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News

1. Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park

It’s hard to understand what councillor Reg Rankin is up to.

You’ll recall that Justice Heather Robertson was hired as a “facilitator” for the city and four development companies that own property within the boundaries of the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park to come to an agreement about the value of the developers’ property. Last month, however, Robertson issued a report that seems to have exceeded her authority — she basically decided that the city has enough park land and acquiring all the land in the proposed park was a step too far.

Here are the originally proposed boundaries, laid out in the 2006 general plan:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.45.34 AM

Over the past decade, I’ve attended dozens of council discussions about the park, and the intent from the very beginning has been to make the park boundaries “ridgetop to ridgetop,” so that runoff from surrounding suburban development would not despoil the Birch Cove Lakes, and the park experience for users would be unsullied by views of apartment buildings and monster homes overlooking the wilderness. Robertson’s report, however, envisions a much smaller park, and the developers (led by the Annapolis Group) put forward a map showing suburban development snaking all around the lakes:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 7.51.09 AM

That developers’ vision was further expressed via a “3D video” I obtained:

For yesterday’s council meeting, the first since Robertson issued her report, Rankin had agendized a discussion of the boundaries for the park (item 15.1), but at the beginning of the meeting he pulled his motion and replaced it with a notice of motion for next week’s meeting. That multi-part motion was too detailed for anyone to understand, and copies of the motion were not given to reporters. It will be available Friday, albeit without an accompanying map.

Park advocates are worried about Rankin. During a break in the meeting, I was told Rankin had previously said publicly that he wanted to proceed with “secondary planning” for the area owned by the development companies — that is, the first step to getting the property developed. I think, but am not certain, they may be misreading Rankin. I think Rankin’s attempt is to get the park solidified at the originally proposed boundaries. But it’s hard to say. Here’s how Remo Zaccagna at Local Xpress explained it:

Rankin had also withdrawn the original motion, which would have asked municipal staff to look at whether the municipality needs a policy over how much parkland it needs and is ready to pay for.

“This motion, if it passes, seems to me, moves the markers quite a bit,” Rankin told reporters during a break of Tuesday’s regional council meeting.

“The public now has the map of the developers that was part of an attachment of the facilitator’s report. Now the motion is asking, in terms of explanation, to provide what is the true aspiration of the HRM.”

That certainly sounds like Rankin wants to talk money — how much are citizens willing to pay for the park land?

And that’s what this all boils down to. I don’t think the Annapolis Group is hell-bent on developing the property, but there’s no question that they want top dollar for it. So the developers have been pushing to get the land valued at suburban development land prices as opposed to non-developable green space prices. Robertson’s report played right into their hands.

And in a way, so does the public outcry over the threatened loss of half the park. No doubt the developers are quite heartened by the thousands of people who are demanding the proposed park land be protected at all costs — because “all costs” means millions of dollars in their pockets.

Specifically, reports Elizabeth McMillan for the CBC:

One of the developers, Annapolis Group, is willing to sell 210 acres of the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes site to the city for $6 million.

Halifax’s appraisal estimates the value of the land as $2.8 million.

The city needs to fight back on this — and not just on the development designation of the land, but also on Robertson’s report. She had no authority to say how much parkland the city needs, or that the city should give up its dream of a ridgetop-to-ridgetop wilderness park. Instead, Robertson should have worked at finding a creative solution to the impasse — the developers could have been given “bonus” rights on other land they own, or there could have been a land swap for, say, the Cogswell Interchange land.

Regardless, the developers’ land should be valued at open space pricing and not a penny more — their purchase of the land was speculative in the first place, and no one guaranteed them immense profits for simply taking a bet.

2. Wrong way

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Also at its meeting yesterday, Halifax council pushed forward a development proposal for another shitty apartment building in the north end, for the corner of Maynard and Roberts Streets.

As I noted last month:

WM Fares wants to build an eight-storey apartment building at Maynard and Roberts Streets; the council should reject the proposal if only because Fares submitted the above architectural rendering, which shows an impossible view of the building, unless the developer is also proposing to tear down the block opposite the building, paint the adjacent building all white, plant a four-storey tall tree that does not now exist, and import a sky found only on Europa, the moon of Jupiter.

The architectural rendering doesn’t even get the street flow right — Maynard Street is one-way in the opposite direction.

3. Salaries

“Premier Stephen McNeil gave his former Deputy Minister a nearly $17,000 raise (9%) a few months after freezing the salaries of his non-unionized staff,” claims the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour in a press release.

The salary bump came via “performance bonuses” over and above the declared salaries of deputy ministers Catherine Blewett, George MacLellan, and Fred Crooksthat.


Views

1. Matt Whitman’s mom

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“Halifax Deputy Mayor* Matt Whitman was shocked to logon to Twitter this morning only to discover he’d been blocked by his own mother,” writes Matt Brand:

When reached for comment, Matt Whitman’s Mom says Whitman had been teaching her how to use Twitter, and he gave very clear instructions that it’s best to block anyone who disagrees with you.

“Last night, for some reason, Matt starts discussing the best Deputy Mayor ever, and I told him I was quite fond of Marie O’Malley,” she said.

According to her, Whitman argued that he was the best deputy mayor ever and that O’Malley didn’t count because she served pre-amalgamation. 

“The argument was cordial. But, I did not agree with what he had so say, so I had to block him,” she said.

* Brand actually wrote “deputy councillor,” which makes no sense at all. He should get a copy editor.

2. Cranky letter of the day

To the Cape Breton Post:

Here’s a prediction: Someone is going to get killed trying to cross George Street in Sydney. The crosswalk markings are dangerously faded, impairing the vision of pedestrians and drivers. Third-world cities have better crosswalk signage and street markings.

