Council Update: King’s Wharf, Centre Plan, “temp” signs

Agenda, Harbour East November 4
Agenda, Regional Council October 26

King’s Wharf Approval Lot E
The last planning hurdle for the next phase of the King’s Wharf development has been cleared. Council approved a development agreement on Thursday for Lot E, clearing the way for Fares to get started on their next building.

Lot E is located next to the railway crossing opposite the Anchorage where the Marco Polo cafe is. The overall plan for Lot E was finalized back in February 2020 when Council approved amendments to the King’s Wharf Plan after a public hearing. The amended King’s Wharf Plan created a much more urban scale for the development with shorter blocks and better design requirements around how buildings are oriented to the street. The revised plan didn’t provide any additional density (1,500 units remains the allowed total for the development), but where that density is located shifted. The new plan puts the greatest density into four tall towers along King’s Wharf Place, allowing heights to step down closer to the water. With a height limit of 82.5 metres, Lot E is one of the locations at King’s Wharf where a really tall building (27 stories) will be located.

King’s Wharf Block E

The next addition to King’s Wharf will have a tall tower, but the street presence will be significantly better than previous buildings. Commercial retail will be close to the sidewalk in shorter buildings creating a lively street wall. Lot E has much more of a Main Street feel, which is a better fit for Downtown Dartmouth. The development will also have an interior courtyard with outdoor restaurant space and a playground. The street presence of Lot E is well done and marks a good change in style at King’s Wharf. Council unanimously approved the development agreement for Lot E.

I did ask about wind and the emergency access. A wind study was done for Lot E and because the design sets the tower back from the street with shorter buildings to buffer wind washing down the tower, modelling indicates the tower won’t cause any additional wind issues. As folks would know though, this is already a windy spot with the winds coming down the harbour right at King’s Wharf and Alderney. It will sometimes be breezy here because it already is.

Although Fares now has the approval to start on the next building, the requirement to provide an elevated road over the tracks for emergency access remains. You might recall that when the King’s Wharf Plan was amended, the requirement for a road bridge over the tracks was changed to a more limited pedestrian/emergency access bridge. The change was made because the original concept for a parking garage style corkscrew shaped ramp was really unbuildable and likely wouldn’t have accommodated a large emergency vehicle, like a fire truck. The pedestrian/emergency access bridge will run alongside Lot E and must be built in order for an occupancy permit to be issued for Lot E. In a nutshell, Fares can start building the next building, but no one can live in it without an emergency access route. Plans for the ramp will come forward in the future for Council to consider.

Centre Plan:
Still with planning, Council held a public hearing to approve Centre Plan Package B. When the Province officially approves the plan revision, the full Centre Plan will come into effect, concluding six years of intensive work. That will likely happen sometime this month or maybe in December. It has been a long road to get to this point. Many thanks to all the residents who provided feedback in the process and to all the staff who worked on this huge project.

The Centre Plan’s lasting contribution is that for the first time, we have a plan that very clearly directs growth to specific areas and sets clear rules as to what development will look like. Gone are the old days of development by development fights in which neither developers nor residents could be sure what might be allowed. With the passing of Package B, we have closed the door on that era. Hooray!

There is no rest for HRM’s planners though. With the Centre Plan delivered, my challenge to HRM’s Planning Director was “great, now do it for the suburbs in a quarter of the time!” I’m not kidding either. Suburban development isn’t going away, nor should it. We need to, however, build better suburbs that are setup for transit, that provide more variety in housing, and that provide more services close at hand. This is our next big planning challenge.

Temporary signage. Photo: Glow, The Event Store

Temporary Sign Bylaw
The temporary sign bylaw was back before Council for a third time. The sign bylaw has been in and out of Council deliberations for the last several years as Council has been working on updating the bylaw and incorporating industry feedback. What was left for us to consider was how long a temporary sign can stay up, whether box signs are considered permanent signs or not, and where signs can be located. Council accepted staff’s advice to maintain the recommended limits on where signs can be placed, but we made some ill-advised amendments on time limits and box signs that have created some illogical results.

Box sign. Photo: Acme Sign

Box Signs
There are over 400 planter box signs in HRM. Back in the late 2000s, HRM encouraged the use of box signs as a prettier version of traditional temporary signage. The idea was for businesses to replace metal signs on wheels with something nicer. It didn’t entirely work out though as few of the planter boxes were ever gardened and the box signs became permanent fixtures on the landscape. In the updated bylaw, staff proposed reclassifying box signs as permanent signs, which generated some concern from the sign industry.

Industry’s complaint is that a few of the local land-use bylaws only allow businesses to have one permanent sign, meaning that if they already have a permanent sign on their property, the change could make an existing box sign illegal. I felt some sympathy to that point of view because HRM originally encouraged businesses to adopt box signs as temporary signs. The current approach of treating box signs as temporary, however, is also a bit absurd since they are effectively permanent. They never come down or move. They stay up for years. There is nothing temporary about them.

I agreed with staff’s recommendation to reclassify box signs as permanent signs, and what I pitched to my colleagues was grandfathering in existing box signs that were setup under the old rules. If we grandfathered the old signs, with time, they would slowly disappear or be brought into conformity with whatever local land-use bylaw applies to their location. A much gentler approach than forcing businesses to update them all at once. My colleagues, however, instead opted to continue treating box signs as temporary in a narrow 8-7 vote. Doesn’t make much sense to me, but that’s what Council decided.

Inflatable temporary sign. Photo: Giant Promotions

Time Limit
The other thing that Council got wrong in my opinion on temporary signs was modifying the time limit for wheeled metal ones, and inflatables (and as it turns out box signs since we left them in the temporary category). Staff had proposed allowing temporary signs to stay up for 90 days, which is the norm in other Canadian cities. That seems like a reasonable limit to me. 90 days is more than enough to advertise a specific event or sale. Instead though, Council accepted an amendment 8-7 to have no time limit on temporary signage at all. So we’re left with a temporary sign bylaw that’s actually a permanent sign bylaw since there really is no sign that can’t be left up forever. The temporary in the bylaw is only in whether the sign is built to be permanent, with a box sign loophole even there. Not exactly our best moment!


  • Rescinded a staff report request on garbage collection around the universities by Councillor Mason (rendered redundant)
  • Provided a noise exemption to Halifax Pride to take down a stage between 1:00 am and 2:00 am on October 30.
  • Amended the licensing agreement for the Halifax Wanderers Football Club to use the Wanderers Grounds until November 2023 with options to renew
  • Set a date for a public hearing for a potential less than market real estate sale of surplus land in Elderbank to the Musquodoboit Valley Ground Search and Rescue Team
  • Increased the contract budget for traffic calming in Portland Hills
  • Entered into a less than market value lease with the Mic Mac Amateur Aquatic Club for the beach area adjacent to the Club building
  • Requested a staff report on potentially connecting Hume Street to the traffic lights at the Braemar Superstore (discussed in my e-news here)
  • Approved planting at least seven oak trees in recognition of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee.