Council Update: Aquatics Strategy, Flyers, Switch, Heritage

Meeting agenda May 14, 2019 here
Meeting agenda May 21, 2019 here

Aquatics Strategy: Council adopted a long-term strategy regarding aquatics in HRM. The purpose of the strategy is similar to the approach taken with ice surfaces: to sketch out a long-term vision and lens to frame municipal decision-making. The Strategy was a recommended outcome of the 2017 Community Facilities Master Plan, but the impetus to get it done sooner rather than later came from the year of bad luck that befell aquatics in HRM in 2017 when the Sportsplex, Sackville Sports Stadium, and Dalplex were all closed at the same time.

2017’s closures had a particularly significant effect on the competitive swimming community since the only 50 meter pools in HRM are Dalplex and Centennial. The Strategy notes that both of our existing 50 meter facilities are aging and not up to current standards and that it would be a mistake to assume that Dal will always provide a 50 meter pool since university’s elsewhere in Canada have downsized when it came time to replace old facilities. The tension around HRM providing a 50 meter pool is the balance between sport and recreation. HRM’s core mandate is recreation while the Province handles sports. The line between the two isn’t always obvious though as competitive sports are clearly tied to lifelong health and recreation. It’s not a clear either or. Yet, at the same time, the needs of recreation and sport can often conflict. Competitive aquatics requires bigger and deeper pools, a lot of dedicated pool time, and cooler water temperatures. The Strategy tries to strike a balance by recommending that a 50 meter pool be something that HRM only undertakes in cooperation with other partners. A new 50 meter pool won’t be a go it alone municipal project. The Strategy calls on HRM to start planning for the replacement of Centennial with an updated regional training and competitive aquatic centre and to seek out partnership opportunities.

On the recreation side, the Strategy notes that HRM really relies on its network of supervised beaches to deliver recreation, but that that is increasingly problematic because of water quality issues. More efforts will be needed to ensure our lakes are safe to swim in, otherwise HRM will have to invest in some very expensive pool projects to provide the same level of service.

One area of recreation where HRM is behind what is being provided in the rest of the country is splash pads. HRM really relies on the municipal supervised beach program to fill the gap, but water quality and access issues mean that supervised beaches can’t do everything that splash pads can. Splash pads also fill some very different needs, particularly for younger children. The Strategy recommends HRM invest in a Regional system of splash pads with Dartmouth, Eastern Passage, and Timberlea being short-term goals. Kudos to the Dartmouth Splash Pad Society for helping to make the case for Dartmouth.

In terms of other municipal investments, the replacement of the Needham Centre and the Halifax Common outdoor pool are immediate items identified in the Strategy as both facilities are under performing and at the end of their life cycle. Both need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

Council unanimously accepted the Aquatics Strategy.

Flyers: Council gave first reading for a new bylaw concerning flyers. Flyers are loved by some and despised as wasteful litter by others. The Herald does provide people with the ability to opt out and my personal experience was that after two or three weeks, the flyers stopped coming (opt out by emailing flyerdelivery@herald.ca). While the Herald does provide an opt out, many people have complained to Council indicating that they have opted out, but the unwanted flyers keep on coming. Some people also never opt out, but also don’t pick them up, allowing unwanted flyer bundles to pile up.

While many on Council would have liked to have created an opt in program for flyer delivery rather than an opt out model, doing so would have violated the Charter of Rights and Freedom’s provisions around freedom of expression. While a pack of Flyers isn’t exactly War and Peace, freedom of expression still applies and it would be hard to argue that an opt in bylaw minimally infringes on that right.

So what Council opted for is to put some teeth behind the Herald’s existing practices. HRM will encourage anyone who doesn’t want to receive flyers to contact the Herald to opt out, but the bylaw also creates a standardized no flyers sign. If the Herald continues to deliver to homes with a no flyer sign, than the paper can be fined for doing so. The bylaw also requires that flyers only be left on doorsteps, in mail boxes, mail slots, or a newspaper tube in hopes of minimizing the number of wayward flyer bags. The bylaw isn’t a major change, but hopefully it will address some of the problematic situations that, for whatever reason, haven’t been easily addressed. If you wish to stop getting flyers please email flyerdelivery@herald.ca

Photo: CBC

Parking Transformation: You’ll soon start to hear more about the big changes coming to parking meters in HRM this year. Council awarded a tender for new parking pay machines to Cale Systems. What this means is that, if all goes according to schedule, by the end of the fiscal year, HRM’s 1,400 meters will be replaced with 240 pay stations. You’ll be able to pay by card, app, tap, or coins and the time purchased will be linked to your license plate. It’s going to be a significant change, but the result will be a more user-friendly parking system and more efficient enforcement for HRM.

