route and within walking distance to the ferry. One of the buildings is a dilapidated three-storey structure right across from the pond; the development proposal calls for tearing down that building and building a four-storey, 41-unit apartment building in its stead.
In the decades since the Linden Lea apartments were built, the surrounding neighbourhood took on an increasingly middle class sensibility, which in turn led to the adoption of planning and zoning codes that disallow the kind of building that is proposed. To get around those restrictions, the developer and staff are proposing that council take the extraordinary step of declaring the property an “opportunity site,” which would bypass the usual zoning restrictions. Such a step would involve consultations with neighbours.
If done right, these sorts of rebuildings can make sense and improve an area, but I have no idea what council will do with this, or what neighbours think of the proposal. It’s somewhat concerning that the staff report doesn’t name the developer (architectural renderings were provided by the FWFares Group, but they may not be the primary developer), so we can’t judge the developer’s previous projects. I do know this: the developer didn’t tell the people in the apartment building that their homes may soon be torn down; that thankless chore indadvertedly fell to this hapless reporter while making small talk with residents enjoying the duck pond. But whoever the developer is, they submitted this statement:
The site’s close proximity to Downtown Dartmouth and the Ferry Terminal gives the project significance and merit to increasing density in support of policy N-5 goals. The design intent and theology behind the proposed development is to promote a greater neighbourhood and downtown lifestyle of green living targeted at a market for both young working professionals and families alike.
Design theology? I realize planning and design circles have been infected by woo-woo and New Age nonsense, but this is the first time I’ve seen it directly referred to in God-like terms.
Arts Grant Program
For the first time, this year council has allocated $300,000 from the operating budget to fund arts (previous funding has come entirely from the hotel tax). Tuesday, council will direct staff to set up the bureaucratic processes to award the grants.
Councillor Watts is asking council to send a letter to Ottawa asking that door-to-door mail delivery not be discontinued.
Now that construction loans for Metro Park have been paid off, staff wants the $1 million annual revenue from the structure to be devoted to improving the technology around parking downtown. Possibilities include parking payment kiosks, payment via smart phone, etc.
Voting for non-citizens?
Mayor Mike Savage is bringing forward a motion asking staff for a report “examining the benefits and implications of extending the right to vote in municipal elections to Permanent Residents.” The city doesn’t have the authority to grant the franchise to non-citizens, but this is intended to start a conversation that could one day see the legislature approve non-citizen voting in municipal elections. I can hear howls of protest already, but as someone who just went through the very lengthy citizenship process, I can see the value of it. Most importantly, it gets prospective citizens involved politically, which will be a good thing once they become citizens. But besides that, the long delays in the citizenship process, which are no fault of the applicant and seem to be politically driven at the federal level, unfairly prevent permanent residents from participating in their city governance. Additionally, there are lots of permanent residents who cannot or will not go through the citizenship process for a variety of reasons, and should they really be excluded from voting for the neighbourhood councillor?