Agenda August 18
Blue Mountain Birch Cove:
Blue Mountain Birch Cove was back before Council for the second time in a row and Council was once again flooded with emails in support. On the agenda was a motion by Richard Zurawski that ended up being very procedurally complex. I’ll try my best to explain.
Zurawski’s motion was in response to the staff report from the previous Council meeting where staff recommended against assisting the Nature Trust to secure the lands near Cox Lake because HRM’s finances are limited right now, but also because the lands aren’t located in the core park area identified in Map 11 of the Regional Plan. The lands do, however, appear in Map 11 as “core wilderness.” Staff have been focussing HRM’s efforts around the lands identified as “park boundary (concept)” and not the wilderness area.
What isn’t clear right now is what the difference really is between the core wilderness and park boundary concept labels. Presumably core wilderness means something. As Councillor Mason said, the strategy surely wasn’t to just hope that no one would ever develop them.
Zurawski motion wasn’t for a staff report it was to clarify that the intent was that Blue Mountain Birch Cove would include all of the lands labelled in Map 11, not just the core park area. Where things became a mess procedurally is the Charter requires Council to have the advice of the CAO before making any decisions, which typically manifests itself in the form of the staff report. Council also can’t change a map that’s embedded in the Regional Plan on a whim, that can only be done through a public process. Zurawski’s motion was on the verge of being ruled out-of-order and needed to be recast.
What I helped Richard with instead was a new motion that keeps his intent, but that cleared the procedural hurdles that were in the way. So things transformed into:
- Request a staff report directing that the Parks Planning process for Blue Mountain Birch Cove include the entire backcountry in addition to the core parklands identified in Map 11.
- That the Regional Plan review include considering revising Map 11 for Blue Mountain Birch Cove Park.
- Direct that HRM provide a more fulsome history and timeline of the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Park, including conceptual park maps, on the municipal website.
So what that means is that the existing processes underway for Park planning and the Regional Plan Review will consider the entire Blue Mountain Birch Coves Lakes area.
Council passed a broad motion put forward by Councillor Mason to initiate a process to look at police restructuring. The motion requests the CAO to return to Council with a report on how Council would go about looking at potentially shifting resources from non-core police functions into civilian delivery. Things like traffic enforcement, mental health, crossing guards, etc. The report must include a process for engaging with the public, experts, and the Board of Police Commissioners. The motion is in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased scrutiny that policing is under across North America in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
What Mason’s motion isn’t, at least for me, is abolishing the police. We will always need some sort of armed force in society (at least for the foreseeable future). This is about restructuring how we do things. Armed police officers aren’t necessarily the best use of resources for every task that they have now. Other complex social issues such as poverty, addiction, mental health that often fall on police could benefit from a more community-based preventative approach. It’s worth remembering that policing has always changed and adapted to fit the times. As a recent 99% Invisible Podcast pointed out, paramedics were once part of police forces in many cities, but as healthcare delivery evolved, paramedics became a separate civilian profession. The Police Chief in Dallas summarizes the situation very well
I’m not sure what exactly will come of Mason’s motion. I usually have some sense of these things, but this is a big and complex process that Council is embarking on that will take years to play out, will require feedback from many, many people, and will require input and support from the Provincial government since many of the issues police respond too stem from failures in provincial systems including healthcare, housing, and social assistance. It’s an important issue though that we’ve received an almost unprecedented response on that must be explored. A challenge that will loom large in the 2020-2024 Council’s term.
Dartmouth Heritage Buildings:
It was a busy day for heritage buildings at City Hall with Council approving the registration of two new heritage buildings and scheduling public hearings to consider the registration of several others. Two Dartmouth properties were in the mix, including the old Post Office at the corner of Queen and Wentworth.
The Old Post Office is currently vacant. Canada Post moved to new leased space in King’s Wharf a few months ago because the Old Post Office is just too big a building for their changing needs. Once Canada Post completes the extensive due diligence process that goes into disposing of surplus federal properties, the Old Post Office will be put up for sale.
To try and ensure this important piece of Dartmouth’s history survives the change in ownership, I put forward a motion at Council requesting that the property be considered for municipal heritage registration. The staff report in response to my motion is complete and has been to the Heritage Advisory Committee. The Committee and staff recommended registration and on Tuesday Council voted to schedule a public hearing. I’m hopeful that the hearing will take place sometime in September before Council breaks for the October 17 election.
The other Dartmouth property on the agenda in a very different situation. 64 Wentworth Street is located just a few blocks away from the Old Post Office near Park Avenue and is already a registered heritage building. Unfortunately, it is under threat. The owner has applied to HRM to demolish the building. The house is one of the oldest in all of HRM, dating back to the 1830s/1840s. The large 2nd floor front dormer was expanded at some point in the past, but hiding under that dormer, the property is actually a classic New England style Cape Cod.
HRM staff examined 64 Wentworth and concluded that it is in relatively good condition. With some care, it’s not hard to imagine a restoration, especially given that the lot is so big that there is a great deal of potential to build off the back of the home. It’s noteworthy that the property actually has more development potential under the Centre Plan with the registered heritage building intact than it does as a vacant lot! 64 Wentworth is also located in what is proposed to be the future Downtown Dartmouth Heritage District. Given all of that, there was no way that I could support demolition. Council voted unanimously to reject the request.
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The Heritage Property Act allows registered heritage buildings to be demolished, even if a municipal Council refuses the request, three years after the application is made. So sometime in 2022, the owner of 64 Wentworth will be within her rights to demolish the building, despite Council’s refusal. We’ll see if the spirit of compromise sets in over the next two years.
The topic of ride hail was back before City Hall. I know it feels like the process of introducing ride hail as an option in Halifax has been going on forever! To recap, here’s where we’ve been:
- Council approved changes to the taxi bylaw to relax restrictions in the cab industry. Council also directed at that time for staff to bring back bylaw changes that would permit ride hailing companies to operate in HRM (February 2019)
- Staff returned to Council with broad recommendations around ride hail and Council gave direction to staff to prepare specific bylaw amendments (January 2020)
- Staff returned to Council with the proposed amendments (this is where we were on Tuesday)
So what’s happening with ride hail? HRM’s approach is to license the companies, not individual drivers. I had a lot of concerns about this when staff came forward with this back in January. My worry was that suspended taxi drivers could end up back on the road by going to work for a ride hail company as if their suspension had never happened or that a driver suspended by one ride hail company could end up working for another company. In response, staff adjusted the approach so that the bylaw now prohibits ride hail companies from hiring suspended drivers. All well and good, but how will the companies know who they can and cannot hire? HRM will be the conduit for information and since the companies will need to regularly provide HRM with the names of everyone driving for them, trust but verify is built into the system.
Council did spend a fair bit of time discussing the proposed per trip fee. We know from the experience in other cities that ride hail will generate more traffic and will mean fewer people using transit, walking, and cycling (see the Streets Blog summary of this study or any of the many others out there). Whether ride hail companies continue to attract people away from public transit, bikes, and walking once the companies can no longer afford the unsustainable losses caused by subsidizing trips through the stock market and debt is an unknown. When ride hail prices inevitably rise, will they become more like a taxi service in terms of shaping people’s choice about how to get around or will they continue to chew into more sustainable options? We don’t know. What we know right now is that in the current price environment, big companies like Uber and Lyft will make HRM’s sustainable transportation goals harder to achieve.
On the flipside, ride hail is convenient, the public wants it, and it might help reduce instances of drunk driving. As a way of compensating for some of the damage that ride hailing will cause, HRM proposed a $0.20 per trip fee with the resulting revenue being used to fund transit, active transportation, and accessible vehicles. Per trip fees aren’t unusual and are in place in several other Canadian cities including Toronto ($0.41), Calgary ($0.20), and Vancouver ($0.30). Unfortunately, Nova Scotia’s Motor Vehicle Act prevents HRM from charging a per trip fee and HRM’s request to the Province to change that has, so far, gone unanswered. There is no guarantee that the Province will eventually act, leaving Council in the difficult position of either refusing to allow ride hail companies to come here or foregoing the fee, potentially forever.
Council had a vigorous debate and a motion was put forward to defer a decision pending a response from the Province. I voted in favour of deferral as I don’t see it likely that we will get the power to charge a per trip fee unless the Province feels some sort of pressure to act (it’s not revenue they’ll ever see and there is no constituency out there demanding it). Unfortunately, not enough of my colleagues were in the same frame of mind. Ride hail has apparently too much public support and pressure behind it to be delayed. The deferral was lost 5-12 with myself, Cleary, Smith, Zurawski, and Adams voting in favour of deferral. With deferral going down to defeat, Council was left with the stark choice on ride hail of take it or leave it. I voted in favour of the main motion to proceed, but it’s really not a situation I’m happy about. The bylaw changes will return to Council in September.
I’m not entirely done with this issue. While HRM doesn’t have the power to charge a per trip fee to drivers, we do have the power to license the companies and charge a license fee. I anticipate proposing a new motion at a future Council meeting requesting a staff report on basing part of the annual license fee that the ride hail companies pay be calculated on a per trip basis. Whether the companies pass that expense on as a per trip cost recovery or just pay it themselves would be up to them. That’s not HRM’s business. Essentially, I want to see if there is another way to go about getting to something close to the same result. My motion will be for future bylaw amendments and will not slow down the existing process.
- Scheduled heritage hearings for 40 and 82 Tall Tree Lane, and 1342 Robie Street
- Held two heritage hearings and added 10175 Highway 7, Salmon River and 6047 Jubilee Road, Halifax to the Registry of Heritage Properties
- First reading for changes to the parking meters bylaw in preparation for the arrival of pay machines
- Awarded grants for the Interim Community Musuems Grant Program, and to Volunteer Search and Rescue groups
- Awarded community grants to the Dartmouth Dragon Boats Association and the Sheet Harbour Chamber of Commerce. The two grants initially had a negative recommendation from the Grants Committee. Council referred them back to the Committee for a second look and, after receiving new information from the two groups, the Committee was able to make a positive recommendation to Council
- Entered into an operating agreement with the Musquodoboit Valley Bicentennial Theatre and Cultural Centre (HRM owns their building)
- Approved the District Energy Bylaw for the Cogswell
- Scheduled a public hearing to consider a less than market value sale of a surplus fire hall in Hammonds Plains to the Upper Hammonds Plains Community Development Association
- Endorsed the trail etiquette signs that have been going up on our multi-use trails (like the entrance to the Dartmouth Common) as standard issue for HRM Parks
- Increased the budget for the Mackintosh Depot replacement project
- Approved the budget for private road area rates
- First reading for a new lot grading and stormwater bylaw
- Scheduled two public hearings. One to consider amendments to the Dartmouth Municipal Planning Strategy for industrial lands in Burnside, and the other for amendments that would allow for a multi-unit building at Waverley Road and Montebello Drive
- Requested staff reports on providing a financial contribution to Beirut relief efforts, broadening the inadequate water supply program in rural HRM to include more than just primary residences, a pilot naturalization project to replace the grass on the boulevard on Akerley Boulevard with wildflowers, and on how Council appoints the Traffic Authority
- Directed the CAO to engage with the Province around revising the formula used to calculate mandatory education funding (no hope of that happening)