Centre Plan Update Dartmouth Centre

Committee of the Whole (Centre Plan), August 17

Council held a Committee of the Whole to go over the second half of the Centre Plan (the Package B lands). Centre Plan Package B has made its way through all of HRM’s Community Councils, the Community Design Advisory Committee, and Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee. Along the way, councillors moved requests for amendments for staff to consider and review. I summarized a bunch of the amendments that I moved at Harbour East in an earlier blog entry, but I also moved several at CPED and at the Regional Centre Community Council that I haven’t had a chance to write about until now. Details on the Dartmouth amendments that I put forward at CPED and Regional Centre amendments

Prior Amendments:
Dartmouth Cove – Canal Street
I moved two amendments concerning the Dartmouth Cove Future Growth Node at the Regional Centre Community Council. The first was to remove references to an extra wide setback on Canal Street. The Canal Street setback was envisioned in the Dartmouth Cove Plan as a view corridor to St. James United Church. St. James United doesn’t line up perfectly with the end of Canal Street though, necessitating a large setback along Canal Street to achieve the view plane objective.

When Centre Plan Package A was adopted, the Dartmouth Cove Future Growth Node included policy language to support an extra wide setback in future development. Properties bordering on Portland Street were, however, left outside of the Dartmouth Cove Future Growth Node and were zoned Downtown instead. The Portland properties were left out because they already front on an established street and could, therefore, be developed without the extra burden of a development agreement process. What was missed in leaving the Portland Street properties out of the Dartmouth Cove Future Growth Node was the need to incorporate a special setback on the property at Portland and Canal. Not including a wide setback on that corner means that the view to St. James United on Canal Street will eventually get cut off by new development, rendering the point of wider setbacks on Canal Street pretty much moot. It was an oversight on HRM’s part.

Unfortunately, the setback issue isn’t easy to fix now because Portland and Canal is being redeveloped as part of the Moffatt’s project. The owner is now well advanced in planning and redeveloping their properties and adding a large setback at this juncture would kill the tower portion of their project.

In trying to figure out what to do with this situation, the main thing for me is actually the Sawmill River project. The Sawmill River plan really didn’t exist when the Dartmouth Cove Plan was created. What is now envisioned is a multi-use path and park space along the Sawmill River/Canal that connects up to Sullivan’s Pond and Banook. That, combined with cutting off Canal Street to cars at Portland, means that Canal Street isn’t going to be the main street that the Dartmouth Cove Plan originally envisioned. A fair bit of activity will instead be on the other side next to the actual Canal and River.

The other important thing is that the objective of providing a terminating vista for Canal Street can still be achieved with some creativity. When the Portland to Mill Lane block of Canal Street closes, HRM will be left with space to create a plaza. HRM could install a public art installation, resulting in a new terminating vista to meet the intent, if not the specifics, of the original Dartmouth Cove Plan. With all of that in mind, I moved that the Canal Street setbacks be removed from the Dartmouth Cove Future Growth Node. Staff accepted my request and the plan has been updated accordingly.

Dartmouth Cove Waterfront
The other revision to Dartmouth Cove was to remove the floor area ratio for the properties on the water side of the tracks. One of the owners is interested in pursuing residential development, but the Dartmouth Cove Plan has some mixed language about the potential of these lands. The Plan indicates residential development could be considered if the transportation challenge of crossing the tracks can be solved, but it also indicates that HRM should be cautious in allowing for the repurposing of marine industrial lands. From a practical point of view, Dominion Diving also isn’t going anywhere and HRM shouldn’t turn their long-standing operation into a non-conforming use. Rather than trying to unravel this riddle now, staff responded to my motion by recommending the removal of a set area ratio for these lots. Any development here will be something that will have to, instead, be worked out through a more detailed development agreement process.

Lancaster Drive Height Limit
The new owner of the potential apartment development at Lancaster Drive and Woodland Avenue (between the new First Baptist Church and the intersection) requested a modest height adjustment. The owner was seeking an additional three metres (23 metres as opposed to 20 metres) so that they can fully fit in a seven storey building instead of six storeys. With a very large buffer between the property and the nearest homes on Cannon Terrace, staff agreed with the request.

5 Newcastle
Another small height adjustment. 5 Newcastle has recently been purchased by a developer who asked for a 20 metre height limit instead of the 11 metres allowed under the Centre Plan. Given that the property is surrounded by high density zoning, except for on the uphill side where the elevation gain will help mitigate the impact of additional height, this has been adjusted slightly to 14 metres.

