Meeting agenda July 30 here
Prince Albert/Glenwood Hotel: I have to start this Council update with some bad news: the 16 storey hotel at Prince Albert/Glenwood is going ahead. The staff report looking at what options HRM has to stop the project has revealed that there are none. There are no planning rules that we can draw on, and negotiations have failed. It’s a good site for redevelopment, but 16 storeys is too much. It’s not supported by staff (their recommendation was under 10), it’s not supported by the community, and it doesn’t fit with the upcoming Centre Plan. I’m extremely disappointed in the outcome, but this is where we are. You can read the staff report in its entirety here.
I’m not surprised that HRM’s planning rules are of no help since Dartmouth’s outdated 1978 plan is the source of the problem. It makes no sense to have no limits on as-of-right commercial development while, on the same property, requiring Council approval for any residential project of more than three units. The Centre Plan will fix this by clearly identifying where growth will go and what form it will take, but it isn’t in place yet. Our new plan will arrive too late to stop the hotel at Prince Albert/Glenwood.
I’m also not surprised that purchasing the property is out. The cost of doing so would be substantial! The option that I had pinned some hope on was a land swap to get the developers to a more appropriate location. This was our best shot. The place I had in mind and discussed with the developer and staff was the surplus municipal parking lots at the corner of Alderney and Ochterloney. While 16 storeys is too much for Lake Banook, kiddy-corner to Queen Square’s 20 storeys, right in the core of Downtown Dartmouth, could have worked. Unfortunately, no viable deal emerged.
My impression is that the hotel project is just too far advanced for the developers to back out. They have financing in place, plans completed, a contractor signed on, a hole dug, a reported deal with a hotel chain, and a tight timeline. All of these are site specific to Prince Albert/Glenwood. There would be substantial work, costs, and risk for the developers to move to an alternate site and the only reason for them to do it would be if the new site offered a much better return. HRM can’t just giveaway public property and so a swap/sale, as an outside the box, hail Mary, last ditch option, didn’t produce a viable proposal, let alone a deal.
While it doesn’t make financial sense for the developers to change course at this late juncture, it’s worth remembering that it’s their choices that have put us here. The developers turned their backs on the 8 storey compromise that Council approved to pursue the as-of-right hotel option. They’ve done so not because it’s right for Dartmouth, but because they can and it’s in their financial interest. Maybe that’s good business, but it’s not in the community’s interest. They have put their interest ahead of everyone else’s. It is their legal right, but it’s not the right thing to do.
This has been the hardest and most disappointing project I have been involved in during my time at City Hall and I have had time to reflect. I’m not perfect and I do make mistakes, but on Prince Albert/Glenwood, I still can’t identify a single choice that I made that I would have done differently or that would have likely produced a different outcome. The developers were clearly going to do something with their property so rejecting the residential proposals outright rather than trying to compromise wouldn’t have avoided the 16 storey hotel. Trying to remove the as-of-right hotel option by changing Dartmouth’s commercial zoning would have required a public process, giving the developer plenty of time to go out and get a building permit for the 16 storey hotel. Even accepting the 9 storey proposal back in December 2017 would have been unlikely to make any difference because the approval would have been appealed to the Utility and Review Board. The uncertainty around the timeline and outcome for a URB decision would have spurred the developers towards the as-of-right hotel option, just as it did when Council eventually approved 8 storeys. As far as I can see, no matter what door I choose, there was 16 storey hotel waiting on the other side. Sometimes you can make no mistakes, and still lose. That is, unfortunately, life. I did my best to try and find a compromise, and then to try and find an outside the box solution, but it just wasn’t in the cards.
So what happens next? As I explained in June’s Council Update, Council did edit the draft Centre Plan to remove the corridor zoning from 5 Glenwood Avenue, which will prevent the developers from gaining new rights through the incoming Centre Plan to use that portion of the property for their hotel project. The tri-plex will likely still be demolished, but 5 Glenwood will be a buffer between the hotel and the nearest neighbours. Construction will be a nuisance for many months. There is no sugar-coating that. HRM is already responding to the contractor improperly queuing cement trucks on Glenwood Avenue. If you notice issues concerning construction activities, please call 311. HRM is also reviewing the sidewalk closure as the current detour is pushing people into the road creating a safety hazard. I’m hopeful the sidewalk closure will be corrected this week to include a temporary sidewalk.
