Council Update: Centre Plan District 5 Amendments

Agenda, Harbour East

The last mile of the Centre Plan marathon has begun. Staff have released an updated draft of the Centre Plan’s Package B and it’s now making its way through community councils and committees on its way to Regional Council and a possible September public hearing. It was before Harbour East on Thursday where I moved a number of possible amendments for Regional Council to consider.

If you’ve been following the Centre Plan process, you’ll recall that the Centre Plan is the new plan to guide growth and development in the Regional Centre (Dartmouth inside the Circ, and Peninsula Halifax). The idea is to modernize our hopelessly outdated plans, and create certainty around development by clearly identifying where growth will go and what form it will take.

The Centre Plan has been a massive undertaking and so HRM decided in 2019 to break the work into two parts: Package A and Package B. Package A set the rules for where HRM is expecting to see lots of growth and was approved by Council in Fall 2019. Below is a map showing all the zoning that was put in place in Package A.

Lands Rezoned in Centre Plan Package A

Package B is now making its way to Council and it covers everything else in the Regional Centre including industrial areas such as the North Woodside Industrial Park, parks, institutional lands like hospitals and universities, and established low density residential neighbourhoods. Package B also includes Downtown Halifax, which is a growth area that would have fit more with the Package A lands except for the fact that Downtown Halifax already had a modern plan in place as a result of HRM by Design. Updating it was less urgent as a result and so Downtown Halifax was folded into Package B. Package B also has some minor changes and updates to the work done in Package A that have arisen over the last year and half of working with Package A in the real world. The combination of Package A and Package B will make for one complete Centre Plan. Here’s the proposed zoning for Dartmouth (click to open a full size PDF)

Most of the Package B lands are established residential neighbourhoods that are zoned ER-1 (one unit plus a secondary suite), ER-2 (two units plus a secondary suite) or ER-3 (townhouse or three units plus a secondary suite). Cluster zoning has also been introduced, which allows for multiple small units on the same property. Cluster zoning applies predominately to trailer parks right now, but could be a way to enable tiny home developments in the future.

No plan is ever perfect, especially one of the Centre Plan’s size and scope. Like in Package A, I advanced a number of specific changes at Harbour East for Regional Council to consider when the Plan comes forward for first reading. I’m not 100% sure what my ultimate vote will be on these items as that will depend on staff’s response and on any feedback provided in the future public hearing. Here’s what I proposed that Harbour East recommended to Regional Council:

Southdale Future Growth Node
Probably the most significant item in District 5 in Package B is the Southdale Future Growth Node. The Southdale Growth Node covers the vacant land between the North Woodside Industrial Park and the residential development off Lynn Drive and Gaston Road. A large portion of property is a wetland (Eisener’s Cove) with the former Research Council lands next to Dartmouth South Academy being the only portion with any existing development. Up until recently, most of the property was owned by the Provincial government through the Crown corporation, Innova Corp. Being under government ownership meant it has attracted little to no interest from anyone for years.

When Package B began, staff identified the Southdale lands as a Future Growth Node. A Future Growth Node is a sort of placeholder that HRM has applied in the Centre Plan to lands that require more comprehensive planning to guide future development. Future Growth Nodes are typically large tracts of vacant or underused property that require that sort of big picture view. Examples from Package A include Dartmouth Cove, Shannon Park, Mic Mac Mall and Penhorn, all of which, except Mic Mac, have had detailed site specific visioning in the past. The Southdale designation was anticipatory as there was no actual request from anyone to do anything with the Southdale property, but HRM felt that if that should change, the Southdale lands are significant enough to require a dedicated planning process of their own.

What has changed recently is Innova Corp sold most of their lands and the property’s new owner is exploring options for development. The owner has partnered with Clayton and are looking at a residential development that would possibly feature low cost housing (Clayton is calling it obtainable) while preserving the wetland as a park. As a result of this interest, I moved a motion recommending that, upon completion of the Centre Plan, that HRM initiate a comprehensive planning process for the Southland Future Growth Node. There are potential opportunities here for the community. There is the potential to secure the wetland area as a park with formal walking trails and to fix the lack of a connection from Lynn Drive/Gaston to Mount Hope. There are transportation access challenges though to consider and details to work out as well as to exactly what lands could be developed, and at what scale. Sorting out where the boundary will be for industrial uses in the North Woodside Industrial Park and new residential development will also be important. I expect that we will be talking more about the Southdale Future Growth Node in 2022, maybe even late 2021.

Charles Street
Change ER-1 to ER-2
Charles Street is an interesting little street. It’s a dead-end and has a mix of housing types ranging from single unit homes, to three and four unit buildings. ER-1 is the lowest density zoning and would make several of Charles Street’s existing buildings non-conforming. A slightly higher density ER-2 zone might be a better fit.

