Council Update: Lancaster Rezoning, Landlord Registry, Burnside Expressway

First Baptist lands at Lancaster/Woodland

Meeting agenda April 30 here
Meeting agenda May 2 here

Lancaster Rezoning: At the last Harbour East meeting, Community Council approved rezoning a portion of the First Baptist Church property at the corner of Lancaster Drive and Woodland Avenue to allow for mid-rise apartments. First Baptist has been planning the move to Lancaster/Woodland for a long-time, having purchased the land back in 2003. A church is allowed on the property as-of-right, so from almost the very beginning of Lancaster’s development, a church has always been part of the plan. What is new is that First Baptist has concluded that they don’t need all of the land for their new church, so they applied to rezone the portion farthest away from the existing houses on Cannon and Viridian for residential development.

The proposed rezoning has been somewhat controversial. During the public information meeting, at a subsequent neighbourhood meeting, on the door steps (I did canvassing last summer in Lancaster), and at the public hearing, I heard concerns about traffic, compatibility, and the change in character that rental units might bring to the community. Of these concerns, traffic was the one I was most worried about.

The intersection of Lancaster and Woodland is notorious in Dartmouth for accidents, averaging at least one a month. HRM and the Province are looking at options to make it safer and a design study is currently underway. It’s an issue I have been working on and the last thing I want to do is make the situation worse. First Baptist originally proposed two entrances off of Lancaster, but HRM had concerns about the proximity of the Lancaster/Woodland intersection. In response, the Church modified their proposal by combining the two driveways into one that is farther away.

HRM staff indicate that, with just the as-of-right church, the entrance off Lancaster will be a right in, right out driveway. With just the Church, they’ll be no cut in the median. This means more traffic through the secondary entrance off Cannon on Sunday morning than would be the case if there was a fully functioning intersection on Lancaster. If the apartment buildings proceed, however, and if development eventually occurs across the street on the Sea King/Lancaster/Woodland lands, than the increased demand will likely result in the need for a fully functioning intersection. That would be a desirable change. A full intersection off Lancaster that is appropriately separated from Lancaster/Woodland would slow traffic before it gets to Sea King and reduce the impact of church traffic on Cannon. Relocating the driveway away from Woodland and the potential for a fully functioning intersection on Lancaster satisfied me that the traffic issue can be managed.

On compatibility, the Church didn’t have an exact design proposal. They were seeking an indication through the rezoning that the site is generally appropriate for mid-rise development before getting too far into the planning process. There is, however, clear guidance about what might happen on the lands embedded in the draft Centre Plan, which will likely be law by the end of the year. The Centre Plan’s final draft that’s working its way through Council’s various committees has a height limit on the First Baptist parcel of 20 meters (approximately six stories). Is 20 meters too much? The location benefits from being over 100 meters away from the back door of any homes. That’s the equivalent of standing in front of Quaker Landing and looking up Ochterloney at Founders Corner.

Six storey Founders Corner from approximately 100 meters away on Ochterloney (Founders Corner highlighted in yellow)

Over 100 meters is a generous buffer from nearby homes and the new First Baptist Church will be in between, further breaking up the visual impact. There is also an approved, but never been built, four-storey multi-unit building off of Viridian that would be right next to the First Baptist’s apartment lands and there are many much larger apartment buildings on the other side of the highway. From a design/compatibility point-of-view, I’m satisfied that this isn’t a bad spot for a mid-rise apartment building. Much higher than 20 meters would start to be too much, but what’s proposed and set out in the Centre Plan feels reasonable.

Finally, the community piece. A number of people expressed concern that a building of renters will change the character of the neighbourhood. The unknown can be scary, but the healthiest communities tends to be mixed communities. I have probably been into more multi-unit buildings than most people over the last 10 years door knocking and the person behind the door in new apartments is often a young professional, a couple with no kids (maybe 1), or, in many cases, older seniors who no longer want the headache of maintaining a house.

When I was door knocking in Lancaster last summer, I met a number of older residents who moved into the community when it was first being developed, but won’t be able to stay in their homes forever. When the rezoning came up in conversation on the doorstep, there was a common-thread of wanting an apartment building in the neighbourhood for when they have to down-size. Not everyone wants to move to Baker Drive! We need to provide a greater diversity of housing in our communities. As one of the speakers at the public hearing pointed out, we’ve all rented at some point in our lives and many of us that are currently property-owners will likely rent again someday. Adding some rental units to the area won’t destroy the Lancaster community and it won’t sink property values. It’ll likely enhance the neighbourhood and give people options.

Given everything that I had in front of me, I was comfortable supporting the rezoning. Community Council did move, at my request, a recommendation to Regional Council to amend the draft Centre Plan to reflect the boundaries between church and apartment lands that the rezoning created. This change is important because the draft Centre Plan has the entire property zoned as higher order residential, which would allow apartment buildings to be built right in the backyards of homes on Cannon and Viridian if, for some reason, First Baptist didn’t end up building a church on the property. I’m hopeful that Regional Council will support that change since, through the rezoning, Community Council has now drawn some clear lines as to what the future of Lancaster/Woodland entails. I believe a good balance has been struck that will serve the neighbourhood well and will be following up when the Centre Plan comes to Regional Council to make sure the argument in favour of the new lines is heard.

Landlord Registry: Council voted to amend HRM’s bylaw regarding building standards to improve enforcement and create a landlord registry. The goal of the amendments is to deal with problem landlords who rent units that aren’t fit for people to live in.

I’m lucky to have led a pretty lucky life so far where I have always had a safe and well-cared for place to call home. I distinctly remember getting a first-hand introduced to how others in our society have to live while door-knocking in 2012. One building in particular stood out where I found a shambles of broken doors and windows, burned out lights, and a leaky pipe that had been there for so long that mushrooms were growing out of the hallway carpet. Why do people stay in situations like that? Often they have little choice because it’s all they can afford. If they complain, they get kicked out so they suffer in silence. No one should have to trade basic dignity for affordability. It can’t be an either or choice, we need to demand both.

Mushrooms growing in a hallway from 2012 door knocking

HRM plans to deal with the problem by clearly identifying all of the rental units in the municipality through a registry and then using the registry to target enforcement on the problem landlords. A registry differs significantly from a licensing approach because a registry is a one-time application while licensing, means ongoing renewals and inspections. Licensing would be a more powerful regulatory approach, but it would also require a lot of staff and create a lot of bureaucracy that is, arguably, unnecessary in most instances. While we do have a handful of bad apples out there, most landlords run their properties well. A registry will allow HRM to more easily identify the problem landlords and focus enforcement on them. The last thing we want are tough regulations that good landlords dutifully adhere too and that is ignored by the problem landlords. A one-time registry rather than a licensing system strikes a reasonable balance and is an approach that I support.

But wait, won’t a registry still end up being ignored? This is where changes to the complaint process are important. The old approach that needed a tenant to complain before HRM could investigate will be relaxed to allow for third-party complaints. This will take some of the pressure off tenants who fear retaliatory evictions since advocacy groups will be able to complain on their behalf and HRM will be able to do more proactive enforcement in buildings where a complaint has been received. The registry and complaints will also be public, providing prospective tenants with information about which buildings are well-run and which aren’t so that they can make decisions accordingly. Draft bylaw changes will return to Council in the future.

Existing Hollis Street Bike Lane. Photo: Halifax Cycling Coalition

Downtown Bikeway: On transportation, there was good news and bad news at Council. First, the good news: HRM is going to fix the broken Hollis Street bike lane. The Hollis lane isn’t separated from traffic with any kind of physical barrier, it’s just paint. Unfortunately, experience has shown that in a high-demand Downtown setting, paint doesn’t work because it’s impossible to keep all the delivery trucks and couriers from parking in the lane. A bike lane that has vehicles sitting in it all the time really isn’t much of a bike lane.

HRM is going to fix the Hollis Street bike lane with the installation of a uni-directional protected lane on the right side of Hollis. The plan is to design and construct it this year. The improved Hollis lane will eventually be followed with lanes on Lower Water Street, but given Lower Water’s additional design complexity and the construction taking place on the street, staff recommend waiting on that portion of the project until 2020-2022.