Switch Dartmouth. Photo: DDBC

Open Street (Switch) Support: Council supported a request I made for a staff report on ways that HRM can reduce the cost of street closures for open street events, such as Switch. In other cities, open streets aren’t always a one-time annual event. Some places have made them a much more regular occurrence. In Bogota, where the concept of open streets originated, the city closes 121 kms of streets every Sunday. Closer to home, Ottawa closes 50 kms of streets every Sunday during the summer. This year, Minneapolis is running seven open street events.

Switch is an awesome event, so why can’t we hold it more often? The main barrier in HRM is cost, particularly policing. One third of Switch Dartmouth’s $30,000 budget are municipal costs. HRM tried to reduce the cost burden by asking the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act to allow traffic control personnel (the people who holds signs at construction sites) to close streets for events. This would reduce costs because traffic control personnel are paid a lot less than a extra-duty police officer! The Province, however, had concerns about allowing traffic control personnel to operate at special events and wasn’t willing to amend the Motor Vehicle Act or the incoming Traffic Safety Act.

So with no relief from the cost of policing coming from changes to the rules, it’s back to HRM to consider what sort of municipal commitment we should make. I asked staff to look at creating a grant program specifically for street closures and for HRM to consider taking on the cost of policing directly. It’s worth looking at because Switch will likely never grow much beyond what it is now as long as we expect organizer to come up with tens of thousands of dollars just to pay HRM. The benefits of Switch are significant and include community, recreation, health, environment, economic etc. I’m very confident that HRM gets way more back from open street events than what it currently or might put in. We’ll see what comes back in terms of options.

Heritage¬†(Downtown¬†Halifax): Council had two large heritage reports to consider. The first concerns what to do about all the buildings in Downtown Halifax that aren’t registered heritage buildings, but that were identified as potential heritage in HRM by Design back in 2009. Since HRM by Design was enacted, HRM has created two heritage districts in Downtown Halifax to protect neighbourhoods with intact collections of heritage buildings. The two districts are Barrington Street and Schmidtville. Work has continued and a third district covering the Old South End (south ends of Barrington and Hollis streets) will be completed shortly, and a fourth district, encompassing Historic Properties and, potentially, Province House is envisioned.

Not all of 2009’s potential heritage buildings are located in either an existing or potential heritage districts though. Seventy-one potential buildings aren’t and won’t be part of a district, leaving them with no protection. The 71 were originally 104, but since 2009, 33 potential heritage buildings have been demolished before HRM could complete any sort of assessment as to whether they should be registered. Some examples include the old Bank of Montreal branch across from the Central Library, the CBC Building, and several houses off Spring Garden Road near Schmidtville. If HRM doesn’t take any action and the rate of demolition remains steady, it’s likely that most of the remaining 71 will disappear over the next two decades.

Our heritage system in Nova Scotia is weaker than what’s in place in many other Provinces. In Nova Scotia, municipalities can delay demolition or modifications to registered heritage buildings for three years, but after three years, the building’s owner has the ability to act as-of-right and municipalities are legally bound to issue a permit. This is a pretty big gap in the rules since it turns demolition into a when, not an if, in instances where a property owner is willing to wait. Even with that flaw though, Downtown Halifax’s registered heritage buildings have faired much better than the potential buildings. While 1/3 of the potential buildings have disappeared, there have been no demolitions of registered heritage buildings during the same time period. Registration doesn’t guarantee a building’s survival, but it clearly does help, and, when coupled with incentives, can actually ensure a building’s survival. Since 2009, the Barrington Street Heritage District and the financial incentives associated with it has seen major restoration work undertaken on virtually every building on the street. The heritage district has been a success.

