Council Update: Bus Stop Theatre, Roadside Memorials, Snow Clearing

Bus Stop Theatre. Photo: Star Metro Halifax

Meeting agenda June 4, 2019 here

Bus Stop Theatre: The main item on Council’s agenda was staff’s recommendation to not provide funding to the Bus Stop Theatre. The Bus Stop Theatre was founded in 2003 and is the last affordable, small, black box theatre venue in town. It’s run by a non-profit cooperative and is a hub for the arts community. Unfortunately, although the Bus Stop is nearly 20 years old, the theatre doesn’t own their building. For all of that time, they’ve been renting. The building’s owner has been kind to the theatre over the years, but is now looking to sell. She is willing to give the Bus Stop Theatre the chance to purchase the building before it’s listed on the open market. That means that the Bus Stop Theatre has to raise $725,000 in a short period of time. The Bus Stop’s request was for a one-time grant from HRM of $500,000.

Unfortunately, the Bus Stop Theatre’s timing was terrible. The request came just after HRM completed the 2019/2020 budget, which was a difficult process with some tough choices. As a result, HRM staff recommended that Council not provide a grant at this time and instead continue discussions with the Bus Stop with an eye towards a possible contribution in the future.

I understand why HRM staff made the recommendation, but the difficult part is waiting may mean that there is no Bus Stop Theatre to invest in later. The building’s owner can’t wait forever and requires some sort of indication that the Bus Stop could pull-off the purchase. The negative staff recommendation set off a deluge of emails to Council. In my 2.5 years, it’s certainly been one of the top five email generators.

Recognizing the importance of the Bus Stop Theatre, Council tried to find a way to meet the coop’s needs without messing with the 2019 budget. Council rejected the staff recommendation and instead moved to approve a one-time grant of $250,000 spread over the 2020 and 2021 budgets. The grant is conditional on the Bus Stop providing more information to satisfy HRM that their plans are feasible, and that the Bus Stop is able to secure the rest of the money. On the latter point, the Theatre is off to a good start with promising conversations with the Province and word that an anonymous donor is willing to put forward $100,000 to top up HRM’s grant. Almost halfway there.

I was happy to support the Bus Stop Theatre, but this latest cultural proposal once again raised the point that HRM really doesn’t have any sort of cultural spaces plan and, as a result, everything comes at Council in the form of a one-off request for funding. Council has supported the Khyber, the Cultural Link, and now the Bus Stop, but there are still other projects in various stages of development out there looking for grants. It would be helpful to have a plan that assesses what the cultural sector’s needs are, what the priorities are, and what HRM’s commitment will be. Councillor Mason made a motion for a cultural spaces plan back in 2016, but it hasn’t come forward. I asked about a Cultural Spaces Plan during the debate and staff indicated some preliminary work is underway. It’s something that I will raise again.

Johanna Dean Ghost Bike at Windmill and Albro. Photo George Anderson

Roadside Memorials: The other piece of business on Council’s agenda that attracted some attention were proposed changes to the Streets Bylaw to enable roadside memorials. Technically, HRM’s Streets Bylaw doesn’t permit roadside memorials right now, but it’s not a provision that HRM enforces. The lack of policy around memorials arose as an issue last year after a two-vehicle collusion in Fall River claimed the lives of both drivers. One family erected a memorial, but the other family didn’t want one up and HRM was caught in the middle. The Fall River tragedy made it apparent that some basic rules around roadside memorials are needed and Councillor Streatch brought forward a motion to formally engage staff on the issue. Staff spent the last several months looking at how other municipalities approach memorials and, at Tuesday’s meeting, staff returned with the results of their efforts to get general direction on what the rules should be in HRM.

While staff were careful not to recommend requirements that are overly onerous, Council still identified several areas of concern with the suggested approach, particularly the proposed one-year time limit. Council was generally of the opinion that if a memorial is being maintained and isn’t causing any operational issues, there really wasn’t any need to take it down. I wholeheartedly agree with that.