Tim Hortons and 14 Pleasant Street
Finally, there is a bit of a complicated situation regarding the Downtown Dartmouth Tim Hortons on Portland Street. A large swath of the drive thru and parking lot behind the building appears to actually be part of the neighbouring property, 14 Pleasant Street and, as a result, was zoned ER-2. What the actual status of those lands is, is something the two owners will have to work out between themselves. The owner of 14 Pleasant, however, is looking at his options and was seeking more permissive zoning for his property.

After talking this one through with staff, the conclusion was that the portion of 14 Pleasant that actually fronts on Pleasant Street is appropriately zoned as ER-2 given its surroundings so HRM shouldn’t change the zoning for the whole property. The rear portion, however, that may or may not be part of the Tim Hortons lot, should be zoned based on a potential future consolidation with the Tim Hortons site. So the rear portion of 14 Pleasant Street will be zoned Downtown (same designation as the Tims’ property) instead of ER-2. Putting aside any real estate dispute between the parties, the new zoning creates the potential for the two sides to strike some future deal on redeveloping both pieces of land together.

New Potential Amendments
Staff looked at everything moved at Committee and amended the draft Centre Plan to incorporate almost all of the items that Council asked for revisions on, including all of my Dartmouth motions listed above and in my earlier post. I still had a few new amendments to move at Committee of the Whole, however, based on late arriving requests.

Mic Mac Mall Future Growth Node
Mic Mac Mall has been sold and the new owners have big plans to redevelop the Mall. Mic Mac Mall is identified in the Centre Plan as a future growth node. A future growth node is a large site that can accommodate significantly more development, but requires a detailed community visioning process to guide things. The future growth nodes in Dartmouth are Shannon Park, Dartmouth Cove, Penhorn, Mic Mac Mall, and Southdale (to be added in Centre Plan Package B). Community visioning has been completed in the past for Penhorn, Dartmouth Cove, and Shannon Park, but there really hasn’t been any discussion about the future of Mic Mac Mall or Southdale.

Under the current Centre Plan rules, not much can happen at Mic Mac Mall until the community visioning process has been completed, and a detailed development agreement prepared based on the approved vision. That could easily take 2-3 years to complete. That’s a long time to wait and the Mall’s new owners have asked HRM to consider allowing an office addition and some residential development prior to the completion of the visioning process. I think the expectation around the Mic Mac Mall growth node on the HRM side was that the Mall would eventually go the way of Penhorn and Kmart and be a nearly blank site to start again with. Having a new owner that wants to reinvest in what’s there right away is a bit of a surprise and not what the future growth node was set up to do.

I ended up putting forward a motion requesting a staff response on allowing for an office addition to the Mall in advance of the visioning process. Allowing for an office building feels like a reasonable compromise in terms of letting the new owners get started with revitalizing the Mall while a bigger vision for the area is worked out. If the existing building is going to remain, then an office addition really doesn’t constrain potential changes to the surrounding surface parking lots. I’m okay with allowing that piece to proceed now. I left out the requested residential options from my motion, however, because they would all involve new stand-alone buildings on site. New stand-alone buildings starts to raise bigger planning questions such as where they should be located, phasing, and how all the different pieces relate to one another. It’s good to have interest in revitalizing Mic Mac Mall, but we should be careful not to skip over the planning process since whatever is built there will be with us for a very long time.

Shadow protocols around public spaces

Shadow Protocol Mount Hermon Cemetery
The owners of the Dartmouth Shopping Centre made a last minute ask concerning the Centre Plan’s shadow protocols. The shadow protocols in the Centre Plan limit how much shade a new building can cast on identified public spaces. Public spaces listed include Mount Hermon Cemetery and Green Road Park (vacant greenspace next to the cemetery) behind the Dartmouth Shopping Centre. The Shopping Centre is part of the Wyse Road Growth Centre and has been zoned to allow for much greater density. The owners are looking at their options under the new plan and since the Shopping Centre is to the south of Mount Hermon and Green Road Park, the shadow protocols significantly limit how high new development can be on part of their property (middle portion between Shoppers Drug Mart and No Frills.

