Halifax is selling off more than a dozen unused properties, and setting aside six of them for affordable housing.

At its meeting on Tuesday, Halifax regional council voted to declare the properties “surplus,” and classify them as either “remnant,” “extraordinary,” or affordable housing.

Under the municipality’s administrative order governing surplus properties, those classified affordable housing will be “disposed of through direct sale, or a call for submissions, open to eligible not-for-profit organizations meeting the submission requirements and program criteria” set by HRM.

Those properties include 48 Pinecrest Dr. in Dartmouth, 9 Howland Ct. in Lower Sackville, and “Lot E-1” on Brunswick Street in Halifax.

That lot is already subject to competing interests on either side of the property line. The report to council said HRM received requests from two property owners: the Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church Parish, located on the north side of the property, and Michael Lawen, the owner of five properties to the south. The church wanted to use the property for parking in the short term and affordable housing in the long term. Lawen told HRM his tenants already use the lot for parking, and he’s been maintaining it. But municipal real estate and planning staff found “that the subject property may be a good candidate for the development of affordable housing.”

A blue house is seen on a grey day. To the left is a vacant property with an arrow denoting it's "Lot E-1."
Lot E-1 on Brunswick Street — Screenshot/HRM

Coun. Waye Mason asked staff how the municipality would ensure that property is actually used for affordable housing.

“I would hate to see this key piece of property get kind of swept into one of those BS CMHC 10% off market rate for 10 years things,” Mason said. “Those are useless and embarrassing, and I don’t want this to go to that. It has to be something real and substantial.”

Planner Jill MacLellan told Mason the properties will be publicly advertised to give non-profits a chance to see what’s available.

“Should we get submissions to develop these properties that we think are right or that are viable, we’ll take it to council and council will make a decision whether or not these get developed for affordable housing,” MacLellan said.

MacLellan said HRM will consider outright sales or long-term leases for the properties. If there’s no response, MacLellan said staff will bring the properties back to council for reclassification. There’s no timeline on that process.

Along with those three properties, there were three more previously declared surplus that were reclassified for affordable housing on Tuesday: 18 Scotia Dr. in Bedford (the former Sunnyside Elementary School) and 232 and 234 Crichton Ave. in Dartmouth.

Staff recommended another property in Bedford, 31 Lister Dr., be declared surplus for affordable housing, but Coun. Tim Outhit, who represents the area, successfully moved to remove that property from the list.

Like the Brunswick Street lot, staff started looking into the property after an abutting owner, on Brockwell Street, asked to buy it for a driveway. Staff found the property was deeded to the former county of Halifax by St. Paul’s Home for Girls in 1978.

A screenshot shows two maps and two photos. The map on top highlights a property in Bedford. The one on the bottom left shows highlights two properties. Two photos on the bottom right show a wooded property.
Maps showing the location of 31 Lister Dr. — Screenshot/HRM

“Upon Technical Review, the property’s history as a social housing use and relatively close proximity to amenities along the Bedford Highway (i.e. transit, grocery stores, public library, etc.) were noted to make it a good candidate for the development of affordable housing,” staff wrote.

But Outhit wanted to talk to people in the community before moving ahead with the recommendation. The residents never had any heads up, Outhit said, and he’s worried about nearby Nova Scotia Power lines.

“I just want to make sure that it’s safe,” he told reporters at city hall.

“Just to say that we have a housing shortage or just to say that we need affordable housing, that every piece of land is suitable for residential development is not necessarily true. We have to look at transportation, we have some look at safety and health and certain things. So I just want a quick review of this. And then I want a little time to discuss with the neighbours and maybe how we can put a little buffer around this. It’s actually quite a pleasant green space in a district with more and more development that’s losing green space.”

Staff said another report could come back on the property within three months, and Outhit’s colleagues passed his motion to defer the item. There are more of these lists of surplus properties, including many for affordable housing, coming to future council meetings.

Councillors want cooling centres

HRM could see cooling centres opened next summer after a motion from Coun. Iona Stoddard on Tuesday.

Stoddard moved for a staff report “on the cost and effectiveness of providing cooling centres in designated locations in HRM.

“These cooling centres would provide some cooling comfort due to rising heat temperatures experienced, which are being influenced by global climate change,” Stoddard wrote in the motion.

In the reason portion of the motion, Stoddard wrote that the motion came based on “communication from vulnerable persons in HRM.”

The District 12 — Timberlea—Beechville—Clayton Park councillor noted there have been multiple heat warnings in HRM this summer, and the same way it provides warming centres in the winter, the municipality should provide cooling centres in the summer.

The motion passed unanimously.

Construction noise to end earlier

Council passed bylaw amendments on Tuesday to require noisy construction work to stop an hour and a half earlier.

HRM’s noise bylaw currently allows construction noise between 7am and 9:30pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm on Saturdays, and 9am to 7pm on Sundays and holidays.

Municipal staff reviewed the bylaw and recommended keeping the end time of 9:30, but council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee recommended a new end time of 8pm.

Councillors debated the idea on Tuesday, and voted 12-5 in favour of the curtailed 8pm noise cut-off.

Coun. Shawn Cleary, one of the five votes against the new time, argued the lost productivity would make construction take longer and housing more expensive.

The bylaw amendments also add the term “rock breaking” to the bylaw, with a cut-off time of 6pm Monday to Friday, and no allowance on weekends and holidays.

Kearney Lake health

Municipal climate change adaptation staff have created a management plan for Kearney Lake, and with council’s approval on Tuesday, they’ll be installing “living shoreline” and “floating treatment wetlands” to boost the lake’s health.

Council asked for the management plan, which also covers Little Kearney Lake and associated tributaries, last year, “with the goal of protecting lake water quality for all users.”

The report back to council this week, by water resources specialist Elizabeth Montgomery, “recommends that shoreline naturalization, using a combination of living shorelines and floating wetlands, be installed to capture stormwater runoff from Kearney Lake Road.”

The recommended living shoreline would prevent erosion and control stormwater running into the lake, and it would consist of consist of “Native plants and organic material such as logs, branches, haybales, and mulch are planted and woven into the shoreline.”

That’s expected to cost about $1 million, and the municipality is going to look to other levels of government for funding.

Floating treatment wetlands perform a similar function, removing phosphorus from stormwater runoff in the lake.

“They typically consist of a floating supporting frame and growing medium that is planted with native emergent plants, whose roots protrude past the bottom of the frame into the water column,” Montgomery wrote.

They’re expected to cost $50,000, which can be accommodated in the current budget.

Montgomery said the municipality hopes to eventually use the Kearney Lake management plan as a framework for other municipal lakes.

HRM to write to federal government on abortion access

Despite concerns about redundancy, Mayor Mike Savage will write a letter to the federal government expressing the municipality’s support for abortion access.

As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, council’s Executive Standing Committee recommended in favour of the letter, forwarding a recommendation from the Women’s Advisory Committee:

Vice chair Christine Qin Yang brought the motion to that committee following the “devastating decision” from the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I really think it’s important to use our voice and also our platform to raise awareness and strengthen the access of HRM’s women to abortion service,” Yang said on July 7.

Yang noted abortion is legal across Canada under the Canada Health Act, and has been since 1988.

“People need to be aware of their reproductive rights,” Yang said.

Coun. Paul Russell said he didn’t think council should be telling the federal government what to do.

“Whether I’m for or against [abortion] is a separate topic for discussion,” Russell said.

Coun. Shawn Cleary said he’s in favour of a woman’s right to choose, but said there are no signs the federal Liberal government would make any move toward restricting abortion access and questioned the point of writing the letter.

The motion eventually passed 15-2, with Russell and Coun. Trish Purdy voting no.

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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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