FHC supports the principles of the Centre Plan but believe it needs a better balance of proper densification and environmental care. Below are recent suggestions and concerns that we submitted. There are four distinct themes that build on previous asks such as growth scenarios that include commuter rail and 3-D models of what the Centre Plan will permit.
• Protecting Halifax’s existing character – urban form, streetscapes & neighbourhoods – best economic, environmental, social and cultural advantage;
• Protecting the Halifax Common and its neighbourhoods – increase green space, parks, playgrounds & green walking/biking networks;
• Balancing density between Halifax & Dartmouth and distributing density on the Peninsula;
• Climate Change – set targets for GHG reductions, Stop needless demolitions, Protect Solar Access.
1. Protect Halifax’s existing character and urban form:
There is a serious need within the Centre Plan for better protection of the existing urban form, neighbourhoods and character of the city. That is what attracts tourists, residents and students (30,000+) to the city. The Centre Plan’s increase in height and massing limits to allow greater densities will contribute to rapid transformation and homogenization, and inflated land value and property tax. Under the Centre Plan hundreds of low-rise, mixed-use Victorian and Georgian character buildings with moderate-rent apartments and commercial spaces will be able to be demolished for development. Replacing the streetscapes designated as corridors etc. with 6-storey buildings and fewer trees will be a drastic change for the look, living and walkability of Halifax.
There is no evidence this rapid change in the form will produce the behaviours or characteristics HRM Planners want. But there is evidence that neighbourhoods containing a mix of older, smaller buildings of different ages support greater levels of positive economic and social activity than areas dominated by newer, larger buildings. They also provide better affordable housing options, support diversity, better social inclusion and equity. https://www.slideshare.net/PreservationNation/toolkit-older-smallerbetterfindings140515jr
We need nature for our mental and physical health and for helping us to deal with climate change. With up to 30,000 new residents proposed for the Centre Plan area, there needs to significantly increase public open green space.
Protect the entire Halifax Common. As Canada’s oldest and largest common the Halifax Common is a special place distinct from normal parks. The 1994 Halifax Common Plan committed to a Masterplan for the entire Halifax Common, including all institutional and private land, but until now the public consultation for the Halifax Common has just considered the city-owned left-over bits and pieces not the entire Common.
Protect Neighbourhoods on and next to the Halifax Common. The Centre Plan has designated the Halifax Common as a cultural landscape but it needs to integrate the 1994 Plan. We need to protect rather than densify residential areas adjacent to and within the Halifax Common- its bordering streets such as Robie and South, South Park and North Park should not have increased height limits. South West Spring Garden (Robie, Spring Garden, Carlton, College, & Summer St area) should not be the site of high-rise towers just because developers say so. Infill with 4 – 6 storeys in this and other areas is appropriate and can achieve the same density targets without destroying existing buildings – Affordable, historic, low-rise Schmidtville has one of the cities highest densities. New buildings on the hospital and university lands on the Halifax Common should also conform to this height restriction.
Create New Parks– one easy example is the city-owned St Pat’s should become the new location for the Common Roots Urban Farm. This location can mark the beginning of a planned green network from the Halifax Common to the north west arm. The Common can also be extended with a green network leading through Cogswell to the waterfront.
Create Green networks to increase walkability / cycle-ability and reduce reliance on cars. Halifax is one of Canada’s top walking and ride-sharing cities. Improve this by stopping parking space requirements in large developments, not permitting new surface parking, restricting the inventory vehicle dealers can park on the peninsula, supporting car-shares, and providing a more effective inner-city, short trip transportation system for central areas to encourage residency in the core.
Climate change in our area will lead to increased extreme weather events. We need to work with nature not against it. Green space is important for absorbing water from high snow and rainfalls and recharging ground water. Building set-backs for green space provide important habitat and a bit of shade and shelter from wind can reduce energy costs.
3. Balance and Distribute Density
Balance Planned Population Increase between the Halifax Peninsula and Dartmouth. Presently the Centre Plan is weighted too heavily to densifying the Halifax Peninsula with very little targeted towards Dartmouth.
Distribute Density throughout the Halifax Peninsula. The Plan is presently too heavily weighted towards targeted growth centres, higher order residential and corridors at the expense of quality of environment in adjacent neighbourhoods and the streetscapes of these density targets themselves. A more uniform and less disruptive increase in density can and should be achieved thru incentivizing in-fill on the abundant vacant and under-utilized commercial lots. For example lower development fees and taxes for infill development to reflect the lower costs of providing public services in those areas.
As well support a careful and considered relaxation in current R1 areas of the Centre of requirements for single family use only, lot size, and frontage. This will maintain neighbourhoods, decrease pressure on chosen Centre Plan “targets”, higher order residential streets and corridors, and bring the benefit of increased affordability. Limit the height of new buildings on the Halifax peninsula to 6 storeys as there is no justification for towers other than the profit of private developers.
Prioritize planning and development of future growth nodes now -ahead of targeted growth centres, corridors etc. by giving greater emphasis and clarity to these and incentivizing their development first rather than promoting demolition by targeting existing built corridors, higher residency and growth centres.
4. Climate Change – Stop needless demolitions / Protect Solar Access
Set targets for GHG Emissions Reduction. The Centre Plan needs to foster awareness and policies to deal with climate change throughout. Start with setting targets for GHG emissions reduction and defined measures and timelines for ensuring success. Along with reducing reliance on individual car ownership here are just a couple of important ideas to support the transition to being fossil fuel free.
Demolition Permits – Take control and develop policy for demolition permits to stop wasting existing building-stock. Re-use almost always has less environmental impact than destroying existing building to rebuild. And its good for the economy on average creates twice as many jobs and uses half as many materials. Support re-use by adopting a comprehensive adaptive reuse program with more flexibility in building and zoning codes to reduce red tape. Support tax reform for building re-use. Incorporate this into a housing policy so communities retain affordable units.