The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) has overturned decisions by two Halifax community councils to deny a proposal to add build more housing in a growing area of the municipality.
During a joint meeting in November 2020, the municipality’s Halifax and West and North West community councils voted against a proposal from Cresco Holdings Ltd. — the developer behind subdivisions like the Parks of West Bedford and the Ravines of Bedford South — to add more residential space to its project on Hogan Court, in the Larry Uteck area on the west side of Highway 102.
As the Halifax Examiner reported in December:
Cresco already had a development agreement from 2012 for residential and commercial development on the property. It’s building a 200-unit apartment building, a 110-unit hotel with convention space, and a grocery store.
That development agreement set a maximum amount of combined residential and commercial density for the surrounding area, and Cresco applied to HRM to amend the agreement to swap 162 people worth of commercial space for 72 residential units. In total, 272 residential units would be permitted in the area.
Municipal planner Meaghan Maund recommended in favour of the amendment.
“The maximum permitted population density will not change as a result of this proposal, only the ability to have additional residential units at the expense of less commercial density,” Maund wrote in the staff report.
“Therefore, staff recommend that the Halifax and West Community Council and North West Community Council approve the proposed amending development agreement.”
Both community councils, comprising 11 Halifax regional councillors, heard the application because the property falls within both of their two jurisdictions.
They considered the proposal at a joint meeting on Nov. 30, and both community councils voted against the proposal in separate votes.
“Halifax and West Community Council members explained that the development lacks active transportation and was not transit or pedestrian friendly,” say the minutes from the meeting.
“Members expressed traffic and environmental concerns, including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on Kearney Lake. It was also unclear how the reduction of commercial density would occur.”
Likewise, “North West Community Council members expressed concerns around traffic, stormwater management and the lack of transit and active transportation.”
Cresco’s lawyer, Robert Grant, appealed the decision to the UARB, which held a public hearing in early February to consider the matter. The board also conducted a site visit the next day.
On Tuesday, the UARB released its decision, siding with Cresco and overturning the community councils’ decision.
In the decision, the three-member panel of the UARB — Stephen McGrath, Roberta Clarke, and Richard Melanson — notes the community councils cited “a lack of active transportation; traffic concerns; transit and pedestrian concerns; environmental concerns, including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on Kearney Lake; and stormwater management concerns.”
“While many of these are concerns that arise generally when dealing with planning matters, the task before the Community Councils was to consider the specific application before it and to exercise its authority guided by the relevant policies in the MPS [municipal planning strategy],” the board wrote.
“In this case, the reasons provided by the Community Councils made no attempt to connect the general concerns they identified to specific polices in HRM’s MPS or the existing development agreement.”
The board continued:
The reasons provided by the Community Councils also appear disconnected from the limited scope of the amendment requested by Cresco. No evidence was presented to the Board in this appeal to reasonably conclude the proposed change to the development agreement would result in impacts touching upon the identified concerns that were materially different than they would be for development already allowed under the current development agreement.
During the hearing last month, according to the decision, HRM didn’t put up much of a fight.
“HRM elected to call no witnesses and did not cross-examine Cresco’s witnesses,” the decision says.
And later on:
HRM provided no evidence, expert or otherwise, in support of the proposition that the two Community Councils’ reasons were consistent with the intent of the MPS or the development agreement. HRM did not challenge or contradict the evidence introduced by Cresco to show that the decision was inconsistent with the intent of the MPS.
The board agreed with a comment from Grant that “this was essentially an uncontested appeal.”
The community councils’ decisions don’t carry out the intent of the municipal planning strategy, the board concluded, and it ordered the councils to approve the proposed amendments to the development agreement.