In District 5, I think of the cross that was erected in memory of Brian Rozee along Prince Albert Road in 2012. The small cross was tucked out of the way at the base of a telephone pole and didn’t interfere with anyone walking along the Greenway, it didn’t generate complaints that I’m aware of, and it didn’t distract drivers. It was there for about six years and it shows up in the Google Streetview images in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017. What’s significant is that each time the Google car drove by, there was a different set of plastic flowers attached to Rozee’s memorial. Grief is unique to each individual and, clearly, for someone who cared about Rozee, the memorial meant something since they returned each year to change the flowers. So why would HRM arbitrarily remove the memorial, when it wasn’t in the way, wasn’t generating complaints, and was being actively tended too? My colleague agreed that a strict one-year time limit is a bit too arbitrary. There is a human element here that is unique to each tragedy.

Other issues that Council identified where we asked staff to take a second look included: an exemption on size limits for ghost bikes, to not require contact information on memorials, and to not restrict memorials from being attached to power poles. Staff will consider Council’s feedback and will return with a draft bylaw in the future.

Snow Clearing Contracts: It may finally feel like summer outside, but in City Hall, we were awarding snow contracts for the coming season. Most of District 5 is cleared by our in-house staff. The only sections cleared by contractors are Crichton Park and Manor Park. Crichton and Manor were cleared by Elmsdale Landscaping last year and Elmsdale once again won the tender for the area so there is unlikely to be any significant change in District 5. I’ll say that I don’t get many complaints from the areas where Elmsdale works. They appear to do a good job.

Still, some improvements have been built into the new tenders. Contractors will now be required to salt and clear at the same time, not clear and then return with salt later. They’ll also be required to have at least one piece of ice-breaking equipment. Both of these measures should help with the rain/freeze storms that are so difficult to deal with. With those weather events, experience has shown through several winters now that once everything freezes, it’s takes days at least to get back to normal. Climate change may mean that those sorts of storms are more and more common and our snow contracts need to adapt. I’m pleased with the changes.

There was some discussion concerning the cost of the contracts. For Halifax Peninsula West and Clayton Park/Fairview, Council accepted the staff recommendation to not go with the lowest bid. That’s fairly unusual, but, in this instance, I think it was the smart choice. The low bidder, Tracey’s Landscapping, was previously contracted to provide service in Halifax Pensinsula West, but they didn’t deliver last year. HRM had to fine them and, in one instance, bring in other contractors to complete the work that Tracey’s was suppose to do. Tracey’s also operated a depot from the old Ben’s Bakery site on Quinpool Road in defiance of HRM’s land-use bylaw. Finally, Tracey’s bid price wasn’t just the low bid, it was the low bid by a wide margin, suggesting that they hadn’t really costed out the implications of the service changes that HRM is seeking. As a result, staff recommended going with other bids. You get what you pay for and we should pay for quality service.

Other:

  • Approved a flypast for Canada Day
  • Requested staff reports on providing a donation towards the creation of Vimy Park at Vimy Ridge, and on requiring councillors running for provincial or federal office to take a leave of absence
  • Authorized the CAO to enter into an agreement with the Halifax and Area Model Yacht Club for weeding at Sullivan’s Pond (Club and HRM will split the cost if the Club is interested)
  • Passed the Flyer bylaw
  • Changed the budget presentation format for 2020 to eliminate the lengthy pre-budget presentations that largely duplicate the departmental presentations that follow in January and February
  • Approved a withdrawal from the Hammonds Plains Area Rate to fund landscapping improvements at Hammonds Plains Consolidated School
  • Gave one-time authorization for a craft beer sampling event at the Park Avenue Community Oven as part of B’ye Locals Dog Days of Dartmouth event
  • Awarded the special event grants for 2019

2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Sam. Yours is generally the first email I open! Well written and balanced, not afraid to speak your mind.

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