Agenda, Regional Council November 23
Grants for Outdoor Community Rinks:
In 2017 and 2018, Downtown Dartmouth had a community rink. The rink was set up behind the Findlay Community Centre and was created through the hard work of some local families. Unfortunately, changes in insurance rates put an end to the Findlay rink in 2019. What had been a minor cost escalated into the thousands. It’s an issue I pursued with staff and I had gotten an agreement for Findlay specific funding for one year, but that resolution came too late to make putting up the rink worthwhile. As sometimes happens, when momentum is lost, volunteers drift away and take up other pursuits. Efforts to relaunch the rink the following year didn’t go anywhere and the project has been on hiatus ever since. Done in by insurance.
The Findlay rink’s challenges are common to outdoor rinks. Fresh on the job at City Hall, Councillor Morse was facing the same challenge for a very successful community rink in Fairview. Morse asked for a staff report and the report came back to Council with a recommendation to create a grant program to subsidize the insurance cost of community rinks that are located on HRM property. The grant program would provide non-profit community groups wanting to operate a rink with a grant of $3,500 to cover the insurance. Staff suggested starting the grant program (subject to budget approval) in 2022, but Council opted to amend the motion to provide interim funding for this year so that Fairview’s rink doesn’t run the risk of going the way of the Findlay’s.
What this means is that it might be possible to bring back the Findlay Rink. If you’re interested, please send me an email. Staff at the Findlay Community Centre are looking at what might be possible since all the equipment for the rink is still available. It just needs the community to come back together to share the work. Staff at the community centre are looking to hold a meeting at the Findlay Community Centre at 6:30 on Monday, December 6. It would be lovely to restart this project so if you’re interested in getting involved please let me know.
Council approved two key strategies relating to HRM’s climate change plan, HalifACT: net-zero buildings and electric vehicles. Both are important as emissions from operating buildings and transportation account for a majority of HRM’s greenhouse gases.
Council approved an administrative order that will require any new HRM buildings to be net-zero. HRM has had a practice of seeking LEED certification for its buildings and that approach has driven some very energy efficient buildings, like the currently in progress renovations to the Woodside Ferry Terminal. Building to net-zero, however, will require a bit more work. HRM has started piloting net-zero in projects, including in the Needham Washrooms and the new Fire Department Headquarters. Going forward, net-zero will be HRM’s new standard for new buildings. In situations where net-zero might be infeasible, HRM will require energy consumption that is 50% better than the 2017 National Energy Code. The idea is to have buildings that aren’t net-zero, to be built so that they can become net-zero in the future. Net-zero construction will mean higher upfront costs, but savings over the long-term through reduced operating expenses.
The real tricky issue for net-zero buildings isn’t what to do with HRM’s buildings since we have direct control of that, it’s what to do about the community as a whole. A significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in HRM comes from our buildings. HRM would like to see the building code tightened to require more energy efficiency, but the code is created by the federal government and then modified and adopted by the Province. HRM doesn’t have the ability to make its own building code. HRM could offer incentives through density bonusing, but the experience from the Downtown Halifax plan is that that approach doesn’t work all that well. It mostly ends up getting used to reward developers for things that they were going to do anyway because better efficiency pays off for anything that you’re planning to operate over the long-term, like an apartment building. Staff will return to Council with options around density bonusing in the future, but it would be far better for the Province to act. It will likely not be possible to meet HalifACT’s goals for building emission reductions without Provincial action.
The second piece before us was HRM’s electric vehicle strategy. Transportation is a major source of emissions in HRM, accounting for 20% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions. HRM has a direct role to play here in switching over our own fleet, but also in helping support electrification more broadly in the community.
The electric vehicle strategy envisions HRM installing public charging stations at a number of sites and encouraging and supporting the installation of charging stations in other locations. Recommended charging station locations for HRM are mainly libraries and recreation centres, including the Zatzman Sportsplex, the new building at Grahams Grove, and Cole Harbour Place. HRM is seeking funding for 50% of the cost of installing charging stations through Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure Fund. Installing public charging infrastructure is expected to cost HRM $3,700,000 over the next four years.
HRM is also hoping the Province will make charging infrastructure a requirement of the building code. While the gasoline engine appears to be on the way out, very few of the new buildings under construction contemplate parking garages full of electric vehicles all needing to charge. HRM would like to require charging infrastructure in new construction, but it’s not something we have the power to do. We need the Province to amend the Charter or, better yet, amend the building code so that the requirements become Province-wide. HRM will be lobbying the Province and hopefully this is a change that they will make.
The last major component of the electric vehicle strategy is HRM’s own fleet. HRM’s light-duty fleet consists of 541 vehicles including cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVs. An analysis of fleet usage indicates that all of HRM’s 541 vehicles, including the most heavily used pickups, could be switched to electric. The daily usage for each of HRM’s light-duty vehicles doesn’t exceed the battery capacity so they could all be used for the day and charged after hours. While electric vehicles have a higher upfront cost, HRM’s modelling indicates that they will save HRM money over the long-term through lower operating costs (maintenance and fuel). Switching HRM’s fleet to electric will cost about $30,000,000.
Council approved the electric vehicle strategy, which means the next hurdle will be funding it in the capital budget.
Councillor Mason’s sweeping 2018 motion on how HRM relates to the Province regarding housing was back before Council. Staff recommended that HRM (1) update its Housing Needs Assessment, (2) develop an Affordable Housing Strategy that will review the effectiveness of existing programs and broaden HRM’s role, (3) prepare a report exploring how to organize a municipal housing organization and (4) engage with the Province regarding the new government’s plans for Municipal Affairs and Housing.
