FHC has requested in a letter to the HRM Auditor General that a Review of HRM Planning’s public consultative process as a Charter matter be conducted. Ten case studies written by individual citizens representing community groups who have engaged in HRM public consultation accompany the request. They are as follows:
1. Young Avenue District Heritage Conservation
Peggy Cunningham PhD Chair, Young Avenue District Heritage Conservation Professor, (Former Dean of Management) Dalhousie University
2. Halifax Home Owners Association/Peninsular South Residents Assn
Owen Carrigan PhD Former President Saint Mary’s University
3. Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society
Chris Marriott Chair, Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society
4. Development Options Halifax
Larry Haiven, PhD Professor Emeritus, Department of Management, SMU
5. Peninsula Advisory Committee, Former Volunteer Member
Michael Bradfield, PhD Professor (Retired), Department of Economics, Dalhousie
6. Centre Plan: Corridor Creep: Charles St
Howard Epstein, LLB Former Halifax City Councillor, Former Nova Scotia MLA
7. Oak-Allan Street Bike Corridor–anonymous
8. WillowTreeGroup—from https://willowtreehalifax.wordpress.com
9. St Pat’s High School — Quinpool Common Group
10. Friends of Halifax Common – see www.halifaxcommon.ca, https://www.halifaxcommon.ca/wp-content/uploads/Attachment-new- APL-staff-report-required.pdf?189db0&189db0 etc.
1. Young Avenue District Heritage Conservation
I am writing to outline our experience in dealing with the ‘consultation’ processes by City Planning office associated with the new Centre Plan. The people involved in the efforts to preserve the character and heritage homes on Young Avenue have been very disappointed in the public consultation process and with the actions and views of City Planners with regard to our street.
We’ve worked for over three years to try and protect our street. We tried in vain to stop the destruction the two important heritage estates. When this initiative failed, we’ve continued to work to stop proposals by the ‘developer’ that have been counter to the zoning rules of the street. We’ve had in-person meetings with a senior planner in the planning offices to express our concerns. We petitioned City Council to make it aware of the importance of the street from a heritage perspective and from an economic perspective since it draws tourists who visit on foot and by bus. We launched a web site to rally support to save the street. We’ve had petitions signed by almost 400 people who also want to preserve the street. We’ve done numerous press interviews with the Chronicle Herald, AllNovaScotia, the Rick Howe Show, CBC and CTV. We successfully had the Land Use By-Law (LUB) changed, we (along with the NS Heritage Trust) put together a defense when the developer filed a law suit challenging the change to the LUB (which he withdrew in the face of our opposition). We had the street noted as one of the most endangered historic streetscapes by the Federal Government. We’ve held public talks on the history of the historic homes and their importance. We worked with Councillor Mason to have a motion made by Councillor Adams that proposed multi-unit structures on the vacant sites withdrawn (we were successful). We’ve gone to the engagement sessions with regard to the Centre Plan and we’ve provided written comments on our concerns.
Despite all these efforts, what appeared to be a last-minute change was put into Part B of the Centre Plan by the development office. We were stunned that the insertion would open the door for multi-unit buildings on the now vacant lots despite our many efforts in opposition to such a development. We were not consulted on these clauses despite our well-known stance and actions.
Even more appalling was communication (dated March 31, 2020) from one of the heads of City Planning, Mr. Eric Lucic, in response to a query sent to him by Ms. B. Miller. Mr. Lucic stated that he was unaware of any opposition to the proposal for multi-unit’ structures that would be exceptions to the rules laid out in the Centre Plan on the vacant lots. Given all of our efforts and the fact that one of our members presented our group’s concerns at one of the consultation sessions where Mr. Lucic was present, this was especially shocking.
While the planners we have met are polite and appear to listen, there is little evidence that this is the case. We feel that our voices have been totally ignored by the City Planners. They have also been deaf to Councillor Mason’s concerns. We feel our heritage homes are under threat of acquisition by developers and that the street is constantly being attacked. The voices of concerned citizens and residents of Young Avenue have been almost totally ignored. Thus, when you ask for our experience with the ‘consultation’ process, you can clearly see that it has been a disappointing one to say the least. There is a ruse labelled ‘consultation’, but it is not an authentic consultation process when the voices of those consulted are consistently ignored.
