HALIFAX – We Haligonians have a unique opportunity. We live in a city so small that, with a little effort, we can keep our finger on its pulse. Being an opportunity seeker, lately I’ve frequented city council meetings and public hearings. I wonder why so few others take this time to speak their mind and help shape our future? If you find yourself talking about city issues at the bar or over the kitchen table, I extend an invitation to you to come to city council on Tuesday nights. You can see the agenda for each week here. It does matter.
Upon arrival at city hall this Tuesday I was directed to the ‘overflow room’ (ie. Halifax Hall) as council chambers were standing-room-only for a hearing on a Cedar St development, which was passed by council. Tiny speakers on the tiny television made it nearly impossible to hear what was happening. However, I was pleased to see people engaging in the public hearing and also enjoyed being in the presence of a Garry Neill Kennedy exhibition in Halifax Hall.
As city staff assured me, I made it into council chambers intime for Dexel Development’s proposal for a 5-storey rooftop addition to City Centre Atlantic (commonly known as Pete’s Frootique). The development requires no demolition, nor does it impede on properties of heritage value. It will house 150 people in 95 condo-equivalent rental units.
Senior City Planner, Richard Harvey presented a powerpoint of the proposal in relation to policy requirements. Because this development was initiated before HRMbyDesign, it was “grandfathered-in” meaning it is subject to former policies in the Regional Plan. This development does, however, meet most requirements in HRMbyDesign.
Louie Lawen of Dexel then introduced himself and features of his work which has been mostly in the downtown core. Dexel was the first in Halifax to introduce a greywater system. The proposal in question would include this and other ‘green’ amenities such as 98% efficient natural gas and a locally manufactured A/V system.
Next, the floor opened to the public. Condo owners of the neighbouring property ‘Heritage Way’ were well organized in opposition. Though unhappy to see this proposal, it was disclosed upon their purchase of a condo unit that an addition would happen (as part of a plan agreed upon in 1991). Phase 1 involved the construction of the commercial property that Pete’s Frootique resides in; Phase 2 was construction of Heritage Way; Phase 3 is the residential addition atop the commercial property.
Residents expressed their deep concerns that this addition will cast shadow on their condo homes and elevate wind speeds making their rooftop garden totally uninhabitable. Harvey confirmed the wind and shadow studies met standards required by HRM planning. A blank wall feature (see photo above) was another point of contention. This was countered by the argument that the proposed addition abuts the property line of another rooftop space that will someday be developed.
Traffic congestion and parking were mentioned by many of the Heritage Way residents. One speaker remarked that this proposal has her “living in terror” that traffic congestion will prohibit emergency vehicles from accessing her home.
Eight people spoke, including myself. I was the only non-condo-owning, non-neighbour and the only person who spoke in favour of the proposal. From the perspecitve of a young person who lives and works downtown, I expressed the need for more people living in the core to support local businesses and enhance our downtown’s vitality.
For the sake of transparency, hearing people lobby for more and more parking spaces does spark me. It only propels the systemic mobility issues we face in HRM. Perhaps it is the responsibility of our municipal/provincial governments to provide a well functioning active transportation network – rather than the responsibility of each developer to provide extra parking. We need density downtown – parking spaces yield the opposite.
After the public’s turn to speak, Council entered discussion. Councillors Uteck and Johns expressed frustration with current planning policies which sometimes limit their ability to be visionary and to best represent their constituents. This conversation surfaced the question: What is the role of a councillor?
[This reminded me of a conversation I had lately on the job description of councillors. In cities you love and admire, what is the job description of a councillor? There is still time to give input to the HRM for the Governance & Boundary Review.]
This public hearing lasted two hours. After much discussion, Council voted in favour of this development agreement for the residential addition to City Centre Atlantic.