A blue vehicle makes a big splash on a dark day. The water from the blue vehicle is soaking the windshield of a taxi driving in the opposite direction. Behind the vehicles is a series of shipping containers on train tracks running parallel with the road.
Drivers navigate deep water on the Bedford Highway during a rain storm in 2019. Photo: Zane Woodford

After years of charging residents a flat fee on their Halifax Water bills, councillors moved on Tuesday to put the stormwater right-of-way charge on tax bills instead.

The money is supposed to pay for infrastructure to manage stormwater run-off from municipal roads, and the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board ordered the municipality to start paying it to Halifax Water in 2013.

Since then, council tried a few different methods of collecting the money. First it just absorbed it with surplus money in 2013-2014, then it moved the charge over to Halifax Water bills. It showed up on those bills, for any customer receiving a bill for their own stormwater run-off (the so-called ditch tax), for about $40.

In 2016-2017, council moved the charge to tax bills as a flat fee of $42. That had the unintended consequence of charging some condominium owners three times — once each for their unit, their parking spot and their storage space. So, back to the Halifax Water bill, where it’s been a flat $40 fee since 2018-2019.

Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace moved in September 2021 to put the charge back on tax bills, but instead of charging a flat fee, she proposed to make it part of the general tax rate. That would mean property owners would pay different amounts based on the value of their homes.

In a staff report to council in March, and then another one on Tuesday, municipal financial consultant Andre MacNeil recommended leaving the charge on Halifax Water bills.

Councillors rejected that advice on Tuesday, unanimously agreeing that the charge didn’t belong on water bills because lots of people who don’t pay a water bill benefit from municipal roads.

What councillors didn’t find consensus on was whether the charge should be on the general rate (everybody pays) or an area rate (people in areas with stormwater service pay).

“This is the charge for the common good, and we pay for the common good out of general taxes,” Coun. Sam Austin said.

Coun. Waye Mason argued there are people in rural HRM, like a long stretch of the Eastern Shore, who never use municipal roads, so an area rate makes more sense.

In the end, council voted 9-7 for the area rate. Austin, along with Lovelace, Tim Outhit, Becky Kent, Tony Mancini, Shawn Cleary, and Kathryn Morse voted no.

The area rate will show up on the 2023-2024 tax bill for property owners in urban and suburban HRM. It’s estimated to be 1.1 cents per $100 of taxable value, equal to $30 on the average residential property tax bill. The final figure will be calculated next year.

Gray Arena skates on

An arena in north Dartmouth once slated for sale will stay open after a vote at council on Tuesday.

In 2014 when the municipal four-pad arena in Burnside was finished, the municipality declared the Gerald B. Gray Memorial Arena Site at 10 Monique Ave. “surplus” and put it up for sale. In 2019, council voted to turn down an offer from Soccer Nova Scotia to buy the building, and instead direct staff to “conduct community consultation to receive feedback concerning possibilities for the redevelopment of the lands.”

The results of that consultation came back to council on Tuesday.

“These engagements identified considerable community interest in spaces and places for being active, sharing knowledge and enjoying nature. The impact of investing in Dartmouth North could exceed the monetary value of divesting of the property,” planner Leticia Smillie wrote in the report.

“Staff are recommending investing in a redevelopment program, building on these engagement results to further explore possibilities and partnerships for the future of the Site. Exploring options for low-cost community access to the Arena in the interim period, re-establishing the community connection to the Site and offering much needed community space is also recommended.”

The arena was used in the fall as an emergency shelter, and it’s now back to being used for ball hockey, lacrosse, and even skateboarding.

In a separate report to council on Tuesday, recreation planning specialist Gareth Evans and policy and planning manager Richard Harvey recommended council continue allowing the building to be used for skateboarding.

The report is a response to a motion asking staff to look into creating an indoor skate park for HRM. This wouldn’t quite be that, but staff advised that there are moveable skatepark features that can be brought into an area like Gray, and in fact they already have some stored there.

It could also be used for roller derby.

“Based on requests for facility booking and increased sales reported by the working group, roller skating and roller derby is a fast-growing sport in HRM. It is promoted as inclusive and accessible to a range of community members,” Evans and Harvey wrote.

“Roller derby has been regularly challenged to find indoor spaces and the organization has been working collaboratively with the Halifax Skateboard Association, outlining its needs for a flat, smooth, large indoor floor space to accommodate a track.”

Council voted to include $100,000 in next year’s budget for a consultant to plan a redevelopment of the property. In the meantime, lacrosse, ball hockey, skateboarding and roller derby will continue.

Dartmouth Cove opposition

The municipality is adding its voice to those opposing the infilling of Dartmouth Cove.

As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, a property owner has applied with Transport Canada to dump excavated rock from construction sites into the harbour at the cove. At a meeting this week at the Zatzman Sportsplex, more than 160 residents gathered to voice their concerns with the proposal.

At council on Tuesday, Coun. Sam Austin brought forward a motion to have HRM provide a submission to Transport Canada outlining “surrounding land uses, proximity to railway operations, what development rights the resulting property would have under the recently approved Centre Plan, and the potential negative implications for the greater public of disrupting access to the Harbour Trail.”

An asphalt-paved path is seen on a sunny day. To the right, there's a wooden log fence. To the left, a building filled with graffiti.
The city’s walking path along Dartmouth Cove in June 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

The motion also calls for staff reports regarding HRM’s rights to keep that trial accessible, and what “HRM, the Port of Halifax and others relevant stakeholders should undertake to situate pyritic slate disposal sites.”

Austin’s motion was met with some opposition, with Coun. David Hendsbee arguing infill is a good thing. He pointed out that much of the waterfront on either side of the harbour wouldn’t exist without infilling. Austin noted that there is no plan for future parkland here, just a desire to dump slate into the harbour.

Transport Canada’s commenting period ends June 10 at 5am.

Cowie Hill towers

Council voted on Tuesday to start a process to allow two tall towers in the Cowie Hill area.

ZZap Consulting applied on behalf of the landowners, Universal Properties and Hazelview Investments, to redevelop 30 Ridge Valley Rd. and 41 Cowie Hill Rd.

There’s currently a 12-storey building and an 11-storey building on the properties. The proposal would add 16-storey, 10-storey, eight-storey, and 17-storey buildings to the properties in phases, adding a total of 478 apartments.

The proposal requires rezoning, and municipal planners are recommending council consider the application.

“The Ridge Valley and Cowie Hill proposals would create infill housing in an area with existing municipal services. The properties are located along local bus routes, an express bus line, and are a short distance away from a corridor route on Herring Cove Road. There is also an elementary school and parkland nearby,” planner Anne Totten wrote in the report to council.

There will be public meetings and then a public hearing before the application is approved.

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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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