Peggy Cunningham Director, Young Avenue District Heritage Conservation Society
2 Halifax Home Owners Association/ Peninsular South Residents Association
I am writing in support of a request for an investigation by the HRM Auditor General into practices of the Planning Department and Mayor and Council relative to development planning and public consultation in the HRM. I am a former Head of the Halifax Home Owners Association and a former executive member of the Peninsular South Residents Association. I am also a current victim of an ill-advised permit to a builder for the construction of a six story apartment building on a small residential street and directly across from my home. The Mayor and Council for some time have been following a course of development that, in many instances, has failed to consult tax payers, has ignored overwhelming public opposition, and has failed to properly consult by placing development plans for public viewing but not for meaningful decision making.
• Some years before the Council approved the current Peninsula Centre development plan the City and Planning Department had already put in place a full scale new plan. It included an allowance for more infill, density, taller apartment buildings, mini houses, attachments to existing homes, bicycle routes, and major street changes. This was done without any public consultation. It ignored past practices, and violated HRM and Provincial policies on public consultation. Eventually the City got around to placing a new plan before the public, the Centre Plan. However, it was not a genuine consultation but a public viewing of plans that were already designed and in practice.
• Another example of failure to consult was the reconfiguration of Vernon Street. Once a major connector from South Street to Quinpool Road the street was closed to through traffic at Jubilee Street. Turnouts were placed at a number of cross streets in order to calm traffic and a bicycle lane painted on the full length of the street up to and at the intersection with Quinpool. Coincidently the Councilor Waye Mason lives on the street. The changes cost thousands of taxpayer dollars, are dangerous traffic hazards and not necessary. There were much less costly options available to meet the objectives.
• Another example of ignoring public opinion was the proposed development on Wellington Street. Over a thousand protests were submitted to Council but ignored and a permit approved.
• Yet another example of failure to consult was the spending money for a studies related to a CFL franchise- To date in total approximately $5 million has been spent. The matter has been carried further by the municipality considering to in future commit millions to such a project. The Mayor was not elected to spend taxpayer’s money on a sports franchise. Any project of this magnitude should go to a public plebiscite.
• My personal experience is a case of a planner, Ms. Jillian MacLellan, inviting a developer to resubmit a proposal for a six story apartment building on the corner of Coburg Rd. and Seymour Street that had been previously turned down. The developer had practically no support but encountered strong opposition from neighborhood residents. Not only was citizen input ignored but over twenty Policies and Land Use by laws that did not allow the development were also ignored. This included two, one policy and one by law, that specifically forbade development on that corner.
While the City Council and developers have benefited and countless hours spent with developers the resulting harm to residents in the form of debilitating noise, traffic, damage to homes and personal health, stress, and loss of privacy, or time wasted in facsimiles of public consultation where the decision is foregone has not even been considered. Both HRM and the Province have polices requiring public consultation. Presumably they were put in place so the public would have some meaningful say in development. This has not been the case. It very much merits a review by your department.
Dr. D. Owen Carrigan, Ph.D. (former president Saint Mary’s University) 6112 Coburg Rd. Halifax N.S. B3H 1Z4
3. Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society
I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society, which is a volunteer educational society incorporated under the Societies Act and is committed to promoting public awareness of and appreciation for Halifax’s profuse and diverse military heritage. Our society, among many others, is deeply concerned about HRM’s plan to dispose of the Memorial Library (a cenotaph, memorial to war dead, and site of mass burials) and the historic, sacred, and public land it sits upon.
Our experience with promoting the need to preserve and retain the Memorial Library has been one characterized by acrimony and frustration as HRM Council speaks from both sides of its mouth. When CBC, Global, and All Nova Scotia reported in October 2018 that the Memorial Library was to be given to Dalhousie University to develop (including a rendering of a major development not subordinate to the original building), we began to question HRM Council on why this heritage property was not registered as such, and why our city seemed unwilling to retain it as a critical history and heritage asset.
We were met with a combination of silence, misinformation, and political maneuvering to undermine any attempt to push for a future other than a Dalhousie development.
Dalhousie and HRM have been working behind closed doors for more than two years to have HRM dispose of the site and have Dal develop it as an adjunct to the school of architecture for civic planning. HRM has denied this repeatedly and Dalhousie reached out to us via phone to deny it. Both have lied repeatedly via phone, in writing, and in TV interviews to anyone posing questions on their back-room dealings.
