Council Update: Patios, Artist Vending, Secondary Suites, Social Procurement

Agenda July 7

Sidewalk Patios:
My motion on Sidewalk Patios from April, was back on the agenda at Council because I was rescinding it. What gives you might ask? Did I give up on seeking more flexible patio arrangements? No. Success can come in many forms at City Hall and it’s sometimes found where you least expect it.

My motion seeking more flexible design rules for patios was sparked by the requirement that businesses locate patios immediately adjacent to their building. This created a situation where some establishments on Portland Street were unable to apply for patios because planters, lightpoles, and other street furniture make a setup of building/patio/temporary sidewalk impossible. If, however, the order could be changed to building/sidewalk/patio, suddenly patios become possible for more businesses because a patio can tuck in between street fixtures whereas a sidewalk can’t. The only thing that changes in a building/sidewalk/patio setup is servers have to cross sections of sidewalk to bring food and drink back and forth to tables, something that is done routinely in many other cities.

Sidewalk patios tucked between tree planters in Atlanta

Staff went away and looked at my April motion to adopt more flexible criteria and discovered that the design standards in the Sidewalk Cafe Bylaw already permit alternative setups. The word adjacent in the bylaw doesn’t mean adjoining, it means nearby, so the scenario on Portland Street of building/sidewalk/patio can already be considered.

So if adjacent doesn’t mean adjoining, why haven’t alternative arrangements ever happened in HRM? Why was building/sidewalk/patio always a no? A lot of it seems to have just been an understood convention combined with Alcohol and Gaming’s licensing requirements. It was simply always done building/patio/temporary sidewalk. I walked Portland Street with some Alcohol and Gaming staff pre-COVID and they indicated they were happy to consider alternative arrangements if HRM was supportive, and with HRM staff indicating that they too could be flexible, the need for a staff report to formally change the bylaw vanished. Victory without a staff report simply by slaying a long-standing convention! So my motion is rescinded and more flexible patios could be popping up on streets around HRM. More opportunity for small business and more active streetscapes. A win-win.

Secondary Suites:
Council approved scheduling a public hearing to consider changes to the Regional Plan and all of HRM’s various community plans to legalize secondary and backyard suites across the municipality. The changes had come before Council back in February, but Council wasn’t satisfied with the proposed prohibition on backyard suites in duplexes and townhouses. Council narrowly voted to defer scheduling a hearing in in February and instead voted for a supplemental report to look at the backyard suites issue.

When staff took a second look at backyard suites, they determined that rather than the form of development dictating whether a backyard suite is permitted, it should instead be based on whether a proposed backyard suite has unobstructed access to a public street. This would mean that, typically, duplexes and end units in townhouse complexes could be allowed a backyard suite since their back yards usually have open access to a street across a side yard. Staff also suggested removing minimum lot area requirements as what had been previously proposed would have prevented 14% of existing R-1 lots (mainly in the urban core) from having backyard suites. Staff now recommend no minimum area since every community plan already has a mix of setback and lot coverage requirements that control the potential placement and size of secondary buildings. Council accepted the revised staff recommendation and agreed to schedule a public hearing.

The big unknown right now is when that public hearing might happen. COVID has forced public hearings to go online, which has been fine for relatively small/localized issues. There could be a lot of interest in these Region-wide amendments and it could be technically challenging to hold a large public hearing online with tens or even hundred of speakers. At the same time, we don’t know when in-person public hearings might be possible. It could be weeks or years! It’s impossible to say right now as so much is unknown about what the future holds in terms of COVID’s presence in our community. We can’t just stop City Hall business until there is a vaccine. Staff will look at the technical challenges in concert with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor in selecting a future date for this public hearing.

Artist vendor on Spring Garden Road. Photo: Scott Baltjes

Artisan Vending Ferry Terminal Park:
Returning to Council for first reading were changes to HRM’s vending bylaw to create nine artisan vending locations along the boardwalk in Ferry Terminal Park. The nine vending locations would be located between the two sections of path that loop around to the playground and Peace Pavilion. The idea is to provide space where local artists can sell their work. HRM already allows this in a few locations on the Peninsula, notably by the Public Gardens on Spring Garden Road.