All of staff’s recommended actions were fine and really didn’t attract any debate. What Council spent time on was whether we should take over housing responsibilities from the Province? Should we turn the clock back to 1996 when housing was delivered by HRM’s former municipalities?
The staff position wasn’t favourable. Staff argue that in provinces where housing is delivered by municipalities, there are still problems and therefore we shouldn’t get involved. I didn’t find that argument particularly compelling because it’s impossible to run the alternate scenario of what if housing in those other cities was delivered by the Province like it is here? Would it be worse? No one can really say. Councillor Mason wasn’t happy with that portion of the report and felt that we should explore whether there is Provincial interest in HRM taking over Metro Housing, contingent on funding also being provided. Mason put forward an amendment to have those discussions.
I supported Mason’s amendment. My thinking is that the Province has done a pretty poor job of housing. The 1990s was a neoliberal age and investment in housing basically stopped entirely. Government stopped seeing actually building units as one of their core responsibilities. This has created the conditions for our current crisis since HRM’s population didn’t stop growing in 1996. The need for rental housing that is based on a household’s income has increased! Even now, the Province doesn’t see themselves taking on a direct role. While the recent Housing Commission report makes many good recommendations, what is notably absent is any commitment from government to build anything itself. There is no one solution to housing, but I’m very skeptical that either the private market or the non-profit sector are going to be able to fully fill the space that government exited and is refusing to re-enter.
If housing were HRM’s responsibility though, we would build units. While the Province and Feds stopped seeing themselves as builders, municipalities still build all kinds of things. It’s a core part of what we do. We’re not burdened with ideological baggage. We also do land-use planning and the ability to directly integrate land-use planning with the construction of affordable housing would be a big plus.
What HRM doesn’t have is the resources, but there is a fairly obvious solution to that. Right now, around $180 million of what is paid in property taxes is actually transferred to the Province to fund provincial services, mainly education. It’s not good practice to have money collected by one order of government going to fund services of another order of government. The original intent of municipal reform in the 1990s was for the Province to stop doing that, but that shift of tax revenue has never happened. It’s hard to ask the Province to give up those revenues when that would mean raising provincial taxes and lowering municipal ones. A complicated shifting of burdens that politicians worry the public wouldn’t understand. In short, the province worries they would get blamed for higher taxes.
Shifting housing to HRM though could neatly solve some of this issue since the cost of affordable housing, something the Province hasn’t been doing a good job of anyway, would go with the shifting tax revenue. Rather than just giving up tax dollars, the Province would also be able to shift a service.
I’m not sure what the art of the possible on this might be, so I was happy to support Councillor Mason’s amendment to have some preliminary conversations with the Province. That wasn’t to be though as Council rejected even discussing the idea. The vote was lost 7-9 with myself, Mason, Lovelace, Cleary, Morse, Cuttell and Stoddard voting in favour and the rest, except Councillor Smith who was absent, voting against. So whatever happens on housing going forward, it won’t involve HRM taking over and fixing Metro Housing. Here’s my speech to Council
173 Crichton Avenue:
Most of Crichton Park was built in the decades after World War Two, but the neighbourhood’s history goes back further than that. Before there was Crichton Park, there was farmland and a Black community. The Black community was located on Crichton Avenue north of intersection with Glen Manor. The rest of the land on either side of Crichton Avenue all the way down to the edge of Brightwood was owned by the Keelers.
The Keelers were a farming family that first settled in Crichton Park in 1802. They cleared the land and prospered. Their original 1802 farmhouse still stands at 16 Lakeview Avenue. 16 Lakeview’s age is why it’s not aligned with the street: it was there long before Lakeview Avenue was! Over time, as the Keeler family grew, they built more homes on their land. In total, there are six Keeler built homes in Crichton Park.
During our meeting, Council held a public hearing to register 173 Crichton Avenue as a registered heritage property. 173 Crichton Avenue was built sometime around 1917 for Ernest Keeler and is an example of a “craftsman bungalow.” The building’s exterior has some Andrew Cobb elements, but whether the well-known architect was the designer of 173 Crichton Avenue or not is unknown. Cobb’s residential commissions weren’t all documented and the builder of 173 Crichton is a mystery. It might be a Cobb house or it might be a Cobb inspired house. The truth has been lost to time. 173 Crichton is well-preserved and with its registration, it will now be protected into the future. Many thanks to the owners who applied to register their home.
- Approved a less than market value sale of a surplus firehall in Elderbank to the Musquodoboit Valley Ground Search and Rescue Team
- Awarded cleaning contract for Sackville Sports Stadium
- Adopted some housekeeping amendments to the Regional Watersheds Advisory Board
- Initiated a planning process to allow an awkwardly shaped lot in Bedford to be rezoned from townhouse use to a single unit
- Initiated planning process to consider amendments to the allowed uses at the Aerotech Industrial Park and the creation of a service boundary for the Park
- Started the amending process to create an interim density bonusing program for land outside the Regional Centre (density bonusing already exists inside the Regional Centre through the Centre Plan)
- Approved the Musquodoboit Harbour Community Development Plan
- First reading for revisions to the User Fee Bylaw to allow for the sale of bulk transit tickets at a discount to non-profits and event organizers
- Scheduled a public hearing to amend the Bedford West plan
- First reading to tighten up credential requirements for assessments of heritage buildings
- Approved an event grant for the 2022 Archery Youth and Masters Pan American Championships
- Requested a number of staff reports (1) neighbour mediation program, (2) Fall River water extension, (3) potential heritage status for Kidston Lake Park (Rockingstone) in Spryfield, (4) changing the definition of adult bookstore in Downtown Halifax plan (Venus Envy), (5) limiting the hours that businesses can operate in residential zones in the Centre Plan (Preston and Jubilee), and (6) defining and posting service standards for grass cutting and tree trimming