Tag Archives: 1994 Halifax Common Plan

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. 

FHC to HRM Staff- The Halifax Common Needs Good Planning Please!

FHC executive members recently met with HRM planning staff to remind them of the importance of good planning and protection for the future of the Halifax Common under the the following themes: Considering the Common as a whole; Protection; Flexible space; Expand the Purview and Participatory.

The Halifax Common grant in 1763 was for 235 acres ” 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.

!. Consider the Common as a whole. The historical boundary must be respected and highlighted, and an overall character needs to be established, not just for sidewalks, streets, and current public spaces, but to the extent possible for the Common as a whole.

2. Protection. It must be understood that without legislative protection, the dimishment of the Common, which has gone on for many years, will steadily continue in future years and generations. If so, one of the defining features of the urban form and history of Halifax will be irredeemably lost. Specific steps leading to the protection of the Common must be identified in the Plan. Protection does not need to lead to a freezing of the Common, but as with any heritage resource only the maintenance of the resource. These steps should include the need and means to return parts of the Common to public green space.
Continue reading

Carlton Block’s “Upward Creep” Proposals Ignore Both Public Concerns and HRM Regional Plan Policy Considerations

Media Release
July 4, 2021 –For immediate release

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) HRM’s response to significant public concerns over two massive Spring Garden Road high-rises that will overwhelm and negatively impact the entire historic Carlton Street neighbourhood has been to give the developers even more height.

Regional Plan Policy CH-16-Development Abutting Heritage Properties- 5 guidelines are ignored

On June 23, the HRM Heritage Advisory Committee moved the Rouvails proposal-Case 20761, at Robie Street, College Street and Carlton Street a step closer to approval, with the new heights now increased to 28 and 29 storeys plus penthouses from the original proposal of 20 and 26 storeys. This development will be adjacent to Dexel’s proposal- Case 20218, for two towers originally proposed as 16 and 30 storeys but now also approved for up to 90m or 29 storeys plus penthouses. Continue reading

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

Herald Op Ed: Why do HRM’s mayor and council hold the Common in such contempt?

K’JIPUKTUK (Halifax) On June 23, the Halifax Common, Canada’s oldest and largest, turned 257. There is good news.

A pedestrian walks across the Halifax Common in early March. “Although HRM’s Centre Plan intends to add 15,000-30,000 new citizens to the Centre Plan area, it has not designated any new urban parks and it includes no green networks. This is intentional, not an oversight.” Photo: Ryan Taplin

The 1994 Halifax Common Masterplan goals committed to by the city continue to be front and fore in citizens’ present-day desires. This is reflected in findings of the public consultation for the new masterplan begun in 2017 — plan for the entire Halifax Common; keep it open with green, natural landscapes and water features; minimize development; limit imposing structures; create a sense of connection; include walking and cycling paths; rebalance uses — recreation, arts, events, growing food; ensure access, diversity, inclusion, safety, youth, family.

But the rest is bad.

Unfortunately, the draft Halifax Masterplan, last seen in June 2019, does not plan for the entire Common, but only the city-owned property. This continues governments’ well-established pattern of diminishing, degrading or selling off the public’s land. Immediately before the consultation, the city was silent on the sale of the CBC-TV lands and was secretive on its privatization of the Wanderers’ Grounds.

Presently, the COVID-19 pandemic has us reorganizing society and economy with new forms for work, school and leisure that are still evolving. That public open space is vital to mental and physical health is increasingly evident as people seek to escape small apartments, to exercise or to enjoy a connection to nature. And the need for space for safe social distancing to walk or bike has cities around the world investing millions to create permanent bike lanes and new parks. 

But although HRM’s Centre Plan intends to add 15,000-30,000 new citizens to the Centre Plan area, it has not designated any new urban parks and it includes no green networks. This is intentional, not an oversight.

One positive outcome from COVID-19 worldwide is less traffic and parking demand and lower greenhouse gas emissions — nearly half because of transportation, primarily trucks and cars. The Halifax Common’s 240 acres is about  20 to 25 per cent parking lots. There is an obvious opportunity to re-naturalize, re-wild or landscape them to create new park space, and a cheap, efficient way to deal with major impacts from climate change (i.e., stormwater, flood management, heat waves, carbon sink) and pollution. New habitat, revitalization of dead zones and increased citizens’ care for and interest in nature are important side benefits.

But Mayor Mike Savage and council have no plans to change this usage. In fact, they recently approved plans for a new eight-storey parking garage by the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. That’s despite about 3,000 citizens petitioning against the garage and for protection of the Halifax Common. 

Along with a second parking garage on the former CBC-TV site, a total of at least 1,500 cars will now congest one of the city’s most walked, biked, played-on areas at the confluence of Citadel High, the Nova Scotia Museum, Bengal Lancers, Wanderers’ Grounds, skate park, soccer field, Oval, children’s playground and a proposed new aquatic centre. These will now face a wall of parking garages, enjoy a soundscape of traffic and emergency vehicles and endure the health harms of toxic emissions.

But what of citizens’ desire to minimize development, limit imposing structures and keep the Common open? 

Well, a minimum of 10 new highrises, between eight and 30- storeys, are in the works on or around the Common through development agreements. And in exchange for the hundreds of millions of dollars in development rights (i.e., profit) handed to developers, affordable housing unit numbers are going backwards. 

Councillor Shawn Cleary’s motion for 25 storeys at the Willow Tree in exchange for 10 units for 15 years has now been cashed out for $1.8 million; Coun. Lindell Smith’s motion for 23 -storeys next door will net $180,000 and Coun. Waye Mason’s support for 16-, 22-, 26- and 30-storey towers will destroy about 100 affordable housing and small-scale commercial units that won’t be replaced. 

Passing the Centre Plan formally increases height limits in Designated Growth Areas and Corridors. This further incentivizes the demolition of thousands of unique small-scale Halifax buildings and character streetscapes, such as those by the Halifax Common on Robie or along South Street.

Planning for demolition rather than deep energy retrofits or infill also harms the collective Common. Thirty-nine per cent of GHG emissions come from building and construction, adding to climate change. And citizens living, walking or cycling by traffic corridors are well understood to suffer detrimental health impacts (asthma, lung function, strokes, heart attacks, cancers) from associated air pollution and noise, such that experts suggest residences and parks be set back 150 metres (a block) from traffic corridors.  

HRM recently reversed its decision to purchase diesel buses and now will go with an entirely electric fleet. It also recently reversed an earlier decision to purchase an armoured vehicle. It is presently looking into changing the zoning of 136 acres for sale to protect the Williams Lake Backlands area. And HRM just adopted its HalifACT 2050 climate change plan. Why does it continue to be so difficult for the mayor and council to protect the Halifax Common?

The Common is physically at the heart of the peninsula and thus of HRM. How can councillors continue to fail to listen to the public’s voice?

Peggy Cameron is co-chair, Friends of Halifax Common.
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