Floating Yellow Heart: What to do about the Floating Yellow Heart infestation in Little Albro Lake was back before Council. Floating Yellow Heart is a lily species that is native to Asia and Europe. It’s, unfortunately, sold as an ornamental plant here in North America and, when it escapes into the wild, it forms a dense mass that crowds out native species, reduces oxygen levels, creates mosquito habitat, and severely impacts the ability of people to boat and swim. Its only positive feature is its pretty flowers.
Floating Yellow Heart was identified in Little Albro back in 2007 and since then it has taken over the entire shoreline of the lake. There is virtually no native vegetation left in the shallows of Little Albro and using the lake for recreation has become impossible. We’re lucky that Little Albro drains directly to the harbour, preventing the spread of Floating Yellow Heart, at least for now. My worry is that if we do nothing, it will eventually spread. The seeds of Floating Yellow Heart have tiny little burrs on them that are designed to cling onto wildlife, allowing the plant to hitch a ride between unconnected bodies of water. It can also regrow roots from even small fragments of the plant, which means that it can be accidentally spread by boats. If Floating Yellow Heart gets out of Little Albro it could have major implications for our environment, and recreational activities including swimming, canoe/kayak, and boating. The native weeds that have been causing problems on Lake Banook are a minor nuisance compared to what Floating Yellow Heart could do to our lakes. It’s a threat that needs to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, Floating Yellow Heart is difficult to deal with because it’s hard to manually remove, there are no clear herbicides that work well on it, and it has no natural predators in Nova Scotia. HRM and the Province looked at the Floating Yellow Heart issue back in the late 2000s, but no action to control the plant ever came to fruition. Last year I asked staff to take a fresh look and I’m pleased to report that staff are recommending a pilot project using benthic mats. Benthic mats are basically a landscape fabric for the lake bed. They’re designed to block out the sun and kill any plants underneath. They’ve been used to deal with Floating Yellow Heart elsewhere, including in Ottawa where the City is in the midst of trying to eradicate Floating Yellow Heart from Brown’s Inlet.
There was a vigorous discussion at Council about whether HRM should be dealing with Floating Yellow Heart at all since lakes are owned by the Province and the Province has jurisdiction over water and invasive species. While the Province has jurisdiction and ownership, we can’t ignore that the impacts from Floating Yellow Heart, particularly if it spreads, would very much affect the municipal mandate for recreation. In an ideal world, the Province would be leading this, but the last decade has shown that’s not going to happen. Sometimes you have to deal with the world as it is, not as it should be.
Council approved the staff recommendation for a pilot project in a small section of Little Albro Lake in 2020. I’m hopeful that the pilot will be a success and that benthic mats might be a low-cost and simple way to control or possibly even eradicate Floating Yellow Heart.
Non-Profit Taxation (Leases): Council approved a motion of mine to look at expanding HRM’s non-profit tax relief program to include lease space. HRM’s current tax relief program allows non-profits who own their property to have their tax bill reduced or eliminated. This isn’t very fair given that charities performing similar roles can end up receiving vastly different levels of support from HRM simply based on whether they own or lease. An example would be the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, which pays taxes through their landlord and receives no tax support from HRM, while Margaret’s House in Downtown Dartmouth, because they own their property, pays no taxes at all. Two non-profit charities, each providing meals in Dartmouth, but one receives support from HRM while the other doesn’t simply because of how their operations are structured. The lack of support for leasing may even create some incentives for charities to own property when they would be better off leasing.
The reason things are this way is actually understandable. HRM can’t verify how a landlord proportions out tax costs among tenants while we can be very certain in what a property owner pays. That legal and administrative barrier is what has prevented the municipality from extending support to non-profits in lease space and it’s not easily solvable.