HMHPS hosted a public consultation in May 2019 at Royal Artillery Park. It was attended by over 100 people, but not our downtown councilor. Instead of hearing from over 100 constituents, Mr. Mason tracked down the manager of Royal Artillery Park, and asked the Canadian Army, in writing, to deny us the use of that space on account of Mr. Mason falsely claiming our society was spreading misinformation. Mr. Mason was rebuffed and our public consultation went ahead. The summary of that public consultation can be found on our website: https://hmhps.ca/pdf/HMHPS-Memorial- Library-Public-Consultation-Summary.pdf
Since the public consultation, our group and others successfully lobbied the city to review the Memorial Library for heritage status. That status was granted to the entire site in February. At that meeting, councilors were asked whether HRM would hold a public consultation on the future of the library. Mr. Mason responded that no public consultation would be held unless Dalhousie indicated it had no interest in the site.
Today, we find Dalhousie University has been granted a de facto right of first refusal to develop the Memorial Library – without any act of council, or under any legal
framework. Deliberations continue behind closed doors in total opacity.
Fortunately, now that the Memorial Library is a registered heritage site, nothing can be developed that is not subordinate to the original building. We hope that this fact, along with continued social pressure and persistence, will convince HRM Council to retain this heritage asset and public green space – created as such under a law written by the Hon. John S. Thompson and passed in 1882.
Chris Marriott Chair, Halifax Military Heritage Preservation Society Direct: 902-442-9333
4. Development Options Halifax
I am a member of the group “Development Options Halifax.” We are a volunteer group of citizens in Halifax who want to achieve a better balance between the interest of citizens and those of developers. We advocate for using technology such as 3-D models to present facts and options to the public and to open an informed and transparent public discussion on development. We stress that citizens have expertise and that we are all better off when citizens are listened to and heard.
One of our first initiatives was to try to open up the public discussion of two proposed developments bounded by Spring Garden Road, Robie St., College St. and Carlton St. To do so, we commissioned architecture student Hadrian Laing to create 3-D renderings or drawings showing these developments together. This was the first time the public were able to see and understand that four towers 16, 22, 26 and 30 storeys, were planned for less than a city block because although the two proposals had been through various stages of public consultation they had not been seen together.
Development Options Halifax also commissioned Laing to manufacture a three- dimensional print model of the two developments. Along with other visual aids, we sought to make the public and city officials aware of the impact of the developments on the surrounding historic neighbourhoods.
As we understand it, several cities use 3-D models in this way. We also understand that some cities such as Vancouver require all new developments have such models. We asked HRM Council and several HRM committees that were dealing with these developments to allow Mr. Laing to show his model and speak to it. None of them responded. Indeed, they treated us and Mr. Laing disgracefully. This only discourages citizens from engaging in consultation outside of the stage-managed exercises the city now uses.
We also collected between 850-900 names on a petition asking that HRM Council not approve the proposals or the Centre Plan changes for this area. We pointed out that the proposed densification could be achieved with lower height. This was evidenced with our proposal for an alternative in-fill of 8-9 storeys that would retain the majority of the existing buildings and their affordable housing/commercial units.
As background it is important to note that the final approval for the four towers by two developers bears no relationship to what Centre Plan public consultation proposed. At the Plan’s public consultations in June 2016 HRM Staff proposed adding 400 new residents to the South West Spring Garden Road area. HRM Staff information board displayed illustrations that proposed choices between two 10-storey buildings or, one
10-storey and two 5-storey buildings. Another HRM Staff information board described this area as being the second most constrained for sewage and water of all proposed growth areas.
None of the HRM information considered the already approved 18-storey building that Killam can build at the north end of Carlton Street by Camphill Cemetery. The late professor Phillip Pacey’s submission on the Centre Plan at that time informed Staff that this Killam building would accommodate 70% of the proposed 400 new residents. The balance of residents could be housed in a 5 or 6 storey building along with in-fill or additions. As with the Development Options Halifax the idea of any alternative proposal was ignored.
As well in 2012 and again in 2016 Heritage Trust made formal requests to have the Carlton Street area neighbourhood designated as a conservation district. Carlton Street is designated “Heritage” at the municipal, provincial and national level – about half of the buildings in the area are heritage designated with another 11 qualifying. This is the last historic neighbourhood on the original Halifax Common and reflects the kind of neighbourhoods that used to exist all along Spring Garden Road to South Park Street.
