Co-written by Rachel Caroline Derrah
HALIFAX – Fenwick Tower, the 40-years unfinished, 33-storey butt of the anti-development community’s — nay, everyone’s — jokes is going through an identity overhaul. And, if all goes according to the proposed plan, it’s taking the city with it. For decades skeptical fingers have pointed in the building’s direction, naming it a quintessential example of bad development — a living argument against changing Halifax’s height restrictions.
But Joe Metlege of Templeton Properties — 7-month owner of the infamous high-rise — aims to “flip that.” He sees potential in Fenwick Tower to become an example of development gone right, envisioning fingers across the country pointed Halifax-bound, towards a new precedent in innovative renovation of the Le Corbusier-inspired ‘tower in the park’ design, which was prevalent in the 1960s and 70s and is widely critiqued for its brutality and context insensitivity.
This Tuesday, March 9th, Templeton’s application to amend the Municipal Planning Strategy and Peninsula Land Use By-law to allow for mixed-use re-development of the Fenwick site will come before Regional Council.
An earlier Spacing Atlantic article on the development — admittedly tinged with cynicism towards large luxury developments — asked what type of vitality the renovated high-rise might bring to the South end, and how changes to this iconic building might impact the city’s identity.
We’re pleased to report that questions just like these have been used to guide the design and consultation process. Templeton’s engagement process intentionally brought together some of the most notorious pro- and anti-development groups to discuss, contribute to, and take ownership over the design proposal.
“The team has looked at lots of models all around the world, but ultimately it came down the community and what they wanted to see here” reports Metledge. Rather than present a proposal upfront, Templeton opted to involve community stakeholders from stage one. “We literally came [to the community] with nothing. We had the site boundaries, we had the site plan showing the parameter of the building, and that was it.”
Using dotmocracy, a transparent group decision-making tool, a focus group composed of 13 local organizations was invited to take part in visioning and designing the development. After further consultation with 4 local councillors, and two open house events each hosting over 200 people, it became clear that public approval was a priority. Such extensive community engagement by a developer is rarely attempted in Halifax.
Pioneering — in both consultation and design — seems to be an explicit aim for Metlege. “I know for a fact a lot of people are watching what happens here. Legislatively they’re watching but also architecturally they’re watching,” he says. “The architectural flare to the site is unique.”
The design adds a glass shell to the existing tower, as well as a street-scale addition that stretches forward to meet Fenwick Street. Two new buildings — 10 and 8 storeys, respectively — will flank the high-rise, simulating a gradual height transition. From an environmental standpoint, the design proposes a 50% reduction in emissions, and aims for LEED equivalency, including a number of green roof locations, a greywater system, and energy-efficient lighting and appliances.
While the majority of residential units will be geared at middle and high-income renters, and a portion may be alloted to condos, 10% will be designated affordable housing.
From a community perspective, perhaps most interesting is the pedestrian walkway which will weave through the three buildings, linking Fenwick to South Street. Using Halifax’s Hydrostone neighbourhood as a model, shops and restaurants will line the walkway, with opportunities for ten public art displays already identified. This pedestrian thoroughfare will connect neighbourhoods and promote the local economy, through, according to Metlege, a mandate of hosting local businesses.
Heading into tomorrow’s Regional Council meeting with high hopes, Metlege continues to seek out vocal community support for the proposal. He hopes that HRM will apply priority to the site, acknowledging the potential impact on the city, and recognizing their “responsibility on getting the process going.”
It could be added that it is our responsibility as citizens to continue to be bold with our own visions for Halifax, for us to engage in this shared processes of city building, and to hold private and public sector leaders accountable to the visions they engage us in. The proposal for Fenwick Tower is a good place to start.