So what Council directed was for staff to return with a grant program that would approximate tax bills. It won’t be 100% precise, but the idea would be to provide some support that is in the ballpark of what a non-profits tax bill would be. Since this would be a new program with some considerable administrative challenges to work out and unknown budgetary implications, the idea is to start small by focussing on charities doing social service work. The thought is that charities in the social service space have the least ability to move to lower cost spaces because they are usually located to serve a specific community’s needs. Also, since they deal with people who typically don’t have a lot of money, they have the least ability to collect from their clients to cover their bills. The lease tax grant program could always be expanded, but it seems fitting to start with something manageable where it’ll do the most good. Staff will return to Council with a more detailed report on a possible grant program in the future.
Backyard Fowl: The chickens came home to roost at City Hall with the return of David Hendsbee’s request on allowing backyard hens across HRM. The staff report was positive, recommending that Council initiate changes in all of its various land-use plans to allow residents to keep small numbers of chickens. Whether chickens are allowed or not in your part of HRM depends on what your pre-amalgamation land-use plan says. Right now, HRM has a patch-work of rules with some plans silent on fowl (Halifax, and Bedford), while some allow for them in agricultural areas (many of rural HRM’s plans), while other areas explicitly ban fowl of all kinds (Dartmouth’s old plans). Rules against chickens are falling out of favour with the increased emphasis on food security and as many people are looking for more sustainable lifestyles.
Regardless of Hendsbee’s report, the chicken debate was already coming to District 5 since the Centre Plan already proposes to legalize backyard chickens. The draft Centre Plan would allow for 10 hens, but no roosters. Public engagement on the establisehd residential areas in the Centre Plan is still to come, but if the plan remains unchanged, chickens could be legal in District 5 in late 2020 or 2021. So the debate at Council was primarily about the suburban areas and what limitations HRM might want to have around chickens (changes to the Centre Plan are definitely still possible).
One change to the staff recommendation that Council made was to broaden the possible plan amendments to include more than just chickens. In a narrow 8-7 vote, Council approved considering all fowl that people keep for egg production, such as chickens, ducks, and quail. I supported the amendment because, from a practical point of view, I don’t see much difference in having a coop that has some quail or ducks in it versus one that has chickens. The reasons why someone would want to keep them and the potential problems are the same. I grew up with both ducks and chickens and ducks actually tend to be less destructive to your backyard and gardens because they don’t scratch at the ground. I can understand why someone might be interested in having a pair of Khaki Campbells, since that particular duck breed produces more eggs than most chickens! When staff return, they’ll have information on more than just chickens for Council to consider.
- Approved an expansion of the existing Construction and Demolition Transfer Facility on Ross Road in Cole Harbour/Westphal
- Received presentations from Discover Halifax and the Halifax Partnership
- Awarded tenders for work on Beazley Field, and asphalt overlays (various locations)
- Asked staff to consider renovations to the Tallahassee Community Recreation Centre in the upcoming capital budget
- Declared two small vacant lots off Pickard Lane in Halifax as surplus
- Changed the name for the Lakeside Industrial Park to the Beechville Industrial Park
- Approved several new names for privately-owned lanes and two new public streets
- Gave first reading to changes to the taxi bylaw to, among other things, increase the number of licenses
- Reclassified surplus property off Margeson Drive in Middle Sackville as community interest to, potentially, support the proposed Cobequid Arts Centre
- Set in motion the Sackville by-election to fill Councillor Craig’s seat
- Gave first reading to the Centre Plan and voted to schedule a public hearing for September
- Ratified Committee of the Whole decisions on the how HRM’s capital budget is developed and on sending a letter of support to the Provincial and Federal governments for the Eastern Shore Lifestyles Centre
- Provided event grants to the North American Indigenous Games and the MacKenzie Tour Celebrity Pro-Am Golf Tournament
- Appointed Councillor Smith to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’s non-board committee
- Approved an exemption to the District Capital policy to allow Councillor Whitman to make a contribution to the Cambrians Cove Homeowners Association for the construction of a fire access road