Published June 22, 2015 –
On June 23, 1763, King George III granted 240 acres of common land “to and for the use of the inhabitants of the town of Halifax as Common forever.” Unwittingly, this year the city will commemorate the anniversary by cutting several mature trees to make way for a roundabout at the Cogswell/North Park/Ahern/Trollope intersection.This is a fitting tribute to the ongoing
onslaught of the Common, whereby less than 30 acres remain as public open space. And it suits the city’s habit of ignoring the 1994 Halifax Common Plan to protect it by not decreasing the amount of public open space or the amount of city-owned land, and to increase the amount of land under city ownership through recapture of lands.
Examples of giveaways include the lands of the former Queen Elizabeth High School, Grace Maternity Hospital and Civic Hospital, School for the Blind and its adjacent block of Tower Road as well as the side-yards of All Saints Cathedral. Next will be the CBC-TV and the Victoria General Hospital lands. And decisions for the permanent Oval, the Oval building, the roundabouts and several public art projects were all outside of an integrated Halifax Common Master Plan.
Now, after a 21-year wait, this year’s municipal budget included money to begin the planning process. Time is not on the Common’s side. Developers are unjustifiably making extensive use of the development agreement application process to ignore the regional plan’s existing controls that regulate size, mass, height and setback of buildings. By approving such agreements for out-of-scale buildings, the mayor and council are allowing developers to preclude not just the Halifax Common Master Plan process, but also the Centre Plan and the Halifax Green Network processes.
The trend for developers to occupy public blue space next to public green space such as the Halifax Common, its parks, graveyards or gardens — each with unparalleled, exclusive or sought-after views — is clear. Present proposals for 25-, 28-, 18-, 11- and 24-storey buildings are adjacent to the Halifax Common. And an 18-storey building approved next to Camp Hill Cemetery on Carleton Street and a 30-storey building proposed for Spring Garden Road at Carleton are on Halifax Common land.
Through illegitimate development agreements and outside of plans and the planning process, the mayor and council are privatizing the public’s view and giving developers free commercial zoning benefits to make money through luxury-priced rent or sale of the view. The paying occupant enjoys the view of open space, sky and light, trees, landmarks and historic wide streets. The public will experience the blocked view, walls of high-rises, shadows, wind, traffic and the cumulative effect of multiple bad planning decisions that degrade neighbourhoods and public open space.
Primarily justified as a driver for densification, these development agreements are unnecessary. Presently over 5,000 condo units, a 6.35-year supply, are approved or under construction in central Halifax and Dartmouth. An additional 5,000-plus units, in or through the development agreement process, gives us a 12.5-year supply.
Please write the mayor and council at email@example.com to ask that they stick to the existing rules until new plans are complete. And send comments to the Halifax Green Network asking for regulations to protect the Halifax Common and all public open blue space. For details, see www.halifaxcommon.ca.
Peggy Cameron, Friends of Halifax Common