Agenda September 1
Agenda September 10 (Harbour East)
Probably the most significant item on Council’s agenda was the proposed HRM-wide planning bylaw changes to allow for secondary units in all residential zones. A secondary unit would be smaller than the main unit and could take the form of a backyard suite, a basement apartment, or a flat. In many parts of HRM, including most of Dartmouth, existing R-1 zoning is very restrictive, allowing only a single unit per property. The rationale for loosening the rules is to allow for extra density in established neighbourhoods where services already exist in a way that doesn’t significantly affect the built character. This gentle density won’t dramatically change the look of a neighbourhood, but it could create more units, helping to address HRM’s rock-bottom vacancy rate and assisting with housing affordability. It’s important to note that the affordability argument cuts both ways. A secondary suite isn’t just likely to be cheaper for the tenant, but it might also help homeowners pay their mortgage.
HRM’s public consultation as part of the proposal to allow secondary suites revealed that a large majority of people favour allowing secondary units. This fits with the feedback that I have received over the last four years. Dartmouth’s residential zoning has typically been much stricter than Halifax’s and I have gotten frequent asks from people why they were allowed to have a secondary unit when they lived in Halifax, but can’t in Dartmouth.
The new bylaw amendments limit secondary suites to 90 m2 and, in the case of a backyard suite, the requirements for secondary buildings still have to be adhered to. In much of Dartmouth, the accessory building requirements means no more than 4.5 m (15 feet) in height (approximately 1 storey), and no bigger than 60 m2 (the smaller 60 m2 size prevails). The Downtown Dartmouth Bylaw requires a setback from side and rear property lines of two feet, but the Dartmouth Land Use Bylaw that covers everywhere else has no formal setbacks for accessory building. That might sound alarming at first glance, but applying the building code means that, in practice, there are setbacks in Dartmouth. The building code requires separation based on how flammable a material is and whether there are doors and windows. It means that as soon as you’re building something that someone would want to live in, practicalities force setbacks. As part of the Centre Plan, there will be an opportunity to consider changes to District 5’s accessory building requirements.
Council unanimously approved the secondary suite amendments and they will come into effect once the Province signs off (Provincial sign-off on municipal planning bylaws is generally a formality)
Mic Mac Boulevard Development:
Council held a public hearing at Harbour East to consider a proposed 15 storey apartment building behind the existing seven storey Kings Wood building. There were no public speakers at the hearing and Council voted to approve the project. The building will be partially built on the existing Kings Wood parking lot. The site plan below shows the location (Kings Wood to the right, intersection of Mic Mac Boulevard and Horizon Court to the left).
The application was being considered under Dartmouth’s old planning rules because it was submitted before the Centre Plan came into effect, but it lines up very well with the new plan’s intent. The site is zoned Higher Order residential under the Centre Plan which allows for a 38 meters (12-14 storey) apartment building. The Centre Plan identifies this as a good spot for higher density development because it doesn’t abut any low density homes, it’s near existing apartment buildings, transit, green space and commercial services, and it has good road access. It’s the kind of spot where higher density makes sense.
With a 1.0% vacancy rate, HRM desperately needs more apartments. Demand has outstripped supply over the last several years. While it’s not something that the municipality has the power to require, the developer indicated that they are pursuing financing via CMHC. If they secure CMHC funding, the result would be 20% of the units leasing for less than market (rents based on 30% of average household income, requirements for accessible units).
While no members of the public spoke at the hearing, I did receive some feedback via email concerning this project. There was some confusion as to whether the end of Crichton Avenue would be opened up to vehicle traffic to and from Mic Mac Boulevard. That isn’t happening. There will be no vehicle connection to Crichton Avenue. During construction, the developer will slightly encroach on the HRM owned wooded area next door. The developer will be responsible for restoring this area after construction is complete and the intent is to add a pedestrian and cycling path. That path will connect Crichton Avenue to Mic Mac Boulevard. Seeing this path on the site plan might have been the source of the confusion around Crichton Avenue being opened to car traffic. Crichton Avenue might see some more cyclists and pedestrians, but north of Lyngby it will still be the same quiet, lane like place that it is now.
