Forum: Council spent a fair bit of time on the 14th going over the Forum Renovation Feasibility Report. The Feasibility Report is in response to Council’s direction from the 2016 long-term arena strategy. The story across HRM’s facilities is that there is strong demand for ice during peak hours, but there is significantly less demand during the day and late evening. HRM’s challenge is to meet the recreational need without overbuilding to try and address demand that is limited to just a few hours a day. The strategy indicated a need for 25 ice surfaces, which has since been further refined to 24.
The 2016 strategy wasn’t a high-level document. It contained specific actionable plans for various HRM facilities including the Forum. What HRM decided to do with the Forum in 2016 was plan for renovations to improve the complex’s functionality and add a third ice surface. HRM could have pursued building a new facility at another location with either DND or Dalhousie University, but Council rejected both partnership opportunities.
Since 2016, a few things have changed regarding available ice surfaces. First, Council voted to close three rinks (Bowles, Devonshire and Gray) instead of four. The LeBrun in Bedford is attached to an operating community centre and has been kept open on a trial basis. The other change is that it looks like the Bowles will continue to operate as a rink as part of East Coast Varsity Academy. East Coast Varsity indicates that the rink will be available for community usage outside of school activities, which could be a good fit considering that most demand for ice in HRM is focussed on prime-time hours. With the Bowles and LeBrun still in the mix, the number of ice surfaces sits at 26 instead of 24. If Council opts to eventually close the LeBrun, we’ll still have one extra and that doesn’t take into account the possibility that Dalhousie might still go ahead with their own rink. When you put it altogether there could be as many as four extra ice surfaces before a third one is even added at the Forum. As a result, Council was comfortable modifying the 2016 direction to scratch the construction of a new third ice surface at the Forum. This takes the estimated cost of the Forum project from $60 million down to $52 million.
A lot has been made of the Forum’s heritage aspects and what that means as extra costs. Is fixing up the old building worth it? At this point there is no answer. While Council has a rough number for what renovating the Forum with two ice surfaces will cost ($52 million), the key number that we don’t have is what the cost will be of building a new two-ice surface facility, with accompanying community space, and arena seating. What’s the cost to build a new Forum? The only comparison we had on Tuesday was the Dartmouth Four-Pad ($43 million), but the Four-Pad really isn’t a comparable facility because it was built on a greenfield site, doesn’t serve an arena function, and doesn’t have community space. It could very well turn out that, when all the analysis is done, the cost of building new or renovating the Forum is all a bit of a wash. The renovation may even turn out to be the most risky, but least expensive approach. Right now we just don’t know. We have an apple and only oranges to compare it with. As a result, speculating about whether it’s time to demolish the Forum or not is all very premature. Council voted to look at a broader array of options for the Forum and reduce the needed ice surfaces from three to two. This will return to Council in the future for a more fulsome debate with more data on the cost of various alternatives.
Nuisance Bylaw (Smoking): Council approved my motion to look at reversing our recent changes to the Nuisance Bylaw that will prohibit smoking tobacco, on municipal property, including sidewalks. It’s an odd one for me as I don’t smoke and really detest it, but I have come to conclude that the new Nuisance Bylaw’s designated smoking areas approach just doesn’t make practical sense. I wrote a detailed account earlier about why I have changed my mind on this that you can read here. I was pleased that Council agreed to ask for a staff report. This will likely return to Council for debate on September 11 and it will be interesting as there isn’t a clear consensus. More to come.
Multi-District Facilities Agreement: HRM has finalized new agreements with several of the community boards that operate HRM’s large recreational facilities including the Sportsplex, Forum, Centennial Pool, and the St. Margaret’s Bay Centre. This has been a long-time in the making. For the most part it’s dry governance stuff related to how facilities operate and how they report to Council and HRM. Important work, but not something that people get terribly excited about until things go awry. In short, the new agreements provide Council and HRM with more control since now budgets will be approved by HRM.
The really important part on the public service end is that the new agreements set the stage for more commonality in HRM’s services, including one IT system. With a common IT base, the stage is set for a one HRM recreation card. Cole Harbour Place, Sportsplex, Canada Games etc are run by community boards, but they ultimately belong to all of us. You shouldn’t have to buy a separate membership to each one, there should be one HRM card that can be used at any HRM facility. Addressing the governance piece is an essential step towards making a one HRM Rec membership possible. Not all dry governance after all!