These requests were accompanied by Dr. Pacey’s fully researched and documented details on each of the historic and character building within the district. The second submission included photographs. When HRM were asked about the outcome of these requests, they at first did not respond and then much later when an answer was pursued responded that they had no record of the request. That is citizens’ input was ignored, not evaluated or responded to.
This was also the experience of Development Options Halifax and our efforts as informed and interested citizens to improve the process and possible outcomes.
Larry Haiven, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Department of Management Saint Mary’s University
5. Peninsula Advisory Committee by Former Volunteer Member —
How Could Halifax’ Public Consultation Be More Effective?
HRM spends considerable amounts money and staff resources in public consultation for urban planning and other projects but these consultation processes are often seen as manipulative or even cynical. Manipulative because options are often constrained, especially in online surveys; cynical because the reporting of the sessions often fails to indicate the degree to which suggestions have wide support, as well as the frequency which those with wide support fail to make it into final recommendations.
My comments reflect more than a half-century of involvement in civic issues, as a citizen and occasionally as a professional economist, and as a two-term member of the Halifax Peninsula Regional Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) While I note below the many changes that should be made to the content and conduct of public meetings and surveys, in my experience, particularly on the PAC, leads to the conclusion that the most important actions are not in the public eye. Public meetings and surveys are merely the tip of the iceberg!
The Planning Advisory Committee’s public consultation occurs when evaluating developers’ requests to have the Municipal Planning Strategy MPS and zoning restrictions waived through development agreements, and I focus on the administrative process, and the ultimate decisions.
Development agreements are necessary when a developer (the proponent) wishes to use a parcel of land for a project which conflicts with the current MPS or zoning requirements. This usually involves increasing the density through building higher than permitted by the zoning. While developers complain vociferously about the time it takes to get approval for a development agreement, the time lag reflects the major violation of the zoning and its impact on the surrounding property owners who have made their decisions to locate in the neighbourhood and to enjoy their own properties within the existing zoning requirements. It is almost inevitable, indeed desirable, that the more egregious the change requested by the proponent, the more carefully the proposal is examined by staff and citizens.
Many developers cite the need for the agreement in order to compensate them for the price of the property. However, this is circular reasoning. Developers bid up the price of land in residential neighbourhoods BECAUSE they EXPECT to be granted a development agreement. The developers then argue for the agreement on the basis of the cost of the land. Approval of an agreement encourages other developers to move into the area and land prices are driven up, making the area unaffordable for families.
Given the serious impact that development agreements can have on neighbourhoods and urban form, it is important that the time is taken for staff and the public to have serious consultations about proposals.
Requests for development agreements are evaluated by planning department staff who apparently discuss the request with the proponent before it comes to the PAC which calls a
public meeting. Members of the PAC attend the public meeting, and their chair serves as the chair of that meeting; committee members observe but do not participate in the meeting. At the public meeting, planning staff introduce the project and explain the issues they see. The public then reacts to the proposal, with a time limit on each speaker. At the end, the proponent may comment on issues raised by the public.
Following the public meeting, the proponent and staff discuss possible changes to the application. Apparently, it is the proponent who decides what goes into the proposal to be discussed by the Planning Advisory Committee. These PAC meetings are open to the public, but they are not allowed to participate. It should be noted that the criteria for accepting application for membership on the PAC are unknown. There is often a member who is a developer or works for a developer and they have used the “we must protect the investment of the proponent” argument even though the responsibility of the PAC is to the public interest.
As with the prior public meeting, staff present the proposal and their assessment. The PAC discusses the proposal; a representative of the proponent is there to answer questions and comment at the end of the meeting. The planning staff is given the recommendations of the PAC and discusses them with the proponent who may make changes to their request which then goes to the Halifax and West Community Council, the majority of which is composed of non- peninsular councilors. If approved, this council sends the agreement to the full council for final approval.
While I note the links in this administrative chain where discussions are held between planning staff and the proponent, these are often described as “negotiations”. It is difficult to see why these should not be simply clarifications of the limits on the project what can be done “as a right”, given the MPS and zoning of the site. Any variation from this should be minor tinkering, not, for instance, more than doubling the “as a right” height of the proposed project.
Staff should be able to enforce the intent of the MPS and zoning without intimidation from the proponent, councilors, or any other source. Under the current protocols, staff can state their evaluation and any concerns, but the proponent can ignore citizen and professional advice if they believe they can carry the day with the elected officials, even when the councilors most affected may be strongly opposed.
