Category Archives: OPINION

Friends of the Halifax Common send letters to the media and to public officials regarding protection of and development of the Halifax Common.

New Evidence to Remind HRM Auditor General of Failed Public Participation in Planning Processes

June 07, 2021

Halifax Regional Municipality Auditor General
PO Box 1749, Halifax, NS B3J 3A5

Re- Review of HRM Planning’s public consultative process as a Charter matter

On August 4, 2020 the Friends of the Halifax Common (FHC) sent a letter requesting the HRM Auditor General conduct a review of the HRM Planning Department’s public engagement process and outcomes with respect to HRM Planning and Council votes. As evidence FHC

HRM’s Charter establishes the right of the public to be consulted and to participate in the formulation of planning strategies.

included ten specific case studies, prepared and submitted by citizen and community groups impacted by development issues; examples of the failure of the HRM process to ensure the rights guaranteed in the Charter.  

Since that time, the situation has worsened. The HRM Planning Department, has, for example, continued with the development of the Centre Plan at a time when, due to COVID 19, quality public engagement is impossible, yet the plan will irrevocably change life in Centre Plan areas for years to come. 

Any ‘public participation’ has been pretty much limited to the Centre Plan Team giving the citizens a chance to see what has been decided, a continuation of the negative and disappointing experiences of the citizens cited in our August 2020 letter.

In another instance; this past week two HRM citizen advisory committees were meeting to discuss reports on the Centre Plan.  Citizens at large can participate in these meetings only by request several days prior but may make submissions in writing.  Unfortunately, notice of these two Wednesday meetings was not received by email until Tuesday afternoon leaving no time either to ask to present or meet the 4pm deadline for submissions.

Attached is yet another case study of the difficulty citizens have in contributing to the planning of their city, this time from citizens living in the North and Oxford neighbourhood. 

Because both the ongoing Centre Plan process and the continuing issues in neighbourhoods like Oxford and North Street are so serious, we ask that you please give this issue consideration as soon as possible.  We look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Beverly W. Miller, Co-chair
And Friends of Halifax Common Board of Directors,

 

Failed Public Consultation Case Study #11: Joan Fraser’s North/Oxford St Neighbourhood Group

Site Plan Approval Application #23178

For a period of seven years the late Joan Fraser and I worked along with many others as part of a community group in the Oxford/North Street area with HRM staff to try and  “negotiate” a good outcome for a development at the site of the former Dalhousie University nurses residence, Ardmore Hall and in more recent years a 44-unit apartment building, and two adjoining properties. These are three separate lots that will have to be consolidated. The property owner and developer is Mythos.

North and Oxford Street, site of demolished Armore Hall, forty-four affordable housing units demolished along with blooming Magnolia tree. Photo-Stephen Archibald

All the time and effort involved with this development over the years has come to a most dissatisfactory end. If I knew that because of the long-awaited Center Plan, New city councilors (2016) and zero response from our city councilor would lead to the developer getting more than he asked for, I might have reconsidered bothering to spend any time to preserve our lovely neighborhood.

At the beginning the developer was offered 6 storeys even though he was only allowed 4 under the pre-Centre Plan rules. The development was then rejected for 7 storeys, but next the developer tried to get 9. He basically was advised by staff to hold off until the Center Plan would be adopted and he would get what he wanted. This development was then deferred and grandfathered in along with 17 other properties waiting on the Center Plan. The community members knew nothing about this at the time and did not receive any update or notification.

Under the Centre Plan the 3 properties mentioned were re-zoned and became part of a designated “ Corridor” to get more height. Members of our group made calls, sent e-mails and finally got a response stating it was only a preliminary notion, not to worry. Later it became the reality despite HRM staff knowing the neighbourhood had major concerns. No response from our councilor! 

Now the developer is constructing a 7 storey building completely filling the lot corner to corner to corner with limited setbacks. As this property is currently part of the Chebucto Corrider under  part A centre plan approved by Council this design exceeds the height guidelines 0f 6 storeys allowed under the Chebucto Corridor, so how did this very large dense building get Planning’s go ahead?

The HRM website is very difficult to find information, broken links, no logic on how the information is being organized for the public. The community stayed engaged frequently but got ignored completely. No responses from our city councillor  We do not believe our community’s concerns were documented or even heard.

The planning department and the city councilors have made it so easy for the developers to get what they want. It has come down to Tax dollars and no recourse for the general public. The Willow tree proposed building, Wellington development – 1200 signed petitions, Bloomfield development – 1700 signed petitions. Our development on North and Oxford, over 30 people evicted during covid with the developer not going through the proper channels. Again, no response from the city councilor!

The one only response we got from Lyndell Smith was” I’m not up to date with the Bylaws.”

We as a group participated in the public process and tried to keep updated as much as possible . There seems to be a lot of communication/meetings between HRM planning Dept and the developers. We as a group have no easy way of keeping up with all the amendments, variances and decision making. It seems like we don’t exist. I had to find out what was going on from the tenants of the building that they were being kicked out of their affordable housing units and demolishing starts in 4 months. No notice from HRM. 

I found documentation on a meeting that the Design Advisory Committee had regarding the developer applying for a level 3 site. Apparently there is a Center Plan formula! This meeting was held in March, 2020. In attendance were the committee, city councilors, members of the planning dept. An architect and the developer. No public presence! No one from our community who were actively trying to stay engaged was notified.

I truly believe there is a failure of process. The developer is up to date, receives correspondence from all departments, gets what they want and more. The public who has concerns about their community are constantly left out. When we citizens try to get answers from the powers to be, it’s a dead end.

The developer even began demolition of the property while it was still occupied by a tenant. Councillors said they’d never heard of such a thing and acted surprised even though a similar situation had happened a few years back on Young Avenue where a developer started to demolish an occupied building. How does HRM’s interest in the protection of citizens balance compared with the actions of developers?

Once the Centre Plan was passed and a building permit issues members of our community appealed the decision at a virtual meeting. As per the late Joan Fraser’s communication:

“As it stands developers are being allowed to build to a height of 20 metres not necessarily including a penthouse and infrastructure in low rise residential neighbourhoods. This means that a large building will loom over low rise residential communities. The transition requirement is met by allowing the developer to use an assumed height of 11 metres at the street wall height when in reality there is a 20 metre high building sitting on the lot which is in clear conflict with all the fine words on maintenance of the integrity of the existing community. The project at north and oxford should not be allowed to proceed until these issues are resolved and the residents have been fully informed.

The current proposal will introduce a blind access from Seaforth st to Oxford st with a very large building blocking the view. Currently a driver can see the traffic on Oxford st from Seaforth st thru the open fence.

Allowing a 20 metre + structure corner to corner to corner on this lot as proposed destroys the sense of community which currently exists in this low rise residential area. This lot is classified as Level 111 – height from 20 metres and up allowable. It should be classified as Level 11 – not sure of metres – but allows 6 levels of height.”

The developer met all the requirements of the bylaws to move ahead because the Centre Plan was changed to match his development. Our appeal was over before it started. Citizens had 5 minutes each to talk. The city planner talked for 15 minutes to the board about all our concerns. We had nothing left to say! The citizens lost the appeal process because the councillors found that the building met the regulations. Isn’t it sad and ironic that these were mostly the same councillors who had approved the changes of the regulations for this area under the Centre Plan, gone against what citizens’ wanted but now claim to be powerless because the development matches the rules?

The community always wanted a building, something that would fit in our neighborhood. We as a group have nowhere to turn. Very frustrating to say the least. The Center Plan is flawed.The system is also flawed. The new laws make it easy for the developer. Terrible communication from staff and councillors! planning staff and council did not respect the wishes of the community for a less intrusive development, council says-but those are the rules- and takes no responsibility. Our community was negotiating in good faith for a long time for something more acceptable. The city threw that out along with 44 affordable housing units.

My recommendation is: Our groups which are few, should be notified in writing on ANY changes made that has an effect on development in our neighborhood.  Be registered with HRM as a group and have consistent up to date information. And city staff and council must be responsive to the in-put of citizens. We would have been willing to compromise, but we were forced to just accept the developers’ plan with none of our concerns or input being respected.

Sincerely, Pat White, Seaforth Street, Halifax, NS

 

 

FHC to Premier-Don’t Approve a Pool Building Before Public Consultation and a Plan

FHC are asking the Nova Scotia Legislature not to approve legislation to permit new building on the Central Common for HRM’s proposed Aquatic Centre. A public consultation process for the Common Master Plan begun in Dec 2017 has never come back to the citizens for final input or approval.

This map shows a synthesis of what was agreed on for the favoured elements-with no change to the building footprint

Despite there being no final Plan, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Brendan McGuire, has introduced Bill 103 to amend HRM’s Charter and give permission for a building and fencing for an aquatic centre on the Central Common.

“It is very concerning that HRM staff has not communicated with residents about the Halifax Common Master Plan since the summer of 2019,” says FHC director and long-time Halifax resident Alan Ruffman. “Public consultation is an obligation that HRM owes its citizens under the HRM Charter.”

The 2017 Master Plan process kicked off with the announcement that HRM would be building a new aquatic centre before the public were even consulted. But the following public comments about the aquatic centre recorded by HRM staff at the December 2017 meeting reflect their concern about this and asked that HRM “Wait for Master Plan.”