Green Network Plan: Of potentially major significance, Council passed the Green Network Plan. The Green Network Plan establishes a greenbelt around HRM. The goal of the greenbelt is to protect environmentally sensitive areas, but also preserve space for traditional rural activities like forestry and farming. When the Green Network was before Council for preliminary policy direction last year, a lot of community groups indicated that the proposed direction was sound, but there wasn’t a robust strategy to implement. Without a solid implementation approach, the plan could become pretty pictures on a shelf. Those doubts have since fallen away and the completed Plan was greeted with enthusiasm. One of those rare moments where people are genuinely pleased with a decision! There are 79 actions in the plan and progress will be reported to Council annually through the Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee. Perhaps the biggest commitment in the Plan is to amend HRM’s Regional Plan to limit and guide development away from important habitats and wildlife corridors. Rather than pretty pictures on a shelf, the extensive work that was done in the Green Network Plan to identify what’s most important in our existing landscape will be enshrined in the Regional Plan.
Affordable Housing Work Plan: HRM’s policy approach towards affordable housing is coming into focus. HRM is a member of the Housing and Homelessness Partnership and the Partnership’s five year strategic plan envisions 5,000 units by 2020. The 5,000 unit target includes 2,750 new units and the preservation/renovation of 2,250 existing units. So far, Housing Nova Scotia indicates that 300 new units have been created through rent supplements/new social housing, there has been reinvestment in 700 publicly-owned units, and 1,650 units have been preserved through financial incentives/assistance. The figures suggest that the preservation/renovation side of the five year plan is well in hand, but the creation of new units is falling short.
In Nova Scotia municipalities don’t directly build, own or operate housing. That responsibility rests with the Province. HRM still has a role to play in terms of regulation and incentives and the municipality has identified six potential areas for action: (1) density bonusing, (2) licensing, (3) planning reform (policy regulatory barriers), (4) municipal funding, (5) surplus municipal lands, and (6) vulnerable communities.
Of the six municipal action areas, density bonusing, licensing, and regulatory reform are probably the most advanced. HRM is looking at landlord licensing, amendments to reduce planning barriers are being prepared, and density bonusing is being incorporated into the Centre Plan.
One of the big questions that HRM hasn’t decided yet is what form density bonusing will take? Does allowing developers to add more density to a site mean that some of those new unit must be affordable or should we simply charge for that extra density and use the money paid to create affordable housing? My hunch is that, in most cases, taking the money will net the most long-term benefit. Privately-owned units can’t be legally made affordable in perpetuity, whereas money collected to assist non-profits who have affordable housing at the heart of their mandate will likely produce more units that stay affordable for longer periods.
I attended a presentation on housing during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference and one of the presenters was a city councillor from Saskatoon. Saskatoon has the same provincial/municipal model as we do: Saskatoon doesn’t build or operate affordable housing, but it does regulate and create incentives. Back in 1987 Saskatoon established an affordable housing fund that is maintained with 10% of the profits that the city makes in land development (Saskatoon directly develops property, which is fairly unusual for municipal governments). Over the last five years, fund investments in Saskatoon has helped create 2,633 new units. Saskatoon is about the same size as HRM in population and 2,633 new units over five years is tantalizingly close to the 2,750 that the Housing and Homelessness Partnership identified in their five year plan. Creating a municipal fund is something that I’m very keen to explore.
Navigator Street Outreach: Council approved a $25,000 grant to the Downtown Dartmouth and North End business commissions to help expand the successful Navigator Program beyond the Downtown core. The Navigator Program is designed to proactively try and assist people who are on the streets with whatever life circumstances have brought them there: housing, employment, addictions, mental health, etc. The existing program is funded by Downtown Halifax, Spring Garden Road and HRM. The expanded program will see the addition of an outreach worker dedicated to Downtown Dartmouth and North End Halifax. The expansion is contingent on $50,000 in Provincial funding through the Building Vibrant Communities program.