The result of this process is that many projects far exceeding the “as a right” potential are approved, despite the objections of the public, of staff, and of the PAC. Thus, the decision is political and it need not reflect the public who participated but the interests of those who have the ear of councillors in areas initially unaffected by their approval. “Initially” because decisions may eventually be cited by proponents in other part of HRM.
It should be noted that the planning staff do not consistently oppose development agreements and support citizen critiques. Staff are professionals and all professions have their fads. The Cogswell Street Interchange is a monument to a fad – to make urban areas highly accessible to the auto. It was citizens and a few insightful councilors who ended the move to pave old Halifax. The current fad seems to be density over all else. Professional bias does not always reflect expertise, certainly not in setting goals, which means that public consultation and discussion are crucial.
What follows are comments on surveys and public hearings.
Surveys, whether on-line, hard copy, or personal interviews are inherently restrictive to provide a degree of uniformity and consistency in data collection and analysis. In addition, they usually assume that initial goals or intentions are already agreed upon, as are the basic means of achieving those goals. This narrows the scope and therefore range of the questions. Surveys provide no opportunity for discussion between the respondents or with the agency for whom the survey is conducted. These interactions can be very productive in generating new approaches and greater understanding of the difficulties and possibilities of the issue.
Public meetings or hearings should be just that, an opportunity for the public to express their views. Of course, city staff present the fundamental issue and the proponent of a project answers questions, but there must be greater disclosure of conflict of interest and more time for the public input. For instance, at the final public hearing for Halifax by Design, the proposal – to be voted on by Council that evening -was introduced by the lead planner on the Committee. However, both the chair of the Committee and at least one member of a subcommittees spoke, even though they had months to give their input.
It should also be noted that the planner claimed the recommendations were based on expert opinion, and the Committee had a widely-distributed report (without indication of the “expert” authors) on the inability of the Central Business District, with current zoning restrictions, to support future demand for office space. This report was so heavily criticized by the public that a second report was commissioned from a well-respected firm, Turner/Drake. The latter report reached quite different conclusions and was with-held from Council until the morning of the hearing – when it was placed near the bottom of a stack of documents. Most councilors were unaware of the Turner/Drake report until it was cited (by a member of the public) at the hearing. Nonetheless, that Council meeting approved the recommendations presented to them.
As to conflict of interest, citizens give their name and address when speaking at public hearings. They should also be required to present any direct or indirect self-interest in the project under discussion. Their address is often sufficient to indicate personal (neighbourhood) impacts of many projects, but someone who is employed by the proponent or their industry, such as another developer, should so indicate.
Many public meetings are preceded by an opportunity to view displays explaining aspects of the project to be discussed. These displays provided limited information and are hard to access because of the number of people viewing each display. In addition, there are usually HRM staff and employees of the proponents making themselves available for questions before the meeting starts. These people should all have ID badges which indicate their role, as is now done by the Planning Advisory Committee.
Finally, public hearings are normally conducted with a rule that people not applaud or otherwise express an opinion of a presentation, to avoid intimidating possible speakers. However, some measure of support could encourage others to also speak up. Perhaps support could be indicated simply by raising one of the information handouts provided.
It should be clear why people feel manipulated by, and cynical about, public consultation – the results often have little in common with the views expressed at public hearings. Surveys are like having a one-way “conversation”. This dampens the enthusiasm to participate in the process which so often seems pre-determined and futile.
Any analysis of the cost-effectiveness of public consultation must therefore assess how much decisions have reflected the public input. If the answer is “very little”, then the analysis must also determine if this is related to the poor quality of the public input, the poor quality of the study’s assessment techniques, or the fact that the public concerns are seldom incorporated in the decision-making process.
Michael Bradfield, PhD
Professor (Retired), Department of Economics Dalhousie University
6. Centre Plan: Corridor Creep: Charles St
A foundational concept advanced through the draft Centre Plan is that of ‘corridors’. These are routes selected as appropriate for intense development, and located along transportation routes.
Many of the corridors are located immediately adjacent to traditional R-2 residential neighbourhoods. This raises issues of the interaction of the proposed new developments with the pre-existing land uses. One of the other foundational concepts of the draft Centre Plan is respect for neighbourhoods.