  • I would like any decisions about the pool or the pavilion (to be delayed) until after the full master plan process complete
  • Wait for a plan, no more building!
  • This should go next to Centennial Pool and expand the Common. This should not be determined as a priority until the public consultation complete
  • Nothing until there is a plan. Put this in stage 2
  • Why are we talking about a pool’s amenities when we’ve not decided to have a big pool?

That public consultation process did not find that there should be a new building and the design for the aquatic centre area that emerged from that time did not show a change in the building footprint. 

HRM does not have authority to build structures on the Halifax Common without legislative permission. This is in keeping with the Halifax Common being a gift from King George III, a land grant of 240 acres “to and for the use of the inhabitants of the Town of Halifax, as Commons forever.

“Why aren’t the public being consulted on this?” Says architect and FHC director David Garrett who is concerned that the final Halifax Common Masterplan hasn’t come back to the citizens. 

Garrett says, “This situation is similar to circumstance with the support building for the Oval but when that permission was approved the Legislature had a plan of what the building and its footprint would be. This time it is not known what the Legislature will be approving.”

An Act for protection of the Dartmouth Common was passed by this Legislature in 1986, but there is NONE that offers protection for the Halifax Common. 

Less than 20% of the Halifax Common remains as public open space. In total at least 20% of the 240 acre grant is used as surface parking. 

In 2020, without public consultation the provincial government announced plans for two new parking garages costing $100 million with 1500 vehicles stalls as part of the QEII redevelopment. These will be directly across from the proposed aquatic centre.

Friends of Halifax Common have asked the Premier and NS Legislature numerous time for protection of the Halifax Common, most recently in March 2021. Increasingly health benefits from access to public open space are being acknowledged especially in the time of COVID.

Letter to Premier Rankin-Protect the Halifax Common

March 17, 2121
Dear Premier Rankin and Minister Macguire,

RE: Legislative Protection for the Halifax Common

The 235 Halifax Common was granted “to and for the use of the inhabitants of the Town of Halifax as Commons forever” by King George III in 1763. It is Canada’s oldest and largest Common. The Friends of Halifax Common write to request that the provincial government enact legislation to protect the Halifax Common and that this legislation enshrine the 1994 Halifax Common Plan, adopted by Halifax City Council in 1994. This is similar to the legislative protection that the provincial government put in place for the Dartmouth Common. We consider this to be an urgent matter as the continued failure of governments in their respective fiduciary responsibilities to protect the Halifax Common have reduced the Common’s public open green space to approximately 20% of the original grant. Continue reading

Letter to Premier Rankin: Cancel $100M Parking Garages

Friends of Halifax Common has sent a new letter to Premier Rankin requesting that he cancel the  ~$100 million parking garages planned for the QEII re-development. FHC respectfully ask for a better choice for the future and for health care dollars.

  • There is a much greater need for direct-to-patient health care over unnecessary parking structures. 
  • Nova Scotia is moving away from balanced Budgets because of the COVID crisis and need to avoid unnecessary expenditures that add to Debt. 
  • Approximately 3,000 citizens signed a petition against the NS Museum garage.
  • Policy priorities set out in the Speech from the Throne needing investment, and especially for the goal of getting off carbon, are inconsistent with building parking garages.
  • Traffic emissions are a principal source of air pollution and the leading cause for Canada having one of the world’s highest rates of new childhood asthma. 
  • Each year ~36,000 Canadians die an early death from diseases related to burning fossil fuels- for perspective COVID has caused 22,000 deaths. Nova Scotia has one of the world’s worst jurisdictions for vehicle fuel consumption and emissions.

As COVID has reminded us worldwide, access to public open space has enormous proven and necessary health benefits. Parking garages do not.

FHC Letter to Centre Plan Team Re Package B (Feb. 24 2021)

Centre Plan Team:
The Friends of the Halifax Common (FHC) wish to re-confirm our belief that while Package B of the Centre Plan is notable in many respects, the current draft does not adequately address the need for green public recreational space within an increasingly densified Regional Centre. The need for public open space in urban areas is widely recognized and documented, particularly by the W.H.O. in their study, “Urban Green Spaces and Health: A Review of Evidence.” Public parks provide a balance to the built environment; in fact development and open space are opposite sides of the same coin.

We believe that the need for green public space must be detailed at every level of Centre Plan Package B from Core Concepts to Implementation. Without this level of detail, the achievement of a balanced urban environment will not be achieved, it will be outpaced by rapid development. Opportunities to enrich our environment with public spaces both large and small will be lost. Continue reading