Council Update: Splashpad, Findlay, Banook, and More

Dartmouth Splash Pad Concept

Agenda Regional Council January 28
Agenda Regional Council February 11

Splashpad: Yesterday, Council received the site report on the Dartmouth Splashpad proposal. The Dartmouth Splashpad has been a community-driven initiative that was started by a group of volunteers, the Friends of the Dartmouth Splashpad. The Friends submitted a proposal to HRM and the municipality has been working with them to assess a location on the Dartmouth Common. The Common site is across the street from the Sportsplex, between the playground and the tennis courts, next to the Skateboard Park.

Staff’s assessment is that the Common location will work well from a technical point of view as the site is well setback from the streets, won’t require major grading, it’s already cleared, a driveway could be easily built to provide access, and sewer and water connections are readily available. As an added bonus, the Common location should allow for the reuse of greywater by horticultural staff who tend to the Leighton Dillman, Sullivan’s Pond, and the planters on Portland Street.

From a broader community perspective, the Common location has a lot going for it. There is great potential for the Sportsplex and others to incorporate the proposed splashpad into their regular programming. It’s not hard to imagine daycamps popping across the street in the summer months. The combination of the splashpad and existing playground would also serve to make the area even more of a hub. The location has excellent transit connections, with Bridge Terminal and the Ferry being a short distance away, and there is both street and off-street parking in the area. Wyse Road has also been designated for growth in the Centre Plan, meaning that there could be many new residents nearby in the next 5-10 years. Part of directing and accommodating growth means providing for amenities.

Council ended up voting 14-1 (Councillor Adams dissenting) to approve the Dartmouth splashpad, which means the next steps for this project are all financial. The splashpad isn’t currently in the budget, but it is on the options list meaning that Council could fund it if we choose. There is a large surplus due to better than anticipated deed transfer tax revenue from this past year. It would be foolish to take on reoccurring operating expenses based on a one-time surplus, but funding one-time capital items, like the splashpad, is doable. It’s the question Council will turn to later this morning since the splashpad is on the budget option’s list.

The Friends of the Dartmouth Splashpad also have some work to do. They’ve committed to raising $150,000 towards the pad to fund improvements beyond the core equipment. They’re already 1/3 of the way there, having collected or had pledged $45,000. Donations will be handled through the Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth and are tax deductible. Checkout the Friends page here for more info.

Canoe 97. Photo: Martin Jones

Banook Plan: Company is coming. As announced back in 2018, the world canoe-sprint championships are returning to Lake Banook in 2022. This will be the fourth time that Dartmouth has hosted a world championship (2009, 1997, and 1987). While organizers are busy planning for event facilities and logistics, HRM is looking at what the municipality should do with the various public spaces around the lake.

Staff presented a report to Council that recommends HRM prioritize upgrades to Birch Cove, Silvers Hill, and the boardwalk. Planning work on these public spaces will take place this year with the intent of implementation next year in 2021. HRM is also looking at finishing the road redesign of Prince Albert from Sinclair to Superstore, and completing the new Kiwanis/Grahams Grove building as well. They’ll be more to come on park investments as planning work takes place in the year ahead.

I did want to briefly flag the issue that we’re coming to a sort of decision point about paddling in our community. Banook is a beautiful spot, but it is falling behind in the venue arms race. Other places around the world have upgraded for major events and Banook is starting to feel like something from a by-gone era. If we want to continue to punch above our weight and host international events, it’s going to take new investments in infrastructure. If we don’t take action, risk 2022 being the last major international event on Lake Banook.

Keeping Banook’s status as a world recognized venue isn’t something that HRM will be able to undertake alone. It’s going to require the Provincial and Federal governments to come to the table and partnerships with the various sporting organizations. With that in mind, once we get past the immediate hosting needs of 2022, HRM intends to take a fresh look at the Lake Banook masterplan. We need a long-term strategy that identifies what needs to be done and who will do what.

Findlay Community Centre

Findlay Heritage Designation: A change of status for the Findlay Community Centre! After holding a heritage hearing, Regional Council voted to designate the building as a heritage property. Built in 1932, the Findlay was originally a school. The building was named in honour of Sara Findlay, a high school vice principal who taught in Dartmouth for an astounding 44 years. Sara Findlay’s family actually donated the land where the Findlay Community Centre stands to the Town of Dartmouth after Sara’s death. The Findlay was one of several so-called bungalow schools that were built in Halifax and Dartmouth including the old Penhorn School and the North Woodside Community Centre.

The Findlay went from school to community centre in 1971, and despite all the changes around it, it has largely remained as it was when it was built back in the 1930s. The dimensions, roof detailing, windows (including the centre eye), symmetrical layout are all intact. The changes that have occurred have been generally minor in terms of heritage impact and, noteably, include the addition of a large accessible ramp at the Senior’s Club entrance, lowering the height of the main entrance doors (they would have originally been on the same level as the main floor), and the addition of the cinderblock gym on the back.

Although bungalow schools were relatively common, they are slowly disappearing. Of the nine built in Dartmouth, half of them have been demolished over the years. Of the ones that remain, the Findlay is probably the best example that highlights the era. I’m very pleased to see its heritage value officially recognized. As a result of the registration, future repairs and modifications to the building will have to be assessed in relation to the building’s heritage elements to ensure that the building’s character is preserved as best as possible. HRM has no current plans for major projects or for any change of use at the Findlay.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge Maura Donovan’s work on this. The heritage registration process allows for third-party applications. Maura lives near the Findlay and initiated the heritage registration process. Volunteering comes in all sorts of forms, and Maura prepared all the background information on the Findlay and tracked down details about the architect that then became the basis for the HRM staff report, the Heritage Advisory Committee’s recommendation to Council, and then Council’s decision to register the building. The Findlay wouldn’t be a heritage building if it weren’t for Maura’s efforts. Thank you Maura.