What makes the redesigned Hollis Street lane really compelling is the route it’ll be part of in the near future. The Cogswell redesign will see the extension of the Barrington Greenway right into Downtown, while a recent agreement with DND is also extending the Greenway north beyond the Macdonald Bridge to Devonshire (DND is covering almost the entire cost of that portion). HRM is also looking at how to connect to Africville which means that, in the future, Hollis will likely be the bottom portion of a separated, all ages and abilities, north-south bike lane that runs the whole length of the Peninsula. That’s the sort of infrastructure that other cities have been building and that will encourage people who can ride to leave the car at home.

Burnside Expressway: The bad news on the transportation front is the Burnside Expressway and it’s impact on HRM’s transportation goals. It has been over two months since the feds announced $86 million towards the Province’s $200 million Burnside Expressway. On April 30, Council was asked to authorize contributing up to $15 million towards the project to build a new interchange at the 107.

I try my best to avoid criticizing decisions made by other orders of government. We all have a hard job to do and it’s not my place to be overly critical of the tough decisions that others make in their areas of responsibility. The Burnside Expressway though isn’t just a Provincial matter, it will have a profound impact on core municipal responsibilities related to transportation and planning.

The big problem with the Burnside Expressway is induced demand. Induced demand is the very well-established, but seemingly paradoxical rule that expanding road capacity doesn’t actually reduce congestion. This is because adding lanes or building new roadways just encourages more people to drive and allows for more low-density, automobile-dependent development in places that otherwise would be undesireable. The result is that new road space eventually just gets filled with more cars. If adding lanes solved traffic congestion, we would have built ourselves out of the problem generations ago and Southern California would have the best traffic conditions in the world. Induced demand has been demonstrated time and time again and is as true a law as you get when it comes to human nature: the sun rises in the east, rain is wet, and building more highways encourages more car trips.

What induced demand means is that the Burnside Expressway will provide some temporary congestion relief for drivers, but its existence will shift commuting patterns resulting in even more traffic. Modelling by HRM’s planning staff indicates that the new Expressway will encourage more people to drive and will have a negative impact on HRM’s transit ridership goals. The Expressway also largely predetermines future planning decisions since the Province is literally building an interchange as part of the deal with Dexters in the woods. It’ll still technically be HRM’s decision about how surrounding lands are allowed to develop, but it’ll be hard to say no with an almost empty interchange sitting there. Planning should lead infrastructure spending, it shouldn’t be the other way around!

$200 million is a large sum that could have done a lot to induce demand for sustainable transportation options such as commuter rail, ferries or bus rapid transit. We don’t need a new expressway to access the next phases of Burnside’s development or to get the trucks out of old Bedford, but instead we’re literally building a bypass to bypass the original bypass for $200 million. A highway paralleling another highway. When it comes to highways though we still have a collective blind spot. Consider the criticism of the art gallery, stadium, Yarmouth ferry, Scotiabank scoreclock, etc. On what else could we spend $200 million with barely a peep? We’ve spent so long talking about and advocating for the Burnside Expressway that I think we’ve missed stopping to assess whether this 1980s dream still makes sense in 2019 given everything we’ve learned over the last 30 years and in light of HRM’s Integrated Mobility Plan. The objective answer to that is no, but it’s not a question that anyone in charge of the Expressway project is asking.

I ended up voting against HRM’s participation, not because I expected my vote to defeat the motion or because HRM’s portion, which is really about accessing the next phase of development in Burnside, is a particularly bad idea. I voted against to register symbolic protest. I was joined by Councillors Smith, Cleary and Zurawski.

So what’s next for Burnside? The best that HRM can hope for here is to mitigate the Expressway’s damage by hopefully negotiating for transit priority on Magazine Hill and possibly multi-use trail connection from Bedford/Sackville to Burnside. That will be the lemonade from the lemon. Hopefully the Burnside Expressway is the last highway folly we collectively embark on.