The instance of the Robie St corridor and its interaction with Charles St is an example of problematic planning.
Corridors were presented to the public as limited to the property lots on the corridors- that is with corridor street addresses. However, in some instances the Plan evolved to allow for the intense developments to expand further along residential side street into the adjacent neighbourhoods. This occurred after the Centre Plan public consultation period, and was not in response to any public demand or with a notification of the community affected.
This occurred with one residential property at the southwest corner of Robie and Charles and with two residential properties at the southeast corner of Windsor and Charles.
When the particular example of Charles St was drawn to the attention of homeowners in the neighbourhood, some 120 citizens signed a petition to have the draft Plan revert to its original limiting of the corridor intense use to just the lots facing Robie St. Of the 120 citizens in opposition to the proposed change, 90 were living in the neighbourhood directly affected. HRM planning staff did not act on the request.
Subsequently a presentation was made to the Mayor and Council at the Centre Plan public hearing asking for the change. Council did not act on this.
More recently a presentation by three community members affected was made to the Peninsula and West Community Council seeking the planning rationale for the intrusion and asking for it to be reverted. The absence of a planning rationale appeared from a comparison with the northwest corner of Robie and Charles for which there is no intrusion allowed; and, the two properties the southwest side of Charles at Windsor having been removed from the similarly derived “corridor creep” because of the same concerns expressed by residents and the petition.
The Peninsula and West Community Council adopted a motion seeking a staff report on the point. This occurred on November 2019 but no report has come from the Planning and Development Department despite follow up inquiries.
Principled land use policy should be supported by a rational and be able to be uniformly applied in situations elsewhere. Planning staff, Mayor and Council have not been consistent to the Centre Plan public consultation on Corridors by adding residential properties thereafter and without notification. They have not acted on the request of the majority of citizens who petitioned for the corridor creep to be reverted for the southwest corner of Charles and Robie. They have not been uniform in their treatment as they did remove the two properties on the southeast side of Charles Street from the corridor creep and they were not uniform in their initial application as they did not include residential Charles Street properties on the north side of Charles and Robie or Charles and Windsor. They have not provided any report. Public participation has failed the citizens at every stage.
Howard Epstein, LLB Area Resident Former Halifax City Councillor, Former Member of Nova Scotia Legislature, Former Associate Professor of Law, Dalhousie University
7. Oak-Allan Bike Corridor
Many residents of the Harvard, Lawrence Street area have had to resort to taking legal action against HRM for implementing a local bikeway on Allan-Oak Corridor, which includes a permanent diagonal diverter at the intersection of Allan and Harvard Streets.
The diagonal diverter will prevent all vehicular traffic, including emergency vehicles, from travelling from one end of Harvard Street to the other. There will be no through traffic allowed at the Allan and Harvard Street intersection.
The implementation was based on a flawed process which did not follow mandatory provisions for HRM to follow when implementing new bikeways. Only after council approved the implementation were residents of the northern portion of Harvard Street informed that they would no longer have Harvard Street as their address.
Residents were willing to accept compromises remedies and proposed alternative suggestions that they felt were more workable and sensible.
Rather than work with the residents to find a solution to their concerns HRM has now decided to fight them in court.
Note: Because of the court case this summary was submitted anonymously by an area resident.
8. Willow Tree Group — https://willowtreehalifax.wordpress.com
On June 19, 2018, Regional Council gave final approval to APL’s 25-storey building at Robie and Quinpool, despite overwhelming opposition from the public.
According to the draft Centre Plan (p. 107), APL’s 25-storey project will be the first phase of a major redevelopment of the Quinpool district from Robie Street to Monastery Lane (where Canadian Tire is currently located) that would add a half-kilometre of 15-storey buildings along the street and its adjacent neighbourhoods.
The Willow Tree Group came together in response to the two development agreement proposals (APL & Westwood) for multiple highrise towers at the corner of Quinpool Road and Robie Street. Their four-year effort to influence HRM staff, Mayor and Council turned out to be futile, but the website for this volunteer citizens’ group remains online. Its resources and editorials may be instructive for those questioning proposed developments in Halifax, along with Regional Council’s respect for the by-laws and the approval process.
Of note is HRM’s on-going mis-use of a flawed on-line survey for this area. Unless they are well designed surveys can be problematic as they do not capture real citizen concerns or have built in biases deliberate or otherwise.
