An overhead view of the former Penhorn Mall site from Google Maps.

A big developer and a real estate investment trust are shopping for a development agreement for the former Penhorn Mall lands in Dartmouth.

Clayton Developments Ltd. and Crombie REIT (the real estate investment trust created by Sobeys’ parent company, Empire) have applied for a development agreement for the lands at 549 to 569 Portland St. The application documents were posted to the municipality’s planning and development website on Tuesday.

It’s the first half of the planned redevelopment of the area, with the existing commercial space — a Sobeys corporate office, grocery store and gas station, and a few restaurants and other businesses — remaining untouched for now.

The proposal includes eight development blocks with 11 buildings between three and 12 storeys tall on 25 acres of the site. There’d be 950 units total, 45 of which would be townhouses separating the high-rises from the low-rise neighbourhood in behind.

An overhead view of the concept plan for the former Penhorn Mall lands. — HRM/Clayton Developments
An overhead view of the concept plan for the former Penhorn Mall lands. — HRM/Clayton Developments

“The Penhorn Future Growth Node presents a brownfield redevelopment opportunity in HRM’s Regional Centre with significant access to transit, parkland, and commercial amenities,” Clayton Developments’ vice president of planning, Kevin Neatt, and urban designer, Stephanie Mah, wrote in their planning application, dated Dec. 8, 2020.

“A former shopping centre, the site is now partially vacant, with the rest having been redeveloped as a retail and office complex adjacent Portland Street … These vacant areas provide a near-term development opportunity of approximately 25.2 acres, to be reimagined into a residential development.”

The first half of the city’s Centre Plan, approved in 2019, designated the site a “future growth node.” That means that, rather than having prescribed heights or permitted densities for buildings in the area, it’s to be dealt with using a development agreement.

“Future growth nodes are lands where there is potential to accommodate significant growth due to the site’s size, location, and proximity to services,” planning staff wrote in the proposal summary online. “These parcels of land are intended to be comprehensively planned to ensure they meet the objectives of the Centre Plan.”

Renderings of the proposed Penhorn Mall redevelopment from various angles. — HRM/Clayton Developments
Renderings of the proposed Penhorn Mall redevelopment from various angles. — HRM/Clayton Developments

According to Clayton Developments’ application, more than 2,000 people would live in the area under this proposal, and in the future, another 1,900 could live in the areas currently occupied with commercial space.

Neatt and Mah wrote that they’re prioritizing the “pedestrian environment” with the plans.

“Enhanced streetscapes, ornamental street lighting, decorative plantings, and general site landscaping are significant elements of the plan to ensure a fine grained, attractive look and feel to the neighbourhood,” they wrote.

They’d also connect the new streets through the proposal to nearby Penhorn Lake and the Brownlow Park.

The application letter suggests the partnership will sell off the lots after receiving the development agreement and preparing them for development:

“The absorption rate for the multi-residential units are expected to be strong with all blocks being sold within a four to five year time horizon following the first year of infrastructure development. Vacancy rates in HRM hit an all-time low in 2019 falling below 2%, while fill rates of newly constructed buildings have averaged between 10-12 months per 100 units completed.”

According to the summary online, “The application has been submitted and is undergoing initial review by municipal staff and may change as a result of staff comments.” It will follow the development agreement process, with a public information meeting still to come, followed by a staff report to a community council, and then first reading, a public hearing, and second reading.

A young white man with a dark beard, looking seriously at the viewer in a black and white photo

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. I live next to the old Sears parking lot for a couple years now I have enjoyed the Canada Geese that stop for a couple days on the way south, hope they can still find me

  2. Ah the wonderful develop agreements which have brought the region so much beauty over the years. I happen to have grown up in Westphal, when Penhorn Lake was a well use swimming hole for kids from both Westphal and Coleharbour. In those days the lake was only accessible by long meandering paths through thick woods. The lake was so clear you could see the bottom twenty feet down. I often thought” what a wonderful job the municipality has done of retaining the natural beauty of the area”.

  3. How does the planning department justify its approval of a development agreement for a 27 story tower at Mic Mac Mall but then restrict building heights to 12 stories at Penhorn? Taller buildings at Penhorn would create more opportunities for open space. With its amenities (transit depot, grocery store, lake and highway access) Penhorn is clearly a better location for higher density than at Mic Mac Mall. I live near Penhorn and a view of higher buildings there wouldn’t phase me at all.

  4. How does this development address the climate crises in any way shape or form – just asking on behalf of the creatures who are housed on that land already.

    1. The land is currently a cracked asphalt wasteland, no? It’s the old footprint and parking lot for what used to be Penhorn Mall.

      From a climate perspective it seems pretty good to put 2,000 people next to services and a transit hub.

  5. Totally inadequate park space. Who wants to play next to the circumferential highway where the wind blows and traffic noise is constant ?
    Park space should be in the centre of the lot at Block A. And the development needs a ‘Pedestrian Priority’ walking area for persons in wheelchairs and those on foot. HRM urgently needs a ‘Pedestrian Priority’ policy and administrative order.

    1. Colin, I think there is plenty of green space in the area…just not part of this development. Brownlow park has kids play sets, basketball, soccer and tennis…literally minutes from this proposed development. Better density should be allowed while they can leverage the existing green space next door.

      1. The green space in the area bounded by Portland,the Circumferential and Prince Albert is inadequate. The development area is 8 times greater than Brownlow Park. We won’t have another opportunity to have green space if this development proceeds as proposed. The offer of the land next to the highway is an insult to residents of Dartmouth. This is the opportunity to have a much larger open and recreational space for all ages and abilities,
        Use to see the big picture.