It’s worth pausing to consider whether the shadow protocol should apply to this property. I have some mixed feelings on that. Some of HRM’s cemeteries have been included in the shadow protocols (Mount Hermon and Dartmouth Common) and some haven’t (Camp Hill, Old Burial Ground, Fairview Lawn, Christ Church, St. Paul’s). Cemeteries in some other cities, like Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen, have dual use as cemetery and park, but here in HRM, our cemeteries are still predominantly single use resting places for the dead. How important is minimizing shade on a public space that isn’t really used by the living? Could that single-use nature of our cemeteries change as it has in other places or is it embedded in our culture?

Green Road Park is another question. It’s a park, but it has largely been abandoned by HRM. With more density coming to Wyse Road, however, this little park space could see a second life as part of a revitalized neighbourhood. Should HRM allow Green Road to be shadowed by the very development that it might need to serve or does the park continue to not have a real purpose without that new development? I put the shadow protocol question forward to get a formal response from staff as I’m not entirely sure what the best approach is.

Design Review
My last Centre Plan ask concerns design review. Design review is a process in which other professionals critique the design of new development. The intent is that that peer review will result in changes to a proposed building that will ultimately produce a better project.

HRM’s experience with design review is complicated. Our first design committee, the Design Review Committee (DRC), was created in 2009 when a design review process was incorporated into the Downtown Halifax Plan. The DRC is made up primarily of experts (architects, engineers, planners) and has been tasked with not just offering advice, but being the approval body for applications in Downtown Halifax. Delegating approval powers to the DRC has been something that HRM has found to be problematic and so when the Centre Plan’s Package A was approved in 2020, a second design review body, the Design Advisory Committee (DAC), was created for the Centre Plan’s Package A lands. The DAC is similar to the DRC except a development officer, not the DRC, makes the final decision as to whether a proposal meets the Centre Plan’s criteria.

With the latest draft of the Centre Plan, staff are proposing to only require site plan approval for projects that require variances to the plan. Projects not requiring any variances will proceed as-of-right. The result will be that design review by the DAC will happen much less frequently since the HRM Charter seems to limit design review to the site plan approval process.

I’m concerned about curtailing design review because the practical result is that, for many projects, the only people who will ever look at the application before its approved will be the developer and their team, and the HRM development officer. The Centre Plan has a lot of design rules, but there is always going to be a few options as to how a property is developed. Having some sort of peer review to offer advice, even if the advice isn’t binding has value. I don’t want to go back to a place where a design committee is making the actual decision on whether to approve a new development or not, but I’m concerned that the pendulum is now swinging too far in the other direction and reducing input on many projects to just developer and HRM planner.

Council accepted a motion from me to direct staff to look at options to incorporate design review into as-of-right processes, possibly as part of the voluntary pre-application process that most developers already go through. We’ll see what staff come back with. The next step for the Centre Plan, once staff have updated the draft, will be to return to Council to schedule a public hearing. I expect that hearing will take place sometime in October.


  1. “I’m concerned about curtailing design review because the practical result is that, for many projects, the only people who will ever look at the application before its approved will be the developer and their team, and the HRM development officer. The Centre Plan has a lot of design rules, but there is always going to be a few options as to how a property is developed. Having some sort of peer review to offer advice, even if the advice isn’t binding has value. I don’t want to go back to a place where a design committee is making the actual decision on whether to approve a new development or not, but I’m concerned that the pendulum is now swinging too far in the other direction and reducing input on many projects to just developer and HRM planner.”

    One of the proposed benefits of Centre Plan was to reduce unneeded oversight so that developments could proceed more efficiently. Even if it is non-binding, reintroducing a review is reintroducing a layer to what is still a complex and time-intensive process.

    And it does not seem in keeping with HRM’s commitment to address the housing crisis. HRM should not be further constraining developers who want to build housing and whom are willing to operate within the framework of the Centre Plan.

    • Hi Zachary. It’s more of a case of not removing an existing layer. Design review is already part of Centre Plan Package A lands, I’m just not convinced that scrapping it pretty much entirely is a good idea. Sometimes you have a layers for good reason. I think we can potentially incorporate design review to get better projects while still benefitting from the significant stream-lining and certainty that the Centre Plan will provide.

  2. The 2 (now) 7-storey apartment buildings on land facing Lancaster and Woodland, sold to the developer by the First Baptist Church – where will the residents who will eventually live there be able to exit their residences by car?

    • Hi Bob. It’s an unknown right now. There a bunch of different options for access to that property. My hope is that the primary access will be opposite the 1st Baptist Church driveway and it’s my understanding that that driveway has been situated with that future connection in mind, but it’s not set in stone. Future development will have to provide plans to the satisfaction of HRM’s engineers.

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