Earlier this year, the Halifax and West Community Council approved a change in land use bylaws that will allow Housing Trust of Nova Scotia to build two new affordable housing projects in the north end.
The buildings, which will stretch from Gottingen Street to Maitland Street, are taller than previous bylaws allowed on Gottingen Street, and because the land slopes down to the harbour from Gottingen Street, the Maitland Street side of the building will be even taller. The building at the former Mitchells Environmental Treasures site (now the healing garden next to Alteregos Coffee Shop) will be six storeys on Gottingen and eight storeys on Maitland, while the building at the old Diamonds bar site (at the corner of Prince William Street, across form the YMCA) will be nine storeys on Gottingen and 11 storeys on Maitland.
The old bylaws limited buildings on Gottingen Street to 50 feet, about five storeys, and on Maitland Street to 40 feet, about four storeys.
Some years ago, Housing Trust President Ross Cantwell told me that:
…each building will consist of about 100 units, about half of which will be designated “affordable,” which means that residents will spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent, heat and utilities—about $200/month less than the market-priced apartments, depending on circumstance. The Gottingen Street ground level of each building will be retail and commercial space.
The Community Council’s approval of the buildings was appealed to the Utility and Review Board by several people who own property near the sites—Beverley Miller, who owns a building on Maitland Street; Edward Edelstein, who owns the recently renovated building that used to hold Darrell’s Pool on Gottingen Street; Clare Waque, who owns the Bus Stop Theatre; and Maxine Wagner, who complained about the mural on the side of AlterEgos. They were represented by lawyer and former MLA Howard Epstein.
The UARB decision is long, running 57 pages, but in essence it rejected all of the groups’ arguments. You can read the UARB decision here.
Now, Housing Trust will sign a development agreement with city staff, which must be approved by city council, probably in January. If council approves the development agreement, which seems likely, construction on the first of the buildings could start in the spring.
That is, assuming the group doesn’t appeal council’s approval of the development.
The ruling is a dense and time-consuming read.
(a) According to their website http://nsuarb.novascotia.ca/content/uarb, UARB Board membership is comprised of five lawyers (Q.C.s), two engineers and a gentleman, David J. Almon, whose profession is not indicated. Executive and support staff also exist.
(b) The need for “quasi-judicial” bodies, when we have a highly competent judicial system, is questionable, but they’ve become firmly entrenched, largely invisible to the general population, and politically influenced. As noted in their website, they report to the legislature while claiming to be independent.
(c) In 2.1 of the ruling, Issue 1, ” … fail to reasonably carry out the intent of the Municipal Planning Strategy?”, INTENT is the operative word and allows for subjective interpretation. A court of law would operate differently. Think how malleable — how unpredictable — decisions would become were intent to become the decisive, predominant factor.
(d) Without making a side-by-side, fact-by-fact, issue-by-issue graph analysis, the ruling appears to reflect double standards (the .9ft height rejection experienced by Edward Edelstein in ) and an arrogance and smug superiority that’s palpable..
Average citizens, for whom our governance exists and to whom it’s responsible — though that idealistic ethic seems to be largely absent and eroding rapidly in the balance — are often ill-equipped to attend or understand these proceedings and rulings. We need more oversight and reporting, perhaps even interpretation, and by that I mean into relevant, succinct, core issues and related decisions, in words, length and terms average folks can understand.
A Winston Churchill quote seems apt: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
Thanks, Tim, for covering these important issues.