Housing Minister John Lohr (l) and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage at the housing announcement, March 25, 2022. Photo: Tim Bousquet

Housing Minister John Lohr has designated nine “special planning areas” in the Halifax Regional Municipality, with the potential for a total of 22,600 residential units. This designation gives Lohr the authority for development approvals in those areas.

The special planning areas are:

  • former Penhorn Mall lands, 950 units
  • Southdale/Mount Hope, 1,200 units
  • Bedford West 10, 1,300 units
  • Bedford West 1 and 12, 2,500 units
  • Port Wallace, up to 4,900 units
  • Indigo Shores, 150 building lots
  • Morris Lake expansion, 3,100 units
  • Dartmouth Crossing, 2,500 units
  • Sandy Lake, 6,000 units.

In addition, the province is spending $2.3 million to cover the costs of needed transportation and environmental planning before some of the sites can move forward.

The designation doesn’t exempt developers from any of the permitting or fees associated with development.

Most of the areas are already in some stage of the city’s planning process. Only the Penhorn Mall lands are in the area covered by the city’s Centre Plan, and none are on the peninsula.

The Penhorn site is an “as of right” development, meaning that regional council doesn’t need to approve development proposals that fall within the guidelines of the Centre Plan. The developers, Clayton Developments and Crombie REIT, are waiting for a transportation study to be completed by the city, and the provincial money will pay for that study.

Indigo Shores, in Upper Sackville, is an ongoing development that was limited to 25 new units a year. The developer, Armco Capital, had asked for an increase to that limit, but Halifax regional council voted against that proposal, saying there were not enough schools in the area to service the development. The new designation allows all 150 lots to be built upon immediately.

Another development, Port Wallace, has been in the works for about a dozen years, but has been stymied by environmental constraints related to historic gold mining in the area (see Joan Baxter’s investigation, “Port Wallace gamble“). Mayor Mike Savage said today that Port Wallace was nearly through the city’s permitting process, but the province will speed up the environmental review.

The Morris Lake expansion is outside of Halifax Water’s service boundary. The development is only on the table in the first place because of a city financial mishap. The Mount Hope interchange on the Circumferential Highway was to be funded by development on the Shearwater air base, but then the military decided to continue using the base. With the interchange already built, the city opened up property along Caldwell Road to pay for the interchange, even though the new development will not be directly accessible via the interchange.

Six of the nine special planning areas are being developed either fully or partly by Clayton Developments. I asked if creating the planning areas gives Clayton a competitive advantage over its competitors, as it’s argued that Clayton is avoiding the cost and delay related to the bureaucratic process.

Well, I think if Clayton were here, they might say they’ve already endured significant delay,” said Lohr. “They might feel that way, but it’s just coincidence they happen to be the largest developer in the city. So there’s no decision on our part to favour any developer over any other developer.

“Some of this has to do with where you are in the development process, I think, and how quickly they can actually develop,” added Halifax Mayor Mike Savage. “We do have supply chain issues and labour issues. I think that Clayton has the ability to start very quickly and to develop very, very well. They have been in the development approval process, they’re not new to it, and I don’t think that there was any favouritism here. The other thing I would say is, you know, Clayton does a lot of work in the suburban areas and we’re able to develop these areas because we intensified the core of the city for the last 10 years. We’ve got so much building in downtown Halifax, which was deliberate and purposeful and allows us to move to these regional growth centres and to provide more options because people need options. I’m very comfortable with that.”

Affordability

“We have here 22,600 units being announced and the total number of them that is designated as guaranteed affordable is zero,” said Gary Burrill, leader of the NDP. “So that’s that’s pretty disappointing and falls a long piece short of what’s needed. We have lots and lots of units being built all over the city, evidence of them in every block you go to look at and particularly on the peninsula. But at the same time we don’t have any that are available for people in scope and proportion to what people can afford. That’s what’s needed. That’s what this announcement doesn’t provide.”

In fact, the provincial Capital Plan released this week contains no money to increase the stock of social housing, although Lohr said some funding announcements for non-profit housing organizations are coming soon.

The premise of speeding up development is that an increased housing stock will lower housing cost. But, what if it doesn’t work? I asked. That is, what if the housing stock is in fact increased more than population increases, but housing prices continue to go up?

Well, again, this is our mandate, is to add units to the supply, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” replied Lohr.

So the belief is the free market will solve the housing problem? I pressed.

“I believe that we need more units and there’s a lot of developers looking to add 22,600 units right now, and that’s exactly what we need. We need a lot more.”


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Our green spaces are our most precious resource. And the most precious green spaces are those green spaces that protect our lakes and rivers. 40% of US lakes are too polluted for fishing or swimming costing billions to remedy after the fact. 40% unusable lakes/rivers is what occurs when there is “unplanned” growth, such as business-as-usual subdivision one-offs, as is happening with the proposed Sandy Lake project . The biodiversity of this area is amazing supporting 13 species at risk, with a lifeguarded swimming area and clean water critical to the health of the Sackville River, and, if well planned as part of a larger community, could become the heart and soul of the new town that is undoubtedly the reality of this area given the Premiers 50% population increase target. Right now there is only how-fast-can-we-build-a-new-unit planning? That is a dangerous short term target – 40% ruination of our lakes and rivers here we come.

  2. We recognize the city needs housing, but Sandy Lake is so outstanding for the other things we need to survive that it makes no sense to put houses here. This Sandy Lake area was chosen to be park land in 1971 when the province and municipality, with help of federal biologists, identified this special ecological unit to be preserved for all time.

    The entire area, including the area proposed for development, has exceptionally high biodiversity, and many mature, intact ecosystems. Found in the area are 15 listed species at risk, and Acadian old growth forest (less than 1% remains in Nova Scotia). The area contains an interconnected network of lakes, streams, and wetlands. These rarities should be protected. Putting houses here is not sensible.

  3. Re the 22,600 housing units/ 6000 of those are at Sandy Lake Bedford; those plus another 1200 or so in the Bedford West fall in the Sandy Lake watershed. This lake is already in a precarious condition and there can be little doubt that between added phosphorus, organics, salt and siltation, – add climate warming which exacerbates it all – the lake will be pushed over the edge, and it will see closures such as we had for Grand Lake this past summer because of algal blooms. Also it will no longer be hospitable to the salmon the Sackville Rivers Association has worked so hard to bring back to the Sackville River. Further, the destruction of some key wetlands and riparian areas would likely increase flooding in the Sackville River Floodplain – oddly, the Sandy Lake watershed was not included in the comprehensive modelling conducted of the Sackville River flood risk, apparently because it was assumed there would be no further significant development in the Sandy Lake watershed for at least 100 years. ‘Not to mention the wildlife corridors and habitats and carbon storage and sequestration that will be lost if the Sandy Lake development goes ahead on this scale. View http://www.sandylakebedford.ca for details. People want to come to Halifax because its a great place to live & play. Let’s keep it that way and build in the less environmentally sensitive places not right in the middle of the few natural treasures remaining within our urban landscape, on this list, the Sandy Lake area and Eisner’s Marsh (re: Southdale/Mount Hope).

    1. Also, Penhorn is most definitely not “as of right” It is in the process of obtaining a development agreement.