Agenda April 14
Agenda April 9 (hospital parkade)
Regional Council’s second virtual meeting had two motions from me related to District 5 issues. First, a potential fishway between Lake Banook and Sullivan’s Pond.
Once the Sawmill River project is finished, fish will be able to swim upstream from the Harbour to Sullivan’s Pond. Going beyond the Pond though is impossible right now because of the two big culverts at Hawthorne Street, and the Lock at Findlay Park. For the Sawmill River project to reach its full potential and open up the much larger Banook and Mic Mac watershed, the fish need a way to swim under Hawthorne Street and then around the Lock. Enter, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Halifax Port Authority (HPA).
HPA is currently expanding the South End Container Terminal to handle larger ships. That work has required infilling the Harbour, damaging the aquatic environment. When fish habitat is damaged by development, the federal government requires the creation of new habitat elsewhere. This is commonly called offsetting. How much offsetting is required depends on how much habitat is lost. HPA could do something typical to offset the damage from the port expansion, like install reef balls, but instead, HPA and DFO are looking at something much more ambitious: fish passage from Sullivan’s Pond to Lake Banook. This is potentially a big win for HPA, DFO, HRM, and the environment.
A consultant has been engaged and a design for fish passage is being worked on. The likely outcome is the culverts at Hawthorne will be removed (they’re close to the end of their life anyway) and will be replaced by a Bridge. Alternatively, the culverts could remain and be retrofitted for fish passage. To get around the Lock, a fish ladder will likely be installed in Findlay Park. The fish ladder would probably be located where the lock’s existing overflow is now since the channel and passage underneath the pedestrian bridge already exists.
My feedback to staff has been that whatever happens in Findlay Park, the design has to reflect that it’s a park. That stream is a popular spot for kids to muck about in unstructured play, and it can be quite a pretty spot in the summer when the yellow irises bloom. What is built can’t just be a utilitarian concrete ditch to get fish from A to B, it needs to reflect its park setting.
The point of my motion at Council was to provide staff with direction to prioritize and work on this potential project with HPA and DFO. I’m hopeful that this partnership will produce something great and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what eventually comes back to Council. Timeline for construction of this project is an unknown right now since there is still lots of planning work to complete, but it won’t be 2020. Many thanks to HPA and DFO for their leadership on this.
The other District 5 inspired motion at Council concerned the placement of sidewalk patios. Every year (well except maybe this year), restaurants and bars in HRM install temporary patios. This spilling out into the public space provides businesses with additional seating, and brings much needed street life to our Downtowns. A good sidewalk patio is a lovely addition to any main street.
The main limitation on sidewalk patios is the need to ensure that there is enough space for pedestrians to pass. HRM regulates the location of sidewalk patios through the Sidewalk Cafe Bylaw. The Bylaw requires sidewalk patios to be placed immediately adjacent to the applying business and for businesses to provide for at least 2.1 meters of open sidewalk. So the layout is always as follows: street, 2.1 meter sidewalk, and then patio in front of the business.
Whether a business can have a patio generally depends on whether there is parking out front for a temporary sidewalk to be extended into, and on whether there are any other obstacles, such as light posts and street planters, in the way. Over the last year, I have become aware of three examples, all on Portland Street, of business owners who would like to install a patio, but are blocked from doing so by the layout of the street. On Portland, the street planters and lack of parking on both sides of the street greatly reduce potential patio locations.
There will always be situations where it’s impossible for a business to install a patio because of the layout of the street around it, but HRM’s existing design criteria is overly rigid, resulting in more permit denials than might otherwise be the case. The main problem is the requirement for patios to immediately adjoin businesses. Elsewhere in the world, more flexible placement setups are allowed. All it takes is a willingness to allow servers to regularly cross small sections of sidewalk. Checkout the picture below from New York City
If HRM’s design requirements were relaxed, on Portland Street, there could be additional opportunities for businesses to install patios since they could place them between the street planters. Street, patio, sidewalk, business rather than street, sidewalk, patio, business would open up more options. Councillor Mason is also excited about adopting more flexible criteria since he has encountered similar challenges over the years in Downtown Halifax. Hopefully staff will identify a way to relax our requirements to allow for more street life to take place, like it does in many other places all around the world.
The spat between HRM and the Province over how the QEII redevelopment will impact the Halifax Common has reached a conclusion. The Province had previously proposed to purchase/expropriate land from HRM immediately south of the Museum of Natural History to build a parkade. This would have impacted the Bengal Lancers and the Wanderers. The Province was also proposing to build the hospital’s new utility plant on the other side of the Museum at the corner of Bell Road and Summer, which is far from ideal from an urban design perspective given how prominent that corner is.
Councillor Mason led the charge to get the Province to reconsider and once the Province blinked, Council directed staff to see if a creative solution to the problem could be found by giving up more of the Summer Street right-of-way. The hope was that giving the Province more space along Summer Street would allow more of the QEII expansion to remain on the hospital side of the street. What has come back is a partial win. Changing the Summer Street right-of-way turned out to be a dead-end, but the Province was able to increase parking on the hospital side of Summer and relocate the utility plant. There will likely still be a parking garage on the Museum side of Summer, but it’ll be much smaller and will be to the north of the museum, eliminating potential impacts on the Bengal Lancers and Wanderers.
Saving the Lancers and Wanderers from negative impacts is a big improvement. What is still problematic is the urban design. As currently planned, the Common along Bell Road will be bordered by two parking garages and a utility plant. That’s not a great design for one of HRM’s most important and prominent public spaces.
Since the parking garages and the utility plant are all now on the Province’s property though, what happens design-wise isn’t something that HRM has much say in. The Province doesn’t have to abide by any municipal planning or design requirements. With that in mind, I used my time on the mic to directly appeal to the Province to be creative (figured there were probably Provincial staff watching). Most parking garages are functional, but hideous and it’s hard to imagine a more prominent spot than the QEII frontage along Bell Road. Public art could be a way to turn what would normally be a negative into a landmark for HRM and the Province. For a great example of a parking garage that doesn’t suck, checkout the garage at the Kansas City Central Library below!
There are more pictures online of Kansas City’s parking garage than there are of the of their actual Library! It’s not a parking garage, but another example that comes to mind of making lemonade out of lemons is the giant Leonard Cohen mural in Montreal.
That Cohen mural shows up in lots of photos of Montreal, but all it really is, is a blank wall. The Province is going to spend over $2 billion on the QEII redevelopment. For a minuscule addition to that total, we could have something that becomes a landmark instead of an eyesore. I hope the Province thinks creatively here and builds something that doesn’t just transform the delivery of healthcare in Nova Scotia, but also respects and contributes to the public realm around it.
- Entered into an agreement with Armour Group to have them install a protected bike lane in front the Queen’s Marquee rather than put Lower Water Street back together as it was before
- Adjusted conditions of sale for property that was sold to Lake City Woodworks
- Approved purchase of a new fire truck aerial
- Changed the due date for taxes from April 31 to June 1 (see my COVID update from yesterday)
- Requested a staff report on requiring more rigorous reports on the potential impact to heritage properties when new development is contemplated
- Rejected a request by Councillor Hendsbee to reclassify municipal boat launches to enable people to access lakes during COVID-19