The amendments to allow artisan vending in Ferry Terminal Park came about after I was approached by a local artist looking for a vending location in Downtown Dartmouth. Unfortunately, there were no designated locations at all on the Dartmouth side of the harbour so the bylaw had to be amended to create some. Ferry Terminal Park’s prominent Downtown location in Dartmouth’s commercial core seemed like the best fit. From a municipal point of view, allowing for some vending in Ferry Terminal Park is a way to bring some activity and life to the waterfront boardwalk at almost not cost to HRM. I think it could be a good fit.

The bylaw changes will return to Council for second reading in the near future after which, spaces will be available for $100 for the year.

Social Procurement:
Probably the most complex piece on Council’s agenda was the revised Procurement Policy and the new Surplus Assets Policy. The revisions to the two policies included a number of housekeeping amendments, but more significantly, a change in direction when it comes to the social elements of procurement. The revisions have been a long-time coming and have come out of concerns that HRM’s purchasing decisions are too weighted towards the best price and don’t consider the overall best value, particularly as it relates to supporting local business, providing economic opportunities to historically marginalized groups, environmental sustainability, and fair wages. The changed policy creates a social lens when it comes to procurement and allows HRM to structure and award tenders based on things such as diversity, workforce devleopment, fair/living wage, community benefits, enrivonrmental benefits, social responsbility, and health and safety practices. As long as criteria is clearly identified in the tender so that all bidders have the chance to do their best to meet HRM’s specifications, then looking at the social elements doesn’t run contrary to Canada’s obligations under our trade agreements.

What was proposed by staff is a significant step forward, but Council wasn’t entirely happy. The problem is the suggested amendments left using social measures as optional for departments. All of HRM’s various departments are pressed to meet their budgets, which means leaving the social elements as optional criteria could result in a lot of spending decisions carrying on as before since managers will still have an incentive to pursue price alone. Council approved the proposed amendments but asked for a supplementary report to develop criteria for applying the social criteria and to define what a fair wage actually is. Staff expect to return to Council with the supplemental report in the fall.


  • Amended the contribution agreement for the YMCA’s new facility in Halifax to reflect the completion dynamics related to the fact that the facility is in a condominium
  • Approved plan amendments to allow Halifax and West Community Council to consider a 12 storey mixed-use building on Joseph Howe
  • Awarded grants to rural transit providers (MusGo Rider, BayRides, Chebucto Community Transit, East Hants Community Rider)
  • Amended the Management Agreement between the Canada Games Centre Society and HRM to allow the Society to use surplus funds to subsidize operations given the financial pressures the Centre is under due to the COVID-19 shutdown
  • As projected in the revised 2020 budget, Council approved borrowing $130,000,000 from the Province to help HRM deal with the short-term financial impacts of COVID-19 (taxes late in being paid)
  • Approved 41 community grants to various organizations throughout HRM and requested additional consideration for requests from Dragon Boats East and the Sheet Harbour Area Chamber of Commerce that staff had recommended against funding
  • Received the Youth Engagement Report and accompanying presentation
  • Requested that the Province and Federal governments cost-share active transportation improvements to the Mineville Road through the federal-provincial infrastructure program
  • Denied a proposed permanent encroachment in front of the Dome on Argyle Street that would have allowed a deck to permanently overhang the sidewalk
  • Allowed a proposed permanent encroachment on Salter Street for a deck that will overhang the sidewalk (Salter encroachment was very small and on a side street with a wide sidewalk)
  • Requested a staff report on HRM participation in the 2021 Climate Change summit in Glasgow, Scotland
  • Approved a request by Councillor Zurawski to acknowledge August 6, the 75th anniversary of the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima, Japan as a Day of Peace, which will include commemorative activities in Grand Parade. Requested the Mayor write the Federal government in support of the abolition of nuclear weapons