Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr has approved the controversial development proposed for the Eisner Cove wetland in Dartmouth.

Lohr took control over planning approval in the area when he declared it one of nine special planning areas in March. The province calls the land, next Highway 111, the Southdale-Mount Hope Special Planning Area.

Clayton Developments and A.J. Legrow Holdings want to eventually build 1,875 homes in the area, in a mix of single-family homes, semi-detached homes, townhouses, and apartment buildings up to eight storeys. The first two areas, captured under the approved development agreement, include 875 units.

An aerial view of a developer's plan for a dense development on Mount Hope property
The developer’s site plan, showing what’s now approved. — Map: HRM/Clayton Developments

The government announced the approval, which happened last month, with an ad in the Chronicle Herald on Wednesday:

On Tuesday, October 18, 2022, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr approved amendments to Regional Centre Secondary Municipal Planning Strategy. On Tuesday October 25, 2022, the Minister approved the development agreement between Clayton Development and Halifax Regional Municipality to enable residential development to proceed within the Southdale-Mount Hope Special Planning Area.

Halifax Regional Municipality updated its public consultation page on the proposal as well, writing that “The Executive Panel on Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality did, on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 recommend the approval.”

Secretive approval process cut public engagement

That’s Lohr’s so-called housing task force, chaired by deputy minister of internal affairs, Geoff MacLellan, and including representatives from the province and HRM. Lohr created the task force with legislation introduced in October 2021, giving him the power to override HRM’s planning processes.

The task force meets in secret, and posts agendas and minutes weeks after its meetings. The last agenda posted is Oct. 13. The last minutes posted are from Sept. 22.

Had the Eisner Cove project proceeded through the municipality, there would’ve been public hearings on both the municipal planning strategy amendments and the development agreement. Instead, public input comprised information meetings and an online survey.

“The public was invited to share their feedback on the draft policies, development agreement and submitted plans posted on this site,” the municipality wrote on its page.

“The feedback provided was reviewed and considered by staff when they finalized the proposed planning documents that were shared with the Executive Panel on Housing and the Minister.”

Project faced fierce opposition

The proposal has faced opposition from nearby residents and from environmentalists further afield. They worry the development will destroy the wetland in the area, with a causeway running overtop to connect the new road network to the existing one.

A wetland under a blue sky
Eisner Cove wetland in the area where the causeway will be built. Photo: Zane Woodford

Protest accelerated after Lohr approved early tree clearing on the site in July. Police arrested four protesters at the site in early September. The developers have applied to Nova Scotia Supreme Court for an injunction blocking future protest.

Lohr’s amendments to the municipal planning strategy for the area require wetland protection:

Sensitivity to the importance of the wetland is a key policy objective. Future development will maintain the existing wetland and vegetated watercourse buffer around the wetland as protected open space and include stormwater management measures to protect water quality and to infiltrate runoff. The development will balance the need for a multi-use pathway, servicing and road network requirements with these objectives.

The provincial government is providing the developers $21.8 million to make 373 of the 875 units “affordable” for 20 years. They’ll be priced at either 60% or 80% of the ever-increasing market rent for the area.

A young white man with a dark beard, looking seriously at the viewer in a black and white photo

Zane Woodford

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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  1. Our minister of housing who approved this abuse of the environment is the same person who wants to do fracking in Nova Scotia. Coming as he does from a farm background, it’s disgraceful that John Lohr doesn’t value the earth we walk on.
    Anne van Arragon

  2. SO many shady, backroom, shenanigans going on with this development it’s hard to know where to start naming them all. 1) This used be crown/ public land. 2) No “affordable” housing will be built, but $21.8 million earmarked for affordable housing will go to developers. 3) Ecoservices of the wetland valued at $20 million-plus. This antidemocratic process allows for the theft of $41.8 million from NS tax payers so that Clayton/ Shaw group will make massive profits from this theft of public assets, and those who truly need affordable housing will be denied.

  3. What still remains unanswered in this issue is just how publicly owned land suddenly became devalued and sold at fire sale prices unbeknownst to the said public. This land was vacant and left so precisely for its environmental protection impacts 40 years ago by the City of Dartmouth.
    Also unclear is why this particular developer and this specific development have been handed more than $20 million for rent subsidies at some mysterious percentage of “market rate”. It is NOT creating affordable housing by the accepted definition of the term. To see how real affordable housing is created, check with Habitat for Humanity. With a massive subsidy as handed to Clayton Development, Habitat for Humanity could build hundreds of truly affordable, permanent accommodations. The loss of this wetland is a massive and unnecessary environmental insult which is within a golf shot of a vast average of brownfield property which has yet to have a development proposal.