Federal Infrastructure Framework Phase 2: Council approved the master list of potential short-term capital projects for submission to the Province for the next round of federal infrastructure spending. The federal and provincial governments recently signed a bilateral agreement that will see an $828 million federal investment in Nova Scotia over the next ten years. For eligible projects, the feds will pay 40%, the province 33% and municipalities 27%. Funding in Nova Scotia will be divided up into four project areas:
- $289.6 million Public Transit
- $381.9 million Green Infrastructure
- $51.2 million Community, Culture and Recreation
- $105.7 million Rural and Northern Communities
Funding will be distributed to municipalities, not-for-profits, aboriginal groups, and the Province. HRM isn’t eligible for the rural fund because the municipal population is more than 100,000. HRM will likely get a portion of the Green Infrastructure and the Community, Culture and Recreation pieces, but how much is an unknown. The Public Transit piece will largely go to HRM though because the funding allocation is based on transit ridership. Since HRM has the only major transit system in the Province, this means 96% of the $289.6 million will go to improving transit in HRM. The timing of completing the Integrated Mobility Plan and the Moving Forward Together Plan really couldn’t have been better!
To get the program started, the Province has asked municipalities to submit projects that could be completed over the next five years. Most projects on HRM’s list haven’t been developed and will need to be further refined: some will proceed and some won’t. Some interesting Dartmouth projects on the list include Dartmouth North Ferry Study, Penhorn Terminal refurbishment, Woodside Ferry Terminal refurbishment, Wrights Cove Terminal, ferry electrification, Regional Centre bike network, new Hawthorne Street bridge at Sullivan’s Pond, Sawmill River Phase 2, Maynard Lake stormwater separation, Alderney Gate Library renovations, and HRM Regional Museum. Again, this is a very, very early list. Not all projects on the list will end up proceeding. You can view HRM’s complete list of potential projects here.
- Requested staff reports on a shared off-leash dog park with the Province in Long Lake Park, maintaining peak hour transit to Ivy Meadows in Beaverbank, and creating an encroachment agreement for a private pool on William Borrett Terrace in Bedford (pool infrastructure is partially on HRM’s adjacent parkland)
- Approved the final design of the Gottingen Street transit corridor
- Amended the public appointment policy to formalize an interview process for external boards
- Finalized the local improvement charge bylaw to pay for HRM’s portion of the Fall River Water extension
- Changed the local improvement charge bylaw to exempt 51 Sandy Point Road in Porters Lake
- Initiated a planning process to amend the Bedford and Sackville municipal plans to update floodplain rules based on the recently completed Sackville River Foodplain Study
- Gave first reading for changes to the Financing and Charges for Homeowners to Resolve Inadequate On-Site Water Supply to ensure that the money borrowed doesn’t exceed 75% of a property’s appraised value
- Approved changes to the Cole Harbour/Westphal plan to allow commercial and office use at the old Beaver Lumber property at the corner of Main Street and Broom Road
- Provided noise exemptions to the Dalhousie and Univeristy of King’s College frosh week events
- Amended the Halifax Municipal Planning Strategy to allow a townhouse development off Brewer Court
- Approved Dexel’s 14 storey proposal next to the Atlantic Hotel on Robie Street
- Established an administrative order for security cameras on municipal property
- Awarded an office space lease in order to combine HRM’s Human Resources office into a single space at Purdy’s Wharf
- Adopted a bunch of new street names
- Signed off on the business plans for areas that charge an area rate
- Deferred approving the Events East Business Plan so that Events East can come and formally present to Council
- Closed a tiny portion of the Bedford Highway so that it can be sold to the adjacent owner (it’s a tiny sliver of land that’s actually at the top of a cliff)
- Directed staff to issue a request for proposals for the compost system and approved an interim two-year extension of the current operation
- Gave first reading to proposed amendments to restrict cannabis facilities to industrial and agriculture areas with appropriate setbacks
- Changed the Heritage Incentive Program to allow for quicker awards so that homeowners will have more time to complete the work
- Approved a plan for long-term HRM support of the Mobile Food Market
- Increased the budget for fire fleet extension to properly equip recently purchased trucks
- Renewed HRM’s annual tax relief for non-profits for the 2018-2019 year
- Approved the 2017-2018 final budget figures and distributed the unexpected surplus to the reserve funds for police job injuries, multi-district facilities, convention centre and general contingency
- Signed off on a grant by the Lakeview Windsor Junction Fall River Ratepayers Association to a senior’s group
- Voted to look at adjusting Regional Council’s procedures to allow for consent agendas