FHC Submission to HRM Review of Regional Plan

We are deeply concerned about recent incursions into the Halifax Common…

The Halifax Common grant in 1763 was for 235 acres ” to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common, forever.” This entire area was to be considered for planning purposes in the 1994 Halifax Common Plan.

…from proposed multiple high rises (16-, 28-, 29- and 30-storey and ~900 cars – similar in mass to the Nova Centre) at the corner of Spring Garden Road and Robie Street; the expansion of major QE2 facilities onto parkland adjacent to the Natural History Museum and along Bell Road with two parking garages; the exclusive use of the Wanderer’s Grounds by a professional soccer team; the overwhelming use of the remaining open space of the Common of organized sports and programmed uses; the eviction of the Common Roots Urban Farm from the area and the slow progress of the Halifax Common Master Plan by HRM Staff begun in 2017 and that has been without significant public input for nearly two years. 

It is important to understand that the 240 acres of the Halifax Common from Robie to South Park and North Park Streets and Cunard to South Street, “given to the inhabitants of the Town of Halifax as Common forever,” in 1763, has deep historical significance; that it is one of the defining features of the urban form of Halifax; that it serves as a neighbourhood park in an area of increasing density under the Centre Plan; that Centre Plan Package B currently calls for no new green space; and most importantly that the diminishment of the Halifax Common has been going on for generations and will not stop with this generation unless given protection.

While the city needs to increase density on the peninsula we believe that high-rises on and next to the Halifax Common are a most inappropriate and unnecessary built-form as these dominate the skyline, create shadows and wind, disrupt and demolish neighbourhoods as well as increase traffic. We are especially disappointed that the streetscapes on the perimeter of the Halifax Common will now be transformed into walls of high-rises. For example, two blocks adjacent to Quinpool Road on Robie Street may soon have five towers on the western edge despite enormous public opposition and against HRM staff recommendations.

We believe the process for determining the height of these buildings at these locations has been illegitimate and without any public benefit.  Where is the transparency for these decisions that one would expect in a democracy? What are the criteria apart from the drive of developers? Why is there no balance of interests?

A member of HRM Planning staff said during a recent Zoom meeting that unforeseen Covid restrictions on organized sports gave us a “unique social experiment” in which we caught a glimpse of a new vision of the Halifax Common, its spontaneous use by individuals and small groups for informal activities, and its full value to the people of Halifax. On a warm day, hundreds of people could be seen spread out over the Common, particularly on the broad spaces of the North Common. This must be protected. And the 20% of the Halifax Common that is surface parking must be renaturalized.

Protecting and adding new wilderness within HRM’s entirety and planning for a greenbelt should be a top priority, but adding thousands of residents to the Peninsula also requires that the city ensure there is new green space added to the urban core too. We recommend that HRM not sell any public lands on the Peninsula and work to incorporate the Centennial Pool lands, the site of the former School for the Blind and in future, the hospital properties on the South Common into new park area that can extend a green network through the Halifax Common in all directions for humans and creatures that move through this area. 

We also recommend a map be developed that shows potential green routing from the Halifax Harbour to the North West Arm and from Point Pleasant Park to Africville to create a vision of what our future can be and then work towards it. It is a climate crisis now, not in the future-we must work with nature to help handle its effects, to support biodiversity and to aid citizens’ physical and mental health. 

The Halifax Common as a gift to the people of Halifax must be protected. An example for this protection is the Provincial legislation given to the Dartmouth Common nearly thirty years ago. As executive members of the Friends of Halifax Common we request the Regional Plan take our recommendations as they are intended and that HRM Council and planning staff begin steps to give equal protection to the Halifax Common as the Dartmouth Common currently enjoys and take all opportunities to expand public open green space on the Peninsula. 

The enclosed  map from the 1994 Halifax Common Plan shows the boundary of the Halifax Common’s 240 acres and the area that Halifax committed to plan for and to recapture, to not give up and to retain. Let’s make this happen.