FHC’s belief that protecting the Halifax Common must be a top priority as the population in the urban core grows is supported by growing evidence of the social, health and environmental benefits of public open space. Sadly Dexel Construction’s private consultation for a 28+/- tower on Halifax Common land at
Spring Garden Rd, Carleton and Robie where the present height restriction is 35 feet/2.5 storeys, is just the latest threat by developers wanting to maximize profits by building their private towers next to or on public open space. At Dexel’s May 2016 presentation, Density Done Well, Vancouver’s former chief planner Brent Toderian a paid Dexel consultant and highrise advocate, left out significant information in his love-in for Dexel’s “game-changer” “rule-breaker” development. Toderian’s reference to the 2013 Stantec Report finding that sprawl is costing HRM $3 billion didn’t mention that the cost was projected out over 18 years until 2031. Nor did he mention that Stantec’s Report found that densification could be achieved in Regional Centre right now under existing regulations with the 35,000 apartments already able to be built, enough to satisfy demand for the next ~70 years.
Most disappointing was that as a former planner Toderian enthusiasm for Dexel’s private consultations did not offer a reasoned way forward to ensure that density is done well. That route? By a public-interest conversation within the realm of the public consultations for the presently on-going Centre Plan.
Haligonians know there are significant financial and environment benefits to be gained by concentrating more residential development in the existing urban core. They are not anti-development. But they are frustrated by the perpetual side-lining of existing plans and regulations by the individual development agreement applications put forward by private developers.
Although HRM Planning is under-resourced as many as 20 staff are assigned to reviewing development agreements. Wouldn’t it be a better if they worked on the Centre plan in the interest of the general public? After all spot re-zoning by development agreements does not address broader societal interests, such as affordable housing deficiencies, respecting existing neighbourhoods and housing stock or ensuring an integrated transportation strategy (with light-rail transit) nor stop these development approvals from precluding the outcome of the Centre Plan.
Worrying signals that the city is not hearing citizens is that HRM’s chief planner, Bob Bjerke participated in the panel after Toderian’s talk where he agreed that the 30-stroey building was a game-changer but did not mention that the Centre Plan was the place for having this kind of consultation. Nor did he bring attention to the fact that the Dexel proposal is ON the Halifax Common. Is Mr. Bjerke’s personal vision where HRM Planning Department’s bias towards construction at all costs even against the public’s best interest filters down from? Is that why HRM Planning staff now propose a primary growth target On the Halifax Common at this sight (a confluence of developer-owned properties) even though the area is constrained by sewage and water infrastructure and ignores the 1994 Halifax Common Plan?
Persuasive public relations experts for hire by developers such as Dexel that pretend to consult with citizens, are not the route to good public engagement. We should all recognize Dexel’s public relations exercise for what it is, an attempt to maximize its own private profit outside of a Centre Plan without a focus on real sustainable objectives. And tell the Mayor, Council and Bob Bjerke we expect better.
Let your Councillor (email@example.com) and HRM Staff firstname.lastname@example.org know that you don’t want public time wasted on private consultations for private development applications. It’s time to get on with the Centre Plan.