Portland Street, Hawthorne to Old Ferry/Maynard
Extend Potential Five Corners Heritage District and Change to ER-1

One of the things I championed in Package A was a potential Five Corners Heritage District. Five Corners hasn’t changed much in over 100 years. It’s an amazing collection of late Victorian to 1930s architecture and it includes relatively modest housing right on up to several large homes farther up the hill on Portland. It is an excellent cross-section of period architecture. Enacting a heritage district takes time though and HRM’s approach in the Centre Plan is to zone potential residential heritage districts as ER-1 to limit change until a heritage district can be enacted. The Five Corners’ boundaries as first conceived didn’t include the uphill part of Portland Street, leaving the large Victorian homes outside the potential district. HRM should look at changing the boundaries of the potential district and the associated zoning so that the risk to potentially important heritage properties is minimized.

48 Rodney Road and PID 41430869
Increase Permitted Height to 20 metres from 14 to match Neighbours Pub site

These properties are right next door to the old Neighbours Pub site. They really aren’t developable by themselves because of a Halifax Water easement (the main sewer/stormwater line in the neighbourhood runs across them). The only way they can realistically be put to use is by combining them with the Neighbour’s site. Neighbours has been purchased by a developer, who has since purchased these properties as well. With the lands now under common ownership, it might make sense for them all to have the same 20 metre height limit.

317, 321, and 325 Prince Albert Road
Increase Permitted Height to 26 metres from 20

These three lots on Prince Albert Road in Grahams Grove have all been purchased by a developer. They’re already zoned Corridor with a height limit of 20 metres (it’s a spot that HRM has identified as appropriate for growth). The owner has requested an increase in the height from 20 metres to 26. HRM has applied 26 metres to other corridor zones that cover large sites and that don’t border established residential areas. The Prince Albert lots sit in between the Twin Lakes property (12 storeys) and the Prince Albert/Glenwood hotel (16 storeys) and aren’t adjacent to any established residential. Permitting some additional height on these lands along the lines of what the Centre Plan has allowed in similar locations could make sense.

10 Maple Street
Reduce Permitted Height from 14 metres to 11

The Roman Catholic Church has requested higher order residential zoning for parts of their property around St. Peter’s Church instead of institutional zoning. This is presumably to provide the Church with options for residential use. The staff analysis indicated that this made sense and they recommended a 14 metre height limit. I have suggested a lower height of 11 metres for the residential portion that fronts on Maple Street due to very sizable hill that any potential future building would be situated on. 14 metres is a modest height for the higher order residential zone, but there is almost two storeys worth of height gain at this spot simply due to the topography. That should be taken into account.

Pine and Myrtle
ER-3 (townhouses) instead of ER-2

The former Plumbing Barn site at Pine and Myrtle has been purchased and the new owner is looking to redevelop the land. The property is an odd one in that it has been an out-of-place almost warehouse like use in a residential neighbourhood. The new owner has indicated an interest in adding a small office space and townhouses to the property, which would require ER-3 instead of ER-2. Pine already has several traditional rowhouses and several older homes with almost no space between them, while Myrtle Street has several larger multiunit buildings. Given the neighbourhood character, townhouses could be a good fit here and is an opportunity to see this vacant property filled in with something that is a better fit for the location.

29 Victoria Road
Zone Downtown Dartmouth or Higher Order Residential instead of ER-1
29 Victoria Road is a bit of a difficult one. The property is directly behind the new Lotus Point building and was purchased by the same developer after Lotus Point was built. They tore down the small rundown apartment on site with the intent of creating a surface parking lot to supplement the high demand for spaces in Lotus Point’s garage. Unfortunately for Lotus Point, the zoning for 29 Victoria doesn’t match. It’s a principle of planning law that you can’t use one property to support the use of land on another property if the main use (in this case a large apartment building) isn’t permitted on both. Since a multi-unit apartment building isn’t a permitted use at 29 Victoria, the property can’t be legally used for Lotus Point parking.

Having existing housing torn down to be replaced with surface parking is not a good planning outcome! It’s not something that should be rewarded or encouraged. My starting feelings on this are tempered somewhat though because, from a practical perspective, this location is challenging. It’s small and squished between Lotus Point and the cemetery. It’s difficult to see the owner opting to do much with the property given its small size, and the close proximity of Lotus Point. The practical choice here is the property likely sits empty indefinitely or it gets rezoned to allow for Lotus Point parking, with the potential for some future reuse should circumstances change. The Centre Plan does require parking lots to be paved, landscaped, and buffered from the street, which would clean up the site. I have suggested, somewhat grudgingly, that HRM consider zoning the site either Higher Order Residential or Downtown Dartmouth with limited density to allow the property to be used for surface parking for now, with the hope that, in the future, circumstances will change and it’ll be possible to turn it back into housing.