As an example, this particular questionnaire on the web (August/September 2014) about the Willow Tree area did not give a context for why the existing height restrictions. These restrictions had been a deliberate and considered choice, based on public input, for Council to set a 35-foot height limit on the Westwood property and a 45-foot height limit for the west part of the APL property. This was with the support of the merchants/residents committee in the case of the Quinpool Road Plan with the support of the Planning Advisory Committee in the case of the Peninsula North Secondary Planning Strategy. In both cases the limits were set to protect the residents of Parker Street. In the Peninsula North case, the limit also protected the Burton Wilkie house on the site. These decisions were consistent with the general policy to protect existing neighbourhoods.
Furthermore the questionnaire did not allow residents to vote to keep the existing height limits. When the questionnaire mentioned other heights in the area, it selects only other high-rises, and did not mention the two-storey Burton Wilkie house on Robie or the 10-11 Parker Street houses.
The survey also incorrectly stated that tall slender buildings cast less shadows than shorter, wider buildings. This is the reverse of the truth; for the same total floor area, a shorter building mathematically must cast less shadow than a taller one.
Because of citizen criticism about the survey, HRM planning staff withdrew it and would not make it available. According to HRM planning applications program manager Carl Purvis, “…due to flaws in the survey, …we will not be posting them [or] using them in our staff decision making process, as we have agreed not to make them public.”
Despite this, the survey was used by HRM staff to write in reports there was support for height in the area.
As well at a January 2018 public hearing on the project, the developer-APL, presented to council data from a this same survey to show support for height at this location. APL had obtained the data through a Freedom of Information request. Despite that the survey was known to be flawed, HRM staff never issued a formal correction to their earlier statements about the previous survey, nor did they challenge APL’s use of the survey data at the public hearing.
This survey is still being used by HRM staff as recently as June 2019 to indicate support for increased heights for this area. The report is on the Westwood property, adjacent to APL. In this case HRM staff recommend against allowing a development agreement process to proceed, but Councillor Lindell Smith’s motion to proceed was passed by Mayor and Council.
9. St Pat’s High School—Quinpool Commoning Project
As background, a May 2016 letter from Friends of Halifax Common to the Peninsula Advisory Committee documents some of the early HRM public consultation for the former St Pat’s Highschool outcomes beginning in 2014: https://www.halifaxcommon.ca/st-pats-report- ignores-public-in-put-favours-big-development/
Then in 2017 a group started the Quinpool Commoning Project. Below is a brief overview of activities. More is available at https://www.facebook.com/QuinpoolCommonGarden/
In 2017 the Quinpool Commoning Project formed as a collection of neighbours, farmers, greenthumbs and ‘all thumbs’, dedicated to having the former St. Pat’s High School site stay public and for the community. Our primary projects were creating an urban food forest and raised bed gardening. We helped the neighbourhood around Windsor and Quinpool to come together and keep this park for the benefit of future generations. Here’s is a short history of our activities:
In 2017 the Quinpool Commoning Project planted fruit and nut trees all along the periphery of the former St. Patrick’s Highschool employing the help of a professional Permaculture Landscape Designer. We engaged members of the community and existing organizations in the campaign to keep the space public through talks and outreach.
In the Spring of 2018 we obtained a grant from the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group and paid an organizer a small stipend to create over 10 raised garden beds on the site. We planted all of the beds in the mid-summer in time for fall harvest and a garlic planting.
In late 2018, we submitted a petition to Halifax council with the help of the district councillor, LIndell Smith, asking for the space to be reserved for public use as a garden and park. The petition had over 800 signatures.
In 2019 the gardening efforts at the Quinpool Common continued, and seemed especially important in light of Halifax council’s announcement of a ‘Climate Emergency’. The petition continued to grow (without being promoted) to over 900 signatures. Ecology Action Centre submitted a letter of support to HRM. The overall goal continued to be to reserve this public land on a permanent basis from private development and for food security in our city. This seemed to mesh with HRM’s commitment in December to develop a Food Action Plan as part of Council’s 2019/2020 Council Priority Outcome-a list of goals that was put forward by Councillor Lindell Smith. https://www.halifaxtoday.ca/local- news/halifax-council-commits-to-developing-food-action-plan-1900122
In 2020 HRM sold St Pat’s to a developer for $34 million. There is no stipulation that any of the site has to be used for public purpose.