So where does that leave Downtown Halifax’s remaining 71 potential heritage buildings? HRM has typically relied on property owners to apply for registration, but in this instance, Council has directed that each of the 71 survivors be assessed to see if they’re significant and worthy of registration. Assessing a property without the owner applying may seem heavy-handed, but it’s worth noting that this bulk assessment approach is actually where most of HRM’s registered heritage properties came from back in the 1970s/1980s. Not everything old is worth saving, but I expect many of the potential heritage buildings will end registered and protected. It’s work that should have been undertaken after they were identified in 2009 and waiting clearly had a price, but I’m glad that it’s now getting underway before it’s too late.

Some of District 5’s heritage buildings

Heritage (Protection): The other heritage report Council had to consider was improving the incentives and protections for registered heritage buildings. Protecting heritage always involves a carrot and stick and Council is looking at improvements on both fronts. Council accepted staff recommendations to:

  • waive building permit fees for registered buildings
  • increase funding to HRM’s incentive program (grants fo repairs) to $300,000 a year
  • increase the maximum incentive grant from $15,000 to $25,000
  • increase the property tax exemption to non-profits who own a registered heritage building
  • allow for more flexibility in redevelopment of registered buildings by allowing for a development agreement process in all plan areas via a future amendment to the Regional Plan
  • revise the heritage registration criteria to better account for post-Victorian heritage

While Council accepted the staff recommendation, the real test will be ensuring that these improved incentives are built into the budget in 2020. It’s easy to say yes to a staff report, it’s harder to find room in the budget when Council is trying to balance all the competing demands for funding, while not hiking taxes in any sort of dramatic way.

While the list of improvements that HRM can actually implement is all carrot, Council is also looking to tighten the rules to better protect heritage buildings and potential heritage buildings and for that we’re going to need cooperation from the Province. The recent demolitions of historic mansions on Young Avenue has shown that when it becomes a race between heritage registration and demolition, demolition will win every time. The process to register a building takes place in public and just takes too long. An owner can always go and seek a demolition permit before HRM can complete registration. Other provinces allow for the creation of a temporary freeze to allow the heritage assessment process to reach a conclusion, but there is no option to do that in Nova Scotia, which means that by the time a threat to an important, but unregistered, building is identified it’s almost always too late. Allowing for a freeze and eliminating as-of-right demolitions after the three year wait period has expried will require the Province to amend the Heritage Property Act. Council directed staff to do further work on identifying a specific ask to the Province and then return to Council so that we can formally request (again) changes to the Heritage Property Act.

Other:

  • Tender award for part of the score clock and video production replacement at the Metro Centre
  • Accepted some of the proposed community boundaries for Shearwater, Eastern Passage, Westphal and Cole Harbour and deferred others for further consideration
  • Signed off on continuing HRM’s relationship with the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society where the DHMS manages HRM’s collection and two historic houses in Dartmouth
  • Approved exceptions to the district capital policy to allow Councillor Karsten to donate to the Eastern Passage Lions for bookcases as part of FirsT Books Canada and to allow Councillor Streatch to help fund ultrasound equipment for the Musquodoboit Valley Memorial Hospital (the later would have been a vigorous debate if it was anything other than district capital)
  • Scheduled public hearings for developments on Argicola Street, Quinpool Road, and Wellington Street
  • Held public hearings to approve a Noise Bylaw exemption for Glen Arbour Golf Club (weddings), rezoning for 90 Club Road in Harrietsfield, and an eight storey building at Robie/Compton/Cunard
  • Awarded grants under the interim museum grant and the tax relief to non-profits programs
  • Requested a staff report to require recorded votes at HRM’s Committee of the Whole (no more show of hands), and on trail signage
  • Appointed a new HRM development officer
  • Approved the approach for a more detailed look at HRM’s capital spending this summer
  • Awarded a sole source contract to the Commissionaires of Nova Scotia for several the Public Gardens, City Hall, and several other municipal sites
  • Provided funding from the Hammonds Plains Area Rate for improvements to the Hammonds Plains Community Centre
  • Requested that the mayor write the Province to request an order in Council to allow fluorescent yellow-green crosswalk signs

2 Comments

  1. From where is the money coming to purchase the private lot extending into Sir Sandford Fleming Park?

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