Then there are traffic lights that simply do not give pedestrians the necessary time to cross. They should be called chase the race. At the three-quarter mark of the crossing the red hand appears before people have successfully crossed the street. Seniors are both baffled and startled by the rapidly changing lights.

Crazy King George III may have had it in for Cape Bretoners and their guests when he ordered the construction of one of the widest streets in Canada so that his royal carriage could promenade. Not a great way to welcome all of those Americans fleeing from Donald Trump’s presidency.

Good luck getting across.

Jim Guy, Sydney


Government

City

Audit & Finance (10am, City Hall) — we’re going to spend $60,000 on two drones for the fire department.

Province

No public meetings.


On campus

Dalhousie

Thesis defence, Earth Sciences (1:30pm, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Leslie Samuel Eliuk will be defend his thesis, “Abenaki Carbonate Platform in Relation to the Jurassic-Cretaceous Sable Island Delta, Offshore Nova Scotia, Canada.”


In the harbour

The seas around Nova Scotia, 8:50am Wednesday. marinetraffic.com has switched from Google Maps to Mapbox, hence the changed colours of the sea.
The seas around Nova Scotia, 8:50am Wednesday. marinetraffic.com has switched from Google Maps to Mapbox, hence the changed colours of the sea.

Currently scheduled:

Wednesday
6am: ZIM Virginia, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
7am: Spiekeroog, general cargo, sails from Bedford Anchorage to Algeciras, Spain
7:15am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
10am: NYK Nebula, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
4pm: Agios Minas, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Cagliari, Italy
4pm: ZIM Virginia, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for San Juan, Puerto Rico


Footnotes

I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 2pm, with Lezlie Lowe.

Please consider subscribing to the Examiner. Just $5 or $10 a month goes a long way. Or, consider making a one-time contribution via PayPal. Thanks much!

 

Tim Bousquet

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

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7 Comments

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  1. I like your style, the city DOES need to fight back. Take back the city from developers! Hasn’t anyone noticed the similarities in so many local news stories of late? Developers getting what they want over and over and over again. When is the last time you heard a developer or industrial company lose against public outcry or even objections of council? I’d really love a fresh dose of democracy.

  2. Re 1. Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park

    Well and concisely presented, Tim.

    Precision and economy are too often simultaneously absent in our word-awash world. Less can be more when subjects are involved and complex. I struggle with brevity in social conversation when attempting to convey something complex, too often including peripheral detail that may be important and significant to me, but which is lost on and irritating to the listener. Glazing eyes are always a giveaway. It’s a dilemma common to writers also: what to include/add … what’s intrinsic … what to omit? Most want “just the facts,” to borrow from Detective Sergeant Joe Friday in the ’50s+ TV series, “Dragnet.”

    I’ll be honest; I’ve come late to read your piece on this vital, beautiful piece of land, aware of its general location from years lived in the area, but dreading reams of geographic, historic and political detail. Not so. You’ve cut to the chase – clearly, accurately, accessibly and honestly – all trademarks, of course – but with a minimum of unnecessary, peripheral detail. For those desireous, it can be easily found elsewhere.

    Many thanks!

  3. A few years ago a family who had owned and worked land for generations (as a Christmas tree farm, I believe) were being forced to sell and move because the province decided the land would be better used for a mine. Why can’t the same principle apply here? The city/province should expropriate the land and hand the would-be developers a reasonable price based on the fact the land cannot be developed. It’s not like they have any ties to the land. As pointed out, they bought it as speculation. I thought the free market was based on risks — which means sometimes you lose (or more likely in this case make a less-than-expected profit).

    1. JamieH, Your idea of expropriation of the Birch Cove lands is an EXCELLENT one. If it can be used to turn a Christmas tree farm into a mine it can certainly be used to turn Birch Cove into a much needed wilderness park. Speculators shouldn’t always be guaranteed victory in their plan to destroy our city..

  4. True words: “Regardless, the developers’ land should be valued at open space pricing and not a penny more — their purchase of the land was speculative in the first place, and no one guaranteed them immense profits for simply taking a bet.”

    Speculation does not guarantee profit… never has and never should!

    Whenever possible, a representative government should truthfully represent and reflect the public’s will!

  5. Re: Blue Mountain, Birch Cove Lakes. It is my understanding that the current zoning for the lands in question is in place to 2030. This means that there is no possibility that the current land owners can use that for anything other than what it is – park land. There is no by-right development option for the land owners. So the city can simply tell the land owners to cool their heels until then.

    One of the central components of land value is “utility”. In other words the value is determined by what possible uses are available for a given piece of land. In this case, it can be used for a park and nothing else, so the value should be based on that and that alone. In regards to negotiating with these folks, it seems to me that the city is holding all the cards – without even mentioning the word expropriation.

    The land owners only recourse is to threaten a lawsuit, a tactic that unfortunately works well when dealing with our city legal department. They usually buckle at the mere mention of court action. That’s exactly what happened when Irving demanded a large, ongoing property tax cut for their shipyards. So, while I’m not a big fan of outsourcing city work that in-house staff should be able to do, in this case, HRM should go out and hire the best litigator they can find and go head to head with the land owners. Sadly, I think that the best case scenario under our current city administration will be a negotiated payment to the land owners of somewhere between the inflated and totally bogus value claimed by them and the true market value as determined by any neutral third party appraiser.

    Yes, we have all the leverage in dealing with these people but, if recent history is an indicator, we will lose. We will end up losing this valuable (to all citizens) park, or we will pay too much in order to save it.

  6. Is there any doubt our development at any cost council will side with the developers on Birch Cove?

    I’d like to think that a groundswell (and threats to their reelection bids) might sway them but they are so hyper business that all other considerations be damned.

    This could be one of those watershed decisions if we make it one.

    Remember to vote come October.