7 and 11 Mount Hope Avenue
Site Specific Policies

The whole boundary between industrial, commercial, and residential in the North Woodside Industrial Park has been somewhat challenging to pin down. Besides questions about the Southdale Future Growth Node, 7 and 11 Mount Hope Avenue next to the Dartmouth General is a spot I have been puzzling over. The owner of the two lots is exploring his options for redevelopment and, while details aren’t settled, he is looking at a commercial/residential project that would complement the hospital. The owner has a track record of working with the Dartmouth General, including providing 7 Mount Hope to the hospital for free for drive thru COVID testing and vaccinations, and providing software for the Dartmouth General Foundation’s charitable auction. The owner would like zoning that allows for residential and the Dartmouth General Foundation has written Council in support of that request.

While 7 Mount Hope Avenue is vacant, 11 Mount Hope is home to a multi-unit warehouse. The two properties are zoned industrial, but the surroundings are mixed and include ball diamonds, the Dartmouth Lawn Bowls Club, a fire station, the Dartmouth General, a privately-owned medical building, and an HRM owned office building. It’s not really an industrial setting even though it’s very much inside the North Woodside Industrial Park, but it’s not really a residential area either. It feels like an industrial zone isn’t the right fit, but also neither are any of the Centre Plan’s residential zones since the Centre Plan’s residential zones either limit commercial use, or come with design requirements meant for places like Portland Street. This feels like a unique spot and situation so I have requested that staff consider a site specific policy that would allow for residential uses by development agreement so that there are some options, but also so that Council retains a higher degree of control of this somewhat unique spot.

Green Village Lane (PID 41028531)
ER-3 instead of ER-2
On Green Village Lane there is a vacant piece of property between Green Village Park and Portland Street (where Green Village Lane curves). As it turns out, this property is actually owned by HRM. HRM has owned this piece of land since 2001, when it was acquired as part of the Green Village Lane development. The original intent was that it would be home to a new fire station. That project has obviously never come together and HRM has been sitting on this land for 20 years.

Holding property indefinitely for a fire station project that may never happen isn’t a great use of a scarce commodity (urban land!). I plan to follow up on the status of this piece, but for Centre Plan purposes, it makes sense that the townhouse form that already exists on Green Village Lane should be allowed on this property as well. If HRM were to opt to sell the land in the future, that would make it clear what the permitted use is. I have suggested the zoning change from ER-2 to ER-3 since ER-3 is the townhouse zone, but if it turns out that HRM has a potential use of the land, it might also make sense to zone it Institutional. I will be interested to see what staff’s response is on this forgotten property!

10 Lancaster
ER-2 instead of Institutional Zoning (portion of property)
The new First Baptist Church on Lancaster is well under construction. The Church has way more land than they need and they have already subdivided off a portion of their lands adjacent to the highway for future apartment development (enabled in Package A). Package B has the remainder of the Church’s lands zoned Institutional. To satisfy access requirements, the Church has had to develop a secondary driveway on Cannon Terrace. The Church, however, has frontage on Cannon in two different spots. Their Cannon frontage closest to Viridian isn’t needed for access and is undeveloped. The Church has indicated a desire to subdivide this portion to create a single residential building lot, which would be about the same size as the other lots on Cannon Terrace. ER-2 zoning, like the other residential lots on Cannon, likely makes sense for this potential new building lot.

79 Crichton Avenue,
Change Institution to Higher Order Residential

Edgemere on Crichton Avenue is a publicly-owned retirement home. The Centre Plan has it zoned as institution when all the other retirement homes are zoned as higher order residential. Residents live independently at Edgemere, which really makes it an apartment building, not an institutional use. The higher order residential zone likely makes more sense, although this is more of an academic argument since it’s extremely unlikely that anything will happen with this Metro Housing property.

25 Arthur Street
Higher Order Residential instead of ER-3

The apartment building at the end of Arthur Street off Pleasant is zoned ER-3. It might be better to zone it higher order residential to prevent it from becoming a non-conforming use.

Park Zoning

Two minor corrections to properly zone three HRM properties as Park. PID 41208059 on Newcastle Street (part of Newcastle Street Park) is zoned ER-1 while a walkway between Green Village Lane and Marilyn Drive is zoned ER-3. They should have Park zoning to reflect their use and municipal ownership.