A man bikes in the rain on the Halifax Common. The Armoury which will begin a restoration valued at $17 million is in the background. (Chronicle Herald photo)
by Howard Epstein
Jan 15, 2018
Harbour East Council (Councillors Streatch, Hendsbee, Karsten, Nicoll and Austin) recently rejected a 15-storey proposal for Graham’s Corner beside Lake Banook, and has put off a follow-up proposal at nine storeys.
All of the reasons offered apply to the full HRM council’s consideration this week of the APL proposal for the Willow Tree intersection beside the Halifax Common. And then some.
In the Banook case, neighbourhood incompatibility played a large role. So, too, for the Willow Tree neighbourhood. Parker, Welsford, Williams, and Compton streets, as well as Robie Street itself, constitute a vibrant residential nook, full of family homes that will be seriously negatively affected if rules are changed to allow a 20-storey building.
The Banook case illustrated exactly why the existing zoning restrictions were put in place. So, too, for the Willow Tree neighbourhood.
At the time, Alderman Nick Meagher, who served on council for 33 years until his retirement in 1995, had the foresight to have height, mass, and density regulations adopted that allow for some intensification of use, but cap it at 10 storeys.
This allowed for protection of the small-scale, densely packed, and stable neighbourhoods and local businesses that have traditionally characterized the overall area.
The Banook case took into account negative impacts on the lake itself as a public amenity. So, too, for the Common and the Willow Tree proposal. They are both important destinations that provide a pleasant visual experience because of the sense of open space and sky.
The Common has a greater diversity of passive and active recreational users and pedestrians. It is used year-round.
The area of The Common that remains as public open space is significantly smaller than Lake Banook and so negative impacts are greater.
The Banook nine-storey proposal would cast shadow in the morning but not in summer when the sun is high. The APL 20-storey proposal is on the western edge of the Common and at least twice the height – it will cast a significant shadow. It will especially shadow the Oval, during afternoon winter skating.
The Banook proposal is for less mass and density than the APL proposal. The Willow Tree proposal would violate at least seven bylaws that are designed to protect public open space and neighbourhoods. Overall, it is too much of an impact.
There are many reasons not to change the planning rules to allow the APL proposal to go forward.
It is not only a question of consistency with the Lake Banook case approach. The draft Centre Plan would not allow the project. It is not a sensible environmental basis for development to allow demolition of a building if that can be avoided.
Density to fill foreseeable needs can be achieved at heights of three to six storeys. Six storeys is all that HRM staff see as appropriate immediately next door, which raises another point of inconsistency of approach.
The 1994 Halifax Common Master Plan is in the process of being revised: adjacent lots should not be on the agenda while that process is at work.
We ask council to leave intact the Municipal Planning Strategy policies for the Willow Tree site, and await the Centre Plan and Common Master Plan processes.
Howard Epstein writes on behalf of Friends of the Halifax Common. He is a retired HRM councillor, MLA and lawyer. He taught land-use planning law at Dalhousie University for many years and is author of Land-Use Planning, a law textbook.
This article was published on Jan 15 in the Chronicle Herald