Rec centres

This issue is quite complicated, and I’ll probably have more to say about it after the meeting. The short of it is this: HRM adopted a policy for rec centres in 1997. Big rec centres that serve large areas would be paid for directly from the city’s general fund, but community rec centres, small ones that serve smaller needs, would be paid for via special tax districts. Even the tax district part of that is complicated—some of the districts pay for capital costs, others for on-going operational costs of the building, and others still for program costs. Throw in some tax districts for privately held non-profits and it gets that much more complicated. But on top of that, the city hasn’t been following its own policies, and carved out a bunch of exceptions.

Being proposed is a rationalization of rec centres, putting them in three categories, killing off 10 of the tax districts, and rolling the costs of operating the those 10 rec centres into the general fund.

Here’s a chart that explains the effect on taxes:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 2.27.07 PM

I think staff has done a reasonably good job ferreting through the complexity, and the effects on taxes are not huge. But this issue invariable makes people angry, so we’ll see what council does with it.


ZM Supreme Cleaning—$780,188.59 for a three-year contract for janitorial services at the new library.

Dalhousie Cities & Environment Unit—$15,000 to manage the Bike-friendly Certification & Bike Parking Support Program. Total project costs are $42,000, with $21,000 coming from the province’s NS Moves program, $15,000 from the city, “and the remaining $6,000 from other sources and in-kind contributions.” Cities & Environment will identify bike rack locations and develop a certification process, while the city’s costs are mostly for the bike racks themselves. Details here.

Dartmouth City Hall

It’s long been said that the votes of city councillors are for sale to developers, and now the city is making it official: City Hall itself will be sold to a real estate developer. Fortunately, this is the former Dartmouth City Hall.

The old city of Dartmouth built the structure at 90 Alderney Drive in 1966, and used it as its City Hall until amalgamation in 1995. It was then rented to the Halifax Regional School Board until the board moved to its current terrorist angry-monther-proof bunker in Burnside in 2009. Then Halifax council voted to give the building to the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society to use as a museum, but a subsequent inspection of the building found that it wasn’t in good enough condition for a museum. So this January, council voted to sell the property and dedicate the proceeds to a museum.

The 2.75 acre property was listed at $2.6 million, and there were “several” bidders, with Fares & Co., Fracis Fares’ company, making the highest offer. Fares is behind the nearby King’s Wharf development. He won’t say what he’s paying for it, and the price won’t become public until the deal is done. Fares told the Chronicle Herald he doesn’t know if he’s going to keep the building or tear it down and build something else.

Some of the parcel is being heaved off to the city, and there will be a couple of easements owned by the city, including a height restriction above three storeys so the librarians at Alderney Gate will continue to have great views of the harbour from their offices.

I don’t know. For a number of configuration reasons (they really built a lot of crap in the 1960s), the existing building is something of a black hole on the waterfront. And the waterfront park sort of dies just past the building. Maybe Fares can liven the spot up, but it’s too bad some public use couldn’t be made of it. My guess is that Fares will end up leasing a new building back to the museum.

Councillor motions

Linda Mosher wants to write her name all over the city’s anti-graffiti efforts.

Steve Craig wants council to ditch the existing council pay formula and create a new committee to work up a new pay formula. People get entirely too worked up about council pay, but if we have to go there, I’d rather Craig or some other councillor just come up with their own proposal and put it before council directly, rather than going the “independent committee” route. Yes, council pay is a political issue. Always has been, always will be. A committee won’t change that.

Russell Walker wants Mike Savage to write Stephen Harper and ask him for money. That always works.

Jennifer Watts wants the city to re-establish the practice of renting parking spaces at the Bloomfield Centre until the property is transferred to the province. The parking was eliminated when the property was put up for sale, but for some unknown (to me) reason it’s taking longer than anticipated for the province to start on the redevelopment of the site. In the meanwhile, having some off-street parking will help a lot of people when the on-street parking ban is in place this winter.

Digging the Porters Lake Canal. Photo via David Hendsbee
Digging the Porters Lake Canal. Photo via David Hendsbee

The federal government is offloading all sorts of property, including all the lighthouses in Nova Scotia and the Porters Lake Canal. The canal connects Porters Lake to the ocean, between Three Fathom Harbour and Seaforth. It was dug in 1861 so that barges could avoid the swift currents at Rocky Run. David Hendsbee wants the city to buy the canal, and included the requisite picture of serious men in hats at the construction site (99% Invisible fans will get the reference) with his proposal. A few weeks ago Hendsbee said, seriously, that the lighthouses off the coast on islands are inaccessible so should be moved inland. I’m beginning to see a grand plan…

Public hearings

(Public hearings start at 6pm)

Eliot House

Eliot House
Eliot House

Boris Holdings want to build a seven-storey condo building at the corner of Victoria Road and Ochterloney Street in Dartmouth, the site where an auto parts business stood until last year. Immediately next door to the proposed building, at 99 Ochterloney Street, is the Henry Eliot House, built in 1875 by famed Dartmouth architect Henry Eliot for his son, Alfred. The elder Eliot was also the Dartmouth Town Clerk. The younger Eliot lived in the house until his death, in 1879. The house itself is valued architecturally.

The condo plan calls for preserving the Henry Eliot House by wrapping the new building behind it. This plan was rejected last year by the Heritage Advisory Committee, which said the building was of inappropriate scale for the neighbourhood. That rejection, however, was overridden by the Harbour East Community Council. In September, the community council voted to “delist” the back portion of the property, a parking lot, from Heritage rolls and approved the development. Council will hear from the public, then vote on it.


Clayton Developments wants to transfer development rights it owns for 118 residential units from one side of the BiHi to the other.

1047, 1057, and 1065 Barrington Street

The proposed building.
The proposed building.

WSP Canada is proposing a six-storey residential building on the site of the Tim Hortons on South Barrington Street, behind the Superstore. I’ve never heard anyone in opposition to this building, and it’s sailing through the approval process.

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

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  1. These so-called «««Community»»» Councils are a DISGRACE. If ever there were Kangaroo Courts, these bodies are!

    I have attended numerous sessions of the various Councils and been appalled by the way in which Common Sense, and the little guy’s rights are ignored and trampled time and again.

    HRM Staff books inadequate spaces, provided faulty PA equipment, and make incompetent, even obviously erroneous «presentations». Graphics necessary to the understanding of issues are routinely either just plain WRONG, or are so poorly prepared and projected they are impossible to read — one suspects deliberately. People who need to be heard are routinely shut-out by the Gestapo-like collusion and bullying of the «Chairs» and HRM Staff.

    The «decisions» of these dysfunctional Councils are routinely WRONG, because due process is derailed by loud-mouthed people with axes to grind, and the Little Guy, often perfectly within his rights, ends up trampled by jackboot bullies.

    The Eliot House is just one of hundreds of victims of an out-of-control, brainless, and rights-trampling autocracy.

    1. Community Council should be made up of citizens from the various communities within the districts lumped together in the Community Councils.

  2. Irrelevant, perhaps, to the Rec Centre revamp at hand, but did the current, complex, mind-boggling system evolve over time, or was it originally instituted as a piece, with the exceptions added later? It echoes current Council procedures, often mired in bureaucracy and virtually unintelligible to the average live-stream viewer. Additionally, important votes don’t remain on screen long enough for the viewer to discern, nor are councillor votes recapped, i.e.Councillors A,B.C opposed, D,E,F etc. in favour. Streamlining and simplifying are long overdue.

    1. I’ll try to get into some of that Wednesday, Donna. Basically, the old county of Halifax, the town of Bedford, and the cities of Dartmouth and Halifax had not just different tax rates but also different tax policies. I have a piece on tax relief for non-profits in the works, and that comes through in that, as well. Anyway, it was simply impossible to gracefully merge all the old systems. The 1997 policy wasn’t a bad approach, but in practice everyone thought they were getting ripped off by some other community, and so the politicians responded to political pressure. It actually also went the other way—some communities said “we want a district tax so we can have this thing”—or to speed up construction, in one case, for stuff that the city should’ve paid for outright. And now those same communities think the district tax is unfair. [shrug]

      1. Thanks! Appreciate the detail and look forward to your next piece on it.

        Your mention of politicians responding to political pressure identifies the systemic, pervasive flaw in all elected office: the desire for and retention of power, sometimes inherent in candidates, sometimes accrued in office. The politician who truthfully explains and ethically represents his/her constituents would ideally submit to the electorate’s verdict with clear conscience and resigned acceptance. Idealistic, yes, but it’s how the system was designed to work. Instead, politics is being gamed in both crudely basic and sophisticated ways.

        There are two bright spots for interested citizens today; journalists like you who investigate and report, often translating political bafflegab into intelligible prose, and social media. The latter has become a control and accountability mechanism for average folks, a point brought home powerfully this afternoon as I watched a high-powered American PR executive rant about – and lament – the power of social medial to influence the population. It’s a welcome new day in the corridors of power.

        1. The theory is that in the vast areas of rural Halifax that communities would have a lower tax rate than suburban and urban, and an unincorporated town or village wanted a rec hall (or a street light, or a sidewalk) they could do an area rate and pay for it.

          What has actually happened is that modern rec facilities capture people from miles around, and are much larger than an old church hall. Does the old system make sense when the tax rates are so close together? Maybe not, but getting rid of it means people in farthest rural who are 20-30-60 minutes away from a facility will get a tax increase, and the ability of an unincorporated community to determine its own service level and price for that will be further eroded.

          Ultimately there is not enough money to provide an urban level of service throughout the rural part of HRM. If there was, then other rural counties would already be doing it. So I am not sure this is the right way to go, but if that is what rural residents feel will best serve them then it is hard to vote against it.