Council Update: Cogswell, Garbage Truck Side Guards, United Memorial Church

Cogswell 60% Plan

Cogswell: The major item on Council’s plate actually preceded the regular agenda. It was the Committee of the Whole discussion on the 60% design plan for the Cogswell Interchange Lands. The Cogswell was built in the 1960s as the first interchange for the planned Downtown expressway (Harbour Drive). Harbour Drive would have walled Downtown off from the waterfront and was thankfully never built leaving Halifax with an interchange with no expressway. The dream for decades has been to get rid of the Cogswell’s overbuilt network of roads and put the land to better use. That dream is now getting closer to reality. In 2014 Council approved the Cogswell Lands Plan to set the direction for the Cogswell’s future: a high-density mixed-use residential and commercial neighbourhood. Council accepted that vision in 2014 and directed staff to refine the Plan to a 60% design. The 60% Plan was what was back before us on Tuesday.

So what’s done at 60%? The 60% design locks in the street grid, but detailed design for the parks and land-use planning for the development blocks still needs to be completed. Council accepted the 60% design and directed staff to hold detailed public engagement on the Cogswell’s public spaces and to return again when the design is at 90%. HRM produced a video that gives a good overview of the 60% design that you can watch below.

The 60% design attracted some opposition from a variety of activist and business groups. Twenty-three signed off on a letter asking HRM (1) not to require the project to be self-financing for fear that the need to balance the books would diminish the overall design, (2) not lock-in the road network, and (3) work collaboratively with stakeholders on a robust public engagement. Some unease about the Plan isn’t surprising. For the last several decades the answer to many of our municipal hopes and dreams was the Cogswell. Want a performing arts centre? We’ll put it in the Cogswell. Affordable housing? Cogswell. Art gallery? Stadium? The easy answer has been Cogswell. The space has been the go-to for every big idea so I’m not surprised that when it comes down to making actual choices about the space that there is some unease.

My take on the Cogswell Plan is that it’s solid when you consider the site constraints. While it’s a large piece of land, it’s actually very narrow. It stretches out north to south but has very limited width. In that narrow width, we have to put Barrington Street and all the truck traffic to and from the Port. The trucks will be with us for the foreseeable future and the Port is vital to our community’s economic well-being. The road network needs to be able to accommodate that use until some future date when we get the trucks into the railcut, onto rail, or start ferrying them to the Circ in Woodside. The Cogswell lands are also cutoff from the water by DND’s facilities, the Casino, and Purdy’s Wharf, and the Halifax Wastewater Treatment Plant is located there. Finally, the site has a significant elevation change and borders on several large privately-owned blocks of land (Trade Mart Building, Scotia Square, etc). When you put it all together, it creates significant design constraints. This space of hopes and dreams can still be amazing, but it can’t be everything.

The previous direction to staff was to work with Cogswell’s constraints to develop a plan that is:

  1. walkable and transit oriented
  2. prioritizes active transportation
  3. reestablishes the fine-grain Downtown grid
  4. reconnects the Downtown to the North End
  5. is mixed-use
  6. includes well-designed public spaces and
  7. incorporates renewable energy.

Measured against the goals and the constraints, Ekistics’s Cogswell Lands Plan that has been refined into the 60% plan gets a lot right. The plan extends the relatively isolated Barrington Greenway, giving cyclists a separated lane from the Bridge right into Downtown. It makes the Barrington Greenway into something that’s a lot more useful. There is also separated lanes on Cogswell Street. There will be a new transit hub, and bus lanes on a portion of Barrington Street, and the design allows for future adaptation as HRM refines its transit plans (potential to include transit priority signaling at the roundabouts, and bus only lanes on Cogswell Street). The angles at the roundabouts are designed to slow incoming traffic and the lane widths are slimmed to fit NACTO standards. All of the East-West connections that can be made are, including extending Cogswell Street right down to Upper Water Street, and restoring a lost street (Proctor) at Cunard Court. The street network is solid. This isn’t a car dominant space.

