Centre Plan – The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Stupid

There’s one good change for the Halifax Common in the draft Centre Plan but the rest seems like more bad news…
The Good The draft Centre Plan designates the Halifax Common a “Cultural Landscape” (p 54) but now it needs to make it meaningful by adopting the 1994 Halifax Common Plan as part of the Municipal Planning Strategy so the primary goals to not give up and to re-capture open space on Halifax’s Common are met not just platitudes.

The Bad Robie Street and a dozen other streets such as Cunard, Agricola, Chebucto are designated as “Corridors” with a goal of “redevelopment of new housing, commercial spaces and job opportunities in mixed use buildings” (p 96). By increasing permitted building heights to 4-6 storeys along Robie Street, the Centre Plan will create an incentive for developers to chew through a long-established, small-scale, mixed-use, residential and commercial street with character historic buildings, much of it affordable. In other words a “complete” neighbourhood – just what the Centre Plan supports. Between Cunard and South Street, Robie Street forms the western edge of the Halifax Common framing it with low-rise buildings, beautiful trees, boulevards and set-backs. With the exception of the Willow Tree area this is “high quality streetscaping” also just what the Centre Plan supports.

Increasing building height along Robie Street to encourage “multi-unit residential and mixed use buildings, multi-unit apartment style buildings, semi-detached dwellings, townhouses, duplexes/triplexes, retail, service and restaurant uses etc” will also drastically change the experience of being on the Common or any of its hospital or university campuses as people will look towards a frame of higher buildings and blocked views. The experience of those walking and living in the neighbourhoods will also be negatively impacted by the increased shade, wind, traffic and noise. As a Cultural Landscape shouldn’t the existing built form, streetwall character and land use adjacent to the Halifax Common be retained?

The Just Plain Stupid
The Centre plan is targeting intensification of residential and commercial use at several growth Centres (p 80) by allowing building heights of 16-20 storeys. Two of these proposed growth Centres- Spring Garden Road and Quinpool Road- will be very bad for the Common.

Halifax's municipal government has a long history of ignoring the common and breaking the rules. In 1986 it allowed the demolition of the Hart House and several working class Victorian row houses on Summer St despite a petition with 18,000 signatures of citizens who objected. Halifax then permitted the 21-storey Summer Gardens to be built and negotiated set-backs and gazebos in concession. Dalhousie University had inherited these buildings but then sold them to the developer. Its time to stop trashing the neighbourhood. (photo-Alvin Comiter)

Halifax’s municipal government has a long history of ignoring the common and breaking the rules. In ~1985 it allowed the demolition of the Hart House (a building Dalhousie was left from an estate and then sold) and several working class Victorian row houses on Summer St. despite a petition with several thousand signatures of citizens who objected. Halifax then permitted the 21-storey Summer Gardens to be built and negotiated set-backs and gazebos in concession. Isn’t it time to stop trashing the neighbourhood?  (photo-Alvin Comiter)

The  proposed Spring Garden Road Centre contains a four block area bounded by Robie, College, Summer and the Camp Hill Cemetery (p 90). This area is the most constrained for sewage and water services of all the proposed growth centres and its known to have flooding problems in underground parking of existing highrises. But it hasn’t been removed (Agricola Street was).

Present height restrictions of 35, 45 and 50 feet need to be kept to protect the last remaining intact historic neighbourhood on the Halifax Common. Of the 44 properties, 22 have Heritage designation, several others should be considered and there are two registered streetscapes. In 2012 Heritage Trust asked that the buildings bound by College, Carlton, Spring Garden Rd and Robie be considered as a conservation district. See regional-centre-spring-garden

Instead aggressive pressure from developers seems to be pushing planners to permit more highrises to maximize private profit by selling or renting luxury views near the Public Gardens & Camp Hill Cemetery.

Rules don’t need to change to achieve the identified population growth target of 400 people for this area. Killam Properties’ already approved 18-storey highrise at the north east corner of Carlton Street next to Camp Hill Cemetery along with a 4-storey apartment building that could replace the Medical Arts building also owned by Killam (next to JustUS Coffee) and some small in-fill buildings could accommodate it. So how does HRM planning staff justify adding 20-storey towers to benefit private interests on a newly designated cultural landscape?

A second proposed Centre at Quinpool Road (p 92) includes the north and south side of Robie Street at Quinpool Road. Many FHC and Willow Tree Group posts describe how high-rises in this area will harm the experience on the Halifax Common and on the adjacent Parker Street neighbourhood with shadow, wind, blocked views and traffic congestion. Members of the public that attended public meetings and made written submissions about the former St Pat’s High School site and for proposals at the Willow Tree were almost unanimous in speaking out against high-rises in this location. Do city planners listen to the citizens or to the developers?

Speed Planning – 18 Development Applications
HRM’s preoccupation with the interests of developers over its respect for existing regulations and citizen engagement is newly demonstrated by an up-coming open house for 18 new development agreement applications. An HRM Public Information Meeting on Wednesday, December 7, 12–2 and 6–8, at the Atlantica Hotel will determine the fate of a neighbourhood near you.  If approved, many of the proposals will impact the Halifax Common, its perimeter and existing small scale  mixed-use residential units, commercial spaces and heritage houses. For example:

  • 13 storey tower on Robie between Cunard and Compton (NW corner of North Common);
  • 14 storey tower on Robie at Pepperell (near Common Roots Farm);
  • 16 & 30 storey towers on Spring Garden Rd west of Carlton St.;
  • 20 & 26 storey towers on College between Robie and Carlton St.

Friday December 2 is the deadline to comment on the Centre Plan. Please write: planhrm@Halifax.ca
details at – http://centreplan.ca/
Keep the Mayor and Council informed through the Clerks Office at clerks@halifax.ca