Secondary Suites: Council will likely hold a public hearing in the near future on changing planning rules across all of HRM to allow for secondary suites as-of-right. Right now, whether you’re allowed to have an apartment in your home or not depends almost entirely on what generally dated pre-amalgamation zoning exists in your neighbourhood. In Dartmouth, the R-1 zone that applies to many properties throughout District 5 doesn’t permit secondary units at all whereas similar homes covered by the Downtown Neighbourhood Zone (Hawthorne area, Flower Streets, Park Ave, Fairbanks/Shore Road) does.

I’m always open to an argument, but my starting point on this issue is that relaxing the rules around secondary suites is a needed policy change. The rationale for allowing secondary suites is that they add more density without affecting a neighbourhood’s character. This gentle density blends into the existing built environment. It’s density without levelling existing structures for new multi-unit buildings. Allowing for more rental units will increase housing supply, and give people more options as to unit type and location. With a 1.0% vacancy rate, more housing is something that HRM is in dire need of. Allowing for secondary suites should also help with affordability for both renters as supply and unit type improves, and for homeowners who can offset some of their expenses by taking on a renter. That basement apartment could house an aging parent, a student, a young couple starting out etc. It could also help a senior looking to stay in their home, or help someone cover the cost of that first home.

I know there is sometimes fear of rental units. That fear is often based on sterotypes about who renters are. I’m reminded of a recent public hearing at Harbour East regarding rezoning land owned by the First Baptist Church in Lancaster Ridge. One of the speakers wisely reminded everyone that almost everyone starts off renting, and many who own will eventually rent again in their old age. Almost everyone is, at some point, a renter.

Council asked staff to make a few adjustments to the secondary suites proposal to allow for garden suites behind duplexes. Once that adjustment is made, staff will return to Council (likely March/April) so that Council can schedule a public hearing to get public feedback and formally consider making changes.

Small section of recently repaired streetscaping on Portland Street

Streetscaping Admin Order: Council approved staff’s request to prepare a streetscaping administrative order. The proposed admin order would establish streetscaping as a formal program in HRM. Up until now, streetscaping was an ad-hoc sort of exercise. HRM has taken on some projects over the last 20 years including Portland and Gottingen Streets and, of course, Argyle. At the same time, ambitious streetscaping plans for Spring Garden and Quinpool never got off the ground (Spring Garden Road will finally get underway this coming year) because there was no real program.

The lack of a streetscaping program wasn’t just an impediment for new projects, it has been problematic for exisiing infrastructure. Streetscaping was done on Portland Street in 2008, but there was no plan for ongoing maintenance. As a result, the tiles on the planter have slowly failed and the decorative red brick has crumbled. It’s something I have been badgering staff about and, as a result, concrete was poured to replace crumbling bricks on the lower section of Portland last year, and the planters were painted to hide the broken tiles. Staff will be moving onto fix additional sections of brick this year and I’m very grateful for the effort, but poking, prodding, and begging by the area councillor doesn’t replace the need for an actual program. Getting a maintenance plan in place to manage these spaces is as important as planning to add new streetscapes to HRM’s inventory. There is no point in streetscaping Spring Garden Road and Argyle or anywhere’s else if the outcome just 10 years later is a street that looks neglected and unloved.

Staff will return in the future with the proposed administrative order and program.

Other:

  • Authorized staff to look at closing a portion of Summer Street as a solution to the Halifax Common parkade mess
  • Designated the Halifax Memorial Library property (Grafton Street Park) as a heritage site
  • Directed staff to complete and assess aquatics upgrades in Cole Harbour
  • Awarded contract for internal IT services
  • Approved the tax relief for non-profit grants, including reinstatements for several organizations
  • Directed that staff to consult with the Accessibility Advisory Committee on rideshare
  • Scheduled future heritage hearings for a large number of potential heritage properties in Downtown Halifax
  • Requested a staff report on providing a one-time grant to the Mobile Food Market so that they can buy a vehicle instead of continuing to use a transit bus
  • Approved grant requests for the Bus Stop Theatre and the Dartmouth Family Centre
  • Increased the Solar City Budget (long-term it’s zero impact as loans are paid back to HRM)
  • Scheduled heritage hearings for a number of potential heritage properties in Downtown Halifax
  • Approved events funding for the Dartmouth Ice Festival (wasn’t that an awesome event!) and the Halifax Comedy Fest
  • Entered into an funding agreement with the Province for the Herring Cove water project
  • Continued funding for the street navigator program in Downtown Dartmouth and North End Halifax
  • Revised the granting administrative order for HRM’s support of the municipality’s various business improvement districts
  • Declared a small portion of Rosedale Avenue in Fairview surplus so that HRM and the property-owner can basically trade pieces of land (we need a portion of their frontage for the Dutch Village Road project
  • Accepted recommendations from staff around the KPM Human Resources Process and Practices Review
  • Initiated a planning process to rezone a small portion of land near the Sobeys Shopping Centre in Upper Tantallon from residential to commercial
  • Adopted a new plan for Gorsebrook Park in the South End.

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