“We want to see the hospital project proceed but we also want to protect the Common,” HRM Councillor Waye Mason told journalists following a meeting of city council Tuesday afternoon. Mason says he is “optimistic” that a “win-win” compromise could be in the works following a meeting late Friday afternoon between staff from the province and staff from HRM.
As a result, councillors unanimously passed a motion directing CAO Jacques Dubé to start discussions with the province “to close a portion of the west side of Summer Street in order to co-locate a power plant and a parkade.”
The west side of Summer Street is where the Halifax Infirmary and CBC building stand. Dubé told HRM councillors some of the options that will be discussed with the province include narrowing Summer Street to one lane — to two lanes from the current four — or making Summer Street a one-way street in order to provide enough land to accommodate the proposed parkade and power plant on the same side as the Infirmary. Dubé said he does not contemplate closing down Summer Street to all through traffic.
Although “cooperative” discussions will now get underway between HRM and the province, a decision on where to site these two large pieces of infrastructure is far from a done deal. Mason said he didn’t know where the buildings would fit on the other side of the street and it’s not his problem. It is however a problem for the Department of Transportation Infrastructure and Renewal (TIR), which when asked where these buildings would fit did not have a ready answer.
“The province is happy to work with HRM on its proposal to address much-needed parking for the expanded Halifax Infirmary,” said TIR Minister Lloyd Hines in a written statement. “There is still much work to do to determine if this is a viable option. It will be up to HRM to consult with the public and to obtain the necessary approvals. In the meantime, we remain committed to providing safe and accessible parking for the thousands of patients, family members and staff who rely on this hospital every day. We look forward to cooperating with the municipality on this important work”.
What type of public engagement will take place is anybody’s guess; there’s not much time if a new garage is to be built to allow for construction of ORs and patient rooms on the spot where the current parkade exists on the Robie Street entrance to the Infirmary. That parkade used by staff and the public will be torn down next spring to make way for new facilities.
That said, both levels of government may have learned a lesson about doing deals in secret. Yesterday HRM council voted to de-classify the minutes of its in camera session January 14, 2020, during which negotiations with the province were discussed. (The minutes have yet to be approved, but the staff report prepared for the secret discussion was also declassified.) A public uproar ensued last week after Mason broke ranks to reveal the province was quietly negotiating with the city to buy half an acre of land that included a sliver of Common land.
The province wanted part of the Common land to locate a power plant and a seven-storey parking garage to expand services at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre that will replace those lost when the VG and Centennial buildings close. The property was on the eastern, or opposite side of Summer Street from the Halifax Infirmary.
Green space across from the CBC building at the corner of Summer Street and Bell Road was going to be used by the province to site a power plant for the medical complex. Halifax Citadel MLA Labi Kousoulis said in his view, “health-care trumped picnics” but apparently it has not. The province wanted to buy the paved parking lot on the south side of the Natural History Museum to build a parkade for hospital staff and visitors. As well, the province’s plan looked as if that might impact the Bengal Lancers Riding School that stood to lose a small part of its paddock. And those who enter and exit the Wanderers Grounds might have been re-routed to a slightly different access point.
The current proposal being discussed would resolve those issues but it almost certainly will create new headaches in such a congested area of the peninsula.