Barrington Street Transit Plaza
Separated bike lanes and sidewalks by the Treatment Plant

As for the developable lands, the blocks are small and rectangular and very much in keeping with what was there prior to the Cogswell’s construction. They fit the norm for the rest of our historic Downtown. The new street layout plus the fine-grain blocks reconnects the North End to Downtown, helping to heal a decades old scar. I also like the idea of adding significant density to the area to grow the Downtown population. Some developers have been worried that the Cogswell will absorb too much of the available demand and hurt other projects. There may be some truth to that, but it’s really not HRM’s job to stage manage what projects are viable at any given moment. Everyone competes in the marketplace. I’m confident that the Cogswell’s phasing means that it won’t wreck other ambitions, but we do have to maximize the opportunity. For Downtown to support retail, for Downtown to be an attractive destination for employers, it needs a sizable residential population. The Cogswell presents the opportunity to do that in an area where height isn’t a big issue. It’s worth stretching the development timeline out over a few extra years to build in the density rather than filling the area more quickly with mid-rises that won’t house as many people.

Building massing (not actual design). Potential to allow significant height in an area that already has tall buildings

The Cogswell Plan isn’t all roads and development. It includes two new Parks: Poplar Park by the Treatment Plan and Granville Square. I’m particularly excited about the Granville Square park since it showcases historic properties and makes Granville Mall into a connected space rather than a dead-end. I’m concerned though about Poplar Park (working name only). The Park is located at the very entrance to the Cogswell lands at the north end of the site. The video of course shows the Park full of people and that’s easy to do in a rendering, but I’m not convinced that will be the reality. Will anyone actually go to a Park that’s located at the north end of the site and on the edge of the Old North End too? I’m not convinced. Getting past the accordion music in the video, I also wonder if the proposed Ordinance Plaza in front of the Morse’s Teas Building will actually be used as anything more than a crosswalk between Hollis and Lower Water Street? Is a space between incoming and outgoing traffic really a spot that people will hang out in? If the answer to that turns out to be no, it’s not the end of the world since Granville Square should still work well. I’m glad that the public spaces are still being looked at and will be the subject of detailed public engagement as the Plan moves from 60% to 90%.

Granville Square

Finally, thanks to a recent Charter amendment made by the Province, HRM has the power to compel developers in the Cogswell to hook-up to a proposed district energy system that would take advantage of the waste heat at the Sewage Treatment Plant. Halifax Water is still looking at it, but the Cogswell should be home to district energy.

While the Cogswell Plan is a good one, the letter sent to HRM clearly indicates the need for further consultation. I was happy to support Councillor Mason’s amendment to require detailed engagement on the public spaces and land-use plan. Council voted in favour of moving forward 16-1 (Whitman opposed)


Side Guard Equipped Garbage Truck in Boston. Photo: Urban Mechanics

Garbage Truck Side Guards: Council extended the curbside solid waste pickup contracts for two more years and directed staff to negotiate the installation of side guards on all contracted vehicles. Equipping garbage trucks with side guards is important because garbage trucks spend a large portion of their time on residential streets where the odds of encountering vulnerable people (pedestrians and cyclists) is higher. The tragic effects are felt in our community. In 2001, 32 year old Corey Mock was cycling north on Gottingen towards the bridge when he collided with a right-turning garbage truck. He went under the truck and died. His ghost bike is the one that sits in the green space between the lanes on North Street on the approach to the Macdonald Bridge. In 2014, 83 year old Elizabeth Foston was run over by a garbage truck after she slipped while rushing to get the trash out on Maynard Street in Dartmouth. She survived, but lost both her legs.

We have no way to know whether side guards would have changed the outcome in either of the recent HRM collisions, but evidence from places that require side guards is compelling. After the UK made side guards standard equipment for most trucks in 1983, there were 73% fewer cycling deaths from side impact collisions. Pedestrian deaths also declined, although not as significantly (20% drop). The UK did see an increase in minor injuries after side guards were made mandatory, which makes sense since side guards don’t prevent collisions, what they do is reduce serious injuries and deaths. Unfortunately, the federal governments in the US and Canada have both been unwilling to follow the European example and make side guards mandatory. While HRM can’t force every truck on our roads to have side guards, we can control the municipal fleet.

The easiest way for HRM to address side guards on garbage trucks would be to make them a requirement in the contract with the haulers. The complicating factor though is that, although HRM is ready to proceed with side guards, the municipality is still considering accessibility and inclusion changes related to garbage pickup. Since the contracts were up for renewal Council’s choice on this issue was (1) go out for new contracts that include side guards, but potentially box HRM in on future accessibility and inclusion changes or (2) extend the current contract for two years, but be left to cover a larger share of the cost of side guard installation since a side guard requirement is an amendment. I was happy to extend the current contracts and absorb the price of side guards because, even if we went out for new contracts, it is likely that a significant portion of the cost of side guards would end up getting passed onto HRM in the form of higher bid pricing. No matter what we do, HRM will pay something so better to just get on with it while still keeping our options open around potential service level changes. My colleague agreed. The issue of what side guards will cost HRM (potentially $4,000 per truck, $316,000 for the whole fleet) will return to Council in the future once staff have had a chance to negotiate with the contractors.

United Memorial Church 1919 and today

United Memorial Church: Council considered registering the United Memorial Church on Kaye Street in North End Halifax as a municipal heritage property. The church was designed by celebrated architect, Andrew Cobb and was built in 192o to house the Grove Presbyterian and Kaye Street Methodists congregations after their churches were destroyed in the Halifax Explosion. This makes the United Memorial Church one of the very first United Churches in Canada, preceding the formal 1925 merger of most of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches by five years. Unfortunately, the Kaye Street United Memorial Church has seen better days. As the congregation struggled to keep up with maintenance, a lot of Cobb’s fine detailing around the rooflines has been removed along with the top of the bell tower. While a lot of the rich detail has been lost, the church’s basic form and structure remains intact. It doesn’t have the feel of a building that’s too far gone to be saved or that has lost its significance.

Sadly, the United Memorial Church is under threat. The church was sold in 2016 to a developer who wants to demolish it to build a seven storey condominium. Council hasn’t made any decision on the condominium proposal, but the developer holds a valid demolition permit for the church that can be exercised at anytime. The developer has indicated that converting the building to residential like St. George’s Mews (corner of Queen and Morris), 2476 Robie and 2128 Brunswick isn’t feasible.

Developer’s proposal for the site

So if the developer wants to demolish the United Memorial Church, how did it end up being considered for heritage registration? The Heritage Property Act allows third-parties to submit heritage applications and that’s what happened with the United Memorial Church. The applicant for the United Memorial Church came from a neighbourhood resident and member of the group fighting the development proposal.

Before coming to Council, all potential heritage properties are evaluated by the Heritage Advisory Committee using a scoring matrix. To be registered, buildings must score 50 or more. The United Memorial Church received a score of 51. The scoring system is a bit flawed in that the age category prioritizes Victorian architecture and earlier while penalizing newer buildings like the United Memorial Church. There is a lot that has happened since 1917 that is also worth protecting, but our outdated heritage system doesn’t recognize that.

Much of the discussion at Council fixated on the score of 51 and the suggestion that the Committee had been overly generous. A lot of Councillors were also not impressed with the unusual third-party application process. Concerns over the third-party application and the development proposal, I think, clouded the issue. All that Council should have been concerned with was does the property meet the standards for registration? For my part, I was satisfied that, given the Church’s history, that it’s worth saving. I accepted the Heritage Advisory Committee’s recommendation, but most of my colleagues didn’t. The motion to register the United Memorial Church failed 4-13 with myself, Nicoll, Hendsbee and Smith voting in favour and the rest voting against. It’s too bad as, had the building been registered, the developer might have had to take a second look to see if there is any potential for adaptive reuse. While the fate of the development proposal is unknown, one way or the other, the United Memorial Church is likely to be demolished. A pity.


  • Granted noise bylaw exemptions for Pride and the Jazz Festival
  • Allowed the Village on Main Business Improvement District to place a  sign in the green space between Tacoma and Main
  • Established an administrative order for the interim museum grants program
  • Approved partnership agreements with Zhuhai, China and Gdyina, Poland
  • Amended the Special Events grants program to create a distinction between annual and one-time events, reduced the budget minimum for events to qualify, and added more flexibility on application deadlines (two intakes rather than one)
  • Started the process of planning for the Ragged Lake Industrial Park (terms of reference for the background studies)
  • Discontinued the pilot program of having the bus to the Eastern Shore (Route 370) stop at Mic Mac Mall due to a lack of boardings at the Mall (just 3 a day)
  • Gave first reading to consider a 14 storey building at the corner of Robie and Pepperell and for a townhouse development at Brewer Court in Cowie Hill
  • Asked for a staff report to develop a park plan for the former Rehabilitation lands in Cole Harbour
  • Supported the selection of William Brewer as Halifax Town Crier for Districts 5 and 7
  • Requested staff coordinate with the Province to look at improvements to the intersection of the Beaverbank Connector and the Old Sackville Road.