  • Requested a staff report on a pilot project to provide free menstrual products in HRM facilities
  • Rezoned 24 Hester Street to R2 to allow for a renovation of an existing legally non-conforming two-unit building
  • Approved the development agreement for a residential redevelopment of the Ship Victory property on Windmill Road
  • Approved revisions to the development agreement for 169 Wyse Road (old little Nashville) to reduce the height from 10 floors to six, which will allow the owner to build with wood rather than concrete
  • Initiated an area vote for the potential creation of a business improvement district in Porters Lake
  • Opted not to revisit Council’s previous decision to now add the Afghanistan dates to the front of the cenotaph at City Hall (they are on the St. Paul’s side)
  • Granted permission for a fly-past for the Wanderers opening game
  • Agreed to sell a portion of parkland in Colby Village that was mistakenly encroached on by the subdivision’s original developer to the property owner that has been using it as their backyard for decades
  • New private road charges in the Cambrian Cove area
  • Continued the existing partnership with the Springfield Lake Recreation Centre in Sackville
  • Approved a budget increase for a snow blower (large equipment used on narrow Downtown streets in the overnight hours to remove snow)
  • Authorized the CAO to continue the youth engagement strategy and report annually to Council
  • Scheduled a public hearing for an eight storey apartment building at Robie and Cunard, and for redevelopment of the old satelite receiving station in Harrietsfield


  1. Thanks for the update. We appreciate the info. I also agree that mixed residential is good for our neighbourhood. Thank you for reminding our neighbours that we have all been renters and may be again. I sell homes for a living but I recognize the benefits of different housing.

  2. I see there is yet another revised proposal for the Twisted Sisters site and from early reports this one is short enough that it might actually have a chance of getting approved. If that is the case, the Hollis bike lane will be rebuilt on that side just in time for it to be closed off, torn up, or otherwise changed while construction proceeds for a few years. Since it presently gets very little use anyway, would it not make sense to pump the brakes on this spending until that project’s future is determined?

    • If the lane is built and then gets wrecked by the developer’s project, they’ll have to pay to reinstate it when they’re done. Given the developer’s track record, construction could be right around the corner or it could be another two decades away before something happens on that long vacant property. If we waited till everything was finished, we would never build anything because the reality is, nothing is ever really finished in a city. Things are always changing and evolving. Leaving the failed bike lane as is because one block of it might get disrupted in the future isn’t a good trade-off in my opinion.

  3. Thanks for these updates, Sam. Really good to have a summary of all these decisions rather than having to follow through them piecemeal.

  4. To be clear, Induced Demand is a theory, NOT a law. No matter how keenly or frequently urban planners might wish it to be a law, it isn’t. One doesn’t have to search long to find articles by subject matter experts that debunk theory as myth, e.g.:

    Putting money not spent on building new highways into public transit — assuming the $$$ are even transferable to begin with, which they generally are not — does not compel drivers to become transit riders. What could compel a switch are better residential development strategies in conjunction with road tolls.

    As well, in the sorry history of massive cost over-runs involving taxpayer money, public transit projects make new highway construction seem like a bargain.

    Encouraging increased residential density downtown, as opposed to development in the suburbs. is something HRM has control over and needs to better manage. A good start would be getting the Centre Plan approved and encouraging home-owners to abandon their myopic views pertaining to high-rise and rental development.

  5. Sam, could you help clarify the funding provided by HRM taxpayers for the Burnside connector please? I thought I saw $4 million of municipal funds designated for this in the 2018/19 budget, also $3 million for the purchase of some land a while back? If so it seems HRM taxpayers are very much supporting this new road, thanks to those councillors who approved the funds

    • Hi Martyn. The municipal contribution is just under $15 million, but is only for potential active transportation connections across the highway, the utility corridor, and the interchange with the 107 to access future Burnside lands to the north of the Expressway. HRM isn’t contributing directly towards building the highway itself. Bill will be paid out to the Province over several years. HRM will recover costs from development in Burnside and from utilities that use the utility corridor. I don’t begrudge my colleagues for voting for this. I nearly did. The arrangement is such that for HRM it’s a “if you’re going to do this damned silly thing we should at least think about AT, utilities and developing Burnside’s next phase.” It wasn’t set up as a vote directly on the Expressway since that’s not HRM’s call to make. You can read the declassified report online here

      • Hi Sam, thanks very much for the useful response and document. I’m a bit confused as the document says “The indicated HRM cost of $14,780,000 (plus any applicable taxes), is for the construction of the Akerley interchange…..The construction of the two interchanges includes an estimated $2.88 million of Active Transportation (AT) components shown on Attachment 2 of the Proposed MOU” – so it seems we are paying for approx 1.44 million of the active transport component for the Arkerley interexchange and the rest we’re paying for road infrastructure? Plus the $3 million purchase of land upon which we are building the connector?

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