I also received a few comments about parking during construction from Kings Wood residents since the building is being built on Kings Wood’s main parking lot. To accommodate the needs of existing Kings Wood residents, the developer is expanding some of their other nearby parking lots (in front of the building and off of Kings Arm). There will be parking on site. I also confirmed during questioning that this site wasn’t the location of the Avenue’s former church. The church site was located farther south on the Kings Arm property. This spot was or was the edge of the old dump.
With those questions answered, and given that the project largely lines up with the Centre Plan, is located in a place where we want to see new development, and that we desperately need more housing units, I was happy to vote in favour of this project. Council unanimously approved the development.
Cancer Survivors Daffodil Garden Art:
One unusual piece of business before Council was the acceptance of a public art gift. HRM has a public art policy that enables individuals and organizations to gift art to HRM, but it’s not something that comes up often. The gift in question was for three connected statues to be installed in the new Cancer Survivors Daffodil Garden next to Alderney Drive. The three figures, an old man, a middle-aged woman, and a young boy, symbolize that cancer doesn’t draw distinctions and can afflict anyone. The statues were produced by Ivan Higgins and are a gift of Jim and Judie Edgar, the tireless community activists whose work created the Cancer Survivors Daffodil Garden. Council agreed to accept the gift and the statues were installed the very next day.
When I first shared the news that a Survivors Garden was coming to the Harbour Trail near Alderney, I received a number of emails from Dartmouth artists expressing concern that the addition of any new art comply with the Public Art Policy. Under the Public Art Policy, when HRM commissions work, the municipality is required to request submissions, which are then assessed by a jury of professional artists. What exactly the policy requires for gifts is somewhat grey, but there is a clear preference for juries. I raised the issue with staff and, unfortunately, the $15,000 Higgins piece was already almost finished. The Edgars had been clear throughout that they envisioned a piece of public art in the Cancer Survivors Garden as a key element. What seems to have gone wrong is staff working with the Edgars on this community project missed either the Edgars intent or the public art policy’s implications. So what to do? The Higgans piece was already built, and paid for by the hard work and fundraising of community volunteers! Not a great situation to be in.
The Public Art Policy is more than a bit clunky and the procedures around gifts are somewhat vague. In discussing the issue with staff, I was clear that I wouldn’t support any stretching of definitions to label the Higgins statue as a garden feature and, therefore, exempt from the Public Art Policy. That’s what happened with the Dragonfly at Sullivan’s Pond before my time. Staff’s review concluded that it was within Council’s purview to accept the statue as a gift, and so the report came forward to Council for Council to decide whether to accept it or not.
I would have preferred a jury approach to this art project, but I was between a rock and a hard place. I wasn’t about to refuse a work of art that has been produced by a professional artist (see more of Ivan’s work here) as a gift to HRM, especially when the mistake was largely of HRM’s making in the first place. Council voted unanimously to accept the gift. The Higgins piece will make a great addition to the Harbour Trail, even if the process of getting it wasn’t as neat and tidy as it should have been.
Public Art Policy:
Still with the Public Art Policy, in a coincidence of timing, my motion to review it also returned on Tuesday with recommended changes. My impetus to ask for a review just over a year ago wasn’t the situation with the Cancer Survivors Garden, it was the Woodside Ferry Terminal renovation. The Woodside Ferry Terminal is basically being completely rebuilt, but there is no public art component in the project. The way HRM’s public art policy worked is public art was mandatory in buildings of over 25,000 square feet. If the construction of a new building or the renovation of an old one, such as the Woodside Ferry Terminal, involved less than 25,000 square feet, there was no requirement for public art to be included, no matter how prominent the location. That really didn’t make any sense.
Rather than basing the need to include public art in a project on a relatively arbitrary square foot number, HRM should be making decisions on whether to include public art based on how important a space is to the public. Transit terminals are typically small spaces that will never have more than 25,000 square feet of area, but, on the other hand, they’re some of HRM’s most visited spaces. Bridge Terminal’s 8,500 square feet saw up to 30,000 passengers a day in pre-COVID times. Other small spaces like community centres and libraries also see lots of visitors, but could easily fall below the square foot threshold for a mandatory art budget.
The revised Public Art Policy is less precise about making art mandatory, but, on the other hand, it lists the kind of public facing facilities where art should be considered. I asked staff if the loss of a clear mandatory requirement to include art in large projects would accidentally lead to less art being commissioned because of an incentive for project managers to cut art when trying to stretch scarce budgets. The feeling of HRM’s public art staff was that won’t be the case because public art has enough buy in and the policy is clear about the types of facilities where art should be included. It’s something I will keep an eye on as capital projects come through Council.
Besides the change in the square foot threshold, the Public Art Policy has been converted into an administrative order, which means it’s much clearer and will be posted on the HRM website alongside the municipality’s other administrative orders. No more hunting back through old Council reports in 2008 just to find it! The Policy is likely to be further reviewed in more detail in the near future as an outcome of the Cultural Priorities Plan. For now, hopefully the Woodside Ferry Terminal will be the last prominent public facility to end up artless because of a silly square foot cap.
Banook Canoe 22 Funding:
Council agreed to provide a capital grant to improve facilities around Lake Banook in preparation for Canoe 22. The $700,000 in funding will be used to replace the Judges Tower (dates back to the 1980s), install a return lane, and purchase accessible docks for the para program. HRM’s $700,000 isn’t going to pay for all that; what we need is the federal and provincial governments to contribute the other two-thirds. What’s at stake more broadly is our ability to continue to host international events. Paddling is a part of life in Dartmouth and we have a long and storied history of punching above our weight and competing internationally. Venues in other places though have been upgraded over time, but Banook really hasn’t. It’s basically the same today as it was decades ago and it’s increasingly dated compared to other places that we compete with. After Canoe 22, we’re going to need to revisit the plan for Lake Banook and the spaces around it. The alternative is that international competition will be less and less frequent as we start to lose out to other places that have invested in their facilities. For now, hopefully the federal and provincial governments will contribute towards the capital costs of Canoe 22.
- Second reading for changes to the vending bylaw creating artisan locations in Ferry Terminal Park
- Directed that the remaining surplus from the discontinued Hammonds Plains Area Rate be held until a project for the funds can be identified in the community
- Declared a small portion of land off Mount Hope Avenue surplus to allow it to be sold to the adjacent business
- Approved the agreement with the Province for funding the Herring Cove Water and Wastewater project
- Increased the budget for engineering consultants working on Northwest Arm Drive, and for washroom renovations at the Acadia School Building in Lower Sackville
- Closed a portion of Osborne Street and Wildwood Avenue in Halifax
- Adopted an administrative order to set the parameters around disclosing municipal grants (basically codifying existing practices to comply with changes in Provincial legislation)
- First reading for amendments to make it easier for businesses that regularly operate in the street right-of-way to do so
- Declared Dickson Street lane surplus (abandoned lane off Wyse Road that the City of Dartmouth didn’t properly dispose of)
- Changed the no parking hours for the Gottingen Street northbound bus lane to eliminate restrictions during the morning rush hour. An analysis of the time data since the bus lane came into effect indicates it’s only really needed in the afternoon
- Completed this year’s contribution agreement with the Province to received $2,000,000 in funding for public transit. The Province provides $2,000,000 regularly, which is nice, but it’s actually a very small contribution if you compare to provincial support for transit in other cities across the country.
- Amended HRM’s public engagement approach for planning decisions to allow for more virtual options given that it could be quite a while before large in-person public meeting are possible
- Deferred new traffic authority appointments until Council has a chance to look at several motions related to road safety
- Endorsed Councillor Karstin as past president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities until the new Council is sworn in in November
- Entered into less than market value leases with the Wanderer’s Lawn Bowling Club and the St. Mary’s Lawn Bowls Club
- Approved a list of potential capital projects for the federal/provincial infrastructure program’s climate change stream
- Wrote off some uncollectable debts and accepted the official year end financial statements (no surprises there)
- Directed staff to consider changing limitations on how much of a building’s facade can be covered with balconies in Downtown Halifax as part of the Downtown Plan Review
- Scheduled a public hearing for a subdivision development on Parkmoor Avenue in Spryfield/Herring Cove
- Requested a staff report on creating a coordinating committee for Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes