Council Update: Dartmouth Cove, Naturalization, Safer Communities Funding

Harbour Trail in Dartmouth Cove

Agenda, September 13

Dartmouth Cove Response:
Dartmouth Cove was on the agenda at Council. You may have heard that a numbered company with ties to Atlantic Road Construction and Paving wants to infill a large water lot in Dartmouth Cove. The new land would take on the zoning of the adjacent property, resulting in the Park and Community Facility zone. This means that the newly created land would have virtually no development rights. This proposal seems to be entirely about making money off the disposal of pyrrhic slate.

There has been a lot of community concern around this issue, particularly around the impact to the shoreline, access to the Harbour Trail, and the lack of a plan for what would happen to the infilled land in the future (a rocky moonscape like the existing property at the end of Canal Street?). Unfortunately, HRM doesn’t have jurisdiction over infill. The decision on whether infilling in Dartmouth Cove will be allowed or not rests with the federal government.

I don’t love the idea of Dartmouth Cove being used as a dump site, especially when there is no plan for the future. A moonscape isn’t a great use for the Dartmouth waterfront! So back in May, I put forward a motion at Regional Council to look at what HRM can do. I requested that staff

  1. Make a submission to the Federal government during the public comment period of the infill approval process,
  2. Provide Council with a report regarding HRM’s legal rights around the Harbour Trail and access to the site from HRM property, and
  3. Provide a report on a potential planning process for the disposal of pyrrhic slate (it has to go somewhere).

What was before Council on Tuesday was the staff response to #2 of my motion: access to the site and the Harbour Trail. Being a legal/real estate matter, the report was initially classified as in-camera, but I was able to get agreement on declassifying it (subject to some redactions) and it’s now available to the public on the meeting’s agenda page here.

What the report indicates is that HRM has rights to the Harbour Trail. HRM doesn’t actually own the property the Harbour Trail is built on in Dartmouth Cove. The Trail exists because HRM has an easement allowing the municipality to build it on the numbered company’s property. The property owner has the right to cross the Trail to access their property, but they do not have the right to block off access to the Trail.

The other key takeaway is HRM isn’t obligated to provide access to the Dartmouth Cove water lot from the municipality’s property at the end of Maitland Street. This is rather key since the property owner is proposing to truck the slate to the water lot by crossing HRM’s lands. The municipality can’t block the property owner from crossing the trail since HRM doesn’t own that land and the easement terms allow for that, but the municipality isn’t obligated to provide access across the lot that it owns outright at the end of Maitland Street. That lot isn’t a public street right-of-way.

HRM’s property at the end of Maitland Street. Provincial lands (Develop NS) to the right and then the proposed infill site

If HRM refuses to provide access across the Maitland Street lands, the owners would need to find another means of accessing the property. They could get there by barge, but the more likely approach, if the Province allows it, would be to cross Build Nova Scotia’s (formerly Develop Nova Scotia) land. Build Nova Scotia owns property on three sides of the potential infill site. There is nothing HRM can do to prevent access to the site from a public street onto Provincial lands and then onto the water lot if the Province allows it. If the fed’s approve the infill application, the practical question of whether the site is accessible for infill will depend on what Build Nova Scotia opts to do.

A field of lupins and native plants is a favourite space along the Harbour Trail. No mowing here.

Naturalization Strategy:
Council approved expanding the municipality’s naturalization efforts beyond the pilot phase into a dedicated program. The idea behind HRM’s naturalization effort is to stop mowing publicly-owned lands that aren’t being used for a purpose that requires them to be mowed. Grass provides little ecological benefit and we mow a lot of land without much thought simply because a neatly trimmed look is what we’re conditioned to expect and what we’ve always done. Naturalizing doesn’t mean unkept weeds though, natural spaces can be beautiful spaces.

HRM’s naturalizing efforts began when Councillor Nicol and I advanced a request to do less mowing during budget deliberations back in 2017. That produced a recommendation to pilot naturalization in 2019 and the municipality has since completed and supported a number of projects, including on a small section on the Dartmouth Common.

HRM garden staffer spreading wildflower seeds on the Common
Result of the seeding, a new patch of meadow: Butterfly Bush, Summersweet, Wallflower, Rudbeckia, Evening Primrose, Yarrow, Coreopsis, and more

Up until now, HRM’s naturalization projects have always been carried out off the side of someone’s desk. HRM’s intent, subject to budget deliberations this coming year, is to dedicate staff to the effort by bringing on a full-time employee to coordinate and manage naturalization projects along with two seasonal gardening staff to support the work. Potential locations for future naturalization projects in District 5 that have been suggested by residents that could be considered include North Woodside Community Centre Park, more areas on the Dartmouth Common, Sullivan’s Pond, the Harbour Trail, Sawmill River, Northbrook, Oathill Lake, and the shoreline along Lake Banook. I’m very keen to see more naturalized spaces in HRM.

Safer Communities Funding:
Thanks to $3.3 million in funding from the federal government’s safer communities program, HRM will be hiring some additional staff in Parks and Recreation. Funding from the feds will enable an additional youth counsellor and a youth navigator. Both staff will work with at-risk youth. HRM will also use the funding to hire a social policy strategist, a community outreach coordinator, complete a review of youth services, and develop a drug education series in cooperation with the Nova Scotia Criminal Justice Association. The funding will be awarded over the next four years.

This is all good news, but one thing to be cautious of is long-term sustainability. The feds love to pilot new initiatives, but then when it comes time to provide ongoing sustaining funding, they’re often no where to be found. Absorbing the cost of four staff and a program series will likely eventually be up to HRM.


  • Oval naming rights were renewed with Emera (terms to be disclosed publicly once the agreement is finalized)
  • Dedicated $750,000 in event funding for the 2024 Junos should HRM be selected as the host city
  • Approved a $15,000 event grant to SMU for the U Sports Cross Country National Championship
  • Requested a staff report on potential development of Canal Cays in Wellington
  • Initiated a Region wide process to allow small-scale market gardens in all zones (already permitted in the Centre Plan so this would be for the rest of HRM)
  • Approved Councillor survey response to Province’s Service Exchange Agreement review
  • Approved sale of municipal property to the North Preston Medical Society
  • Appointed new development officers
  • Established a public participation program for the review of the planning department’s public participation program (yes you read that right, basically HRM is going to engage with the public around how we do public engagement in planning decisions)


  1. Thanks Sam. On the point of naturalization. I agree we can do more and the waterfront trail is a good place. Not sure I would agree with Sullivan’s Pond or Sawmill Creek. Maybe smaller portions of those areas. Keep in mind I am an old fart and I like seeing nicely cut lawn spaces.

    • Thanks Barry. I don’t think a space like Sullivan’s Pond would ever be no lawns, but portions could potentially be naturalized. It’s not about no mowing anywhere, it’s just about getting to a bit better balance.

  2. Thanks for the update Sam!
    Speaking of trails, I hope Council and staff will investigate ways to unite the wonderful trail around Lake Banook. The trail ends at Birch Cove and picks up again at the bottom of Brookdale Crescent. The resulting detour is inaccessible, dangerous and inconvenient (up and down steep streets without sidewalks). A short path connecting Lakeside Terrace to Edenbank Terrace would make a huge difference.

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