Agenda, December 7
Spring Garden Road Transit
The Spring Garden Road streetscaping project was back before Council. The question, whether to approve a pilot project making Spring Garden from Queen Street to South Park transit only? The idea of making Spring Garden Road transit only was considered by Council back in 2019 when we approved the streetscaping project. The approved approach in 2019 was to essentially use the construction project as a test how traffic patterns in the area change with the street closed. Staff committed to return to Council after the construction closure had been in place for a while with a recommendation for the street’s future. That’s what was before Council last week.
Before the construction on the streetscaping project began, Spring Garden from South Park to Queen carried just over 5,000 cars a day and 850 buses. The expectation from the engineering analysis is that through traffic could be absorbed into the surrounding street grid without major impacts and that has been borne out during construction. HRM monitored Sackville, Morris, Dresden, Birmingham, Brenton and Clyde and vehicle speed and intersection performance on six streets was unaffected by the closure of Spring Garden.
Spring Garden has long been a pedestrian focussed street. A 2018 survey found 37% of people on street had come by car while the other 63% came by transit, foot, or bike. With so many buses and pedestrians, Spring Garden has been a slow street for driving on (many motorists avoid it), and there wasn’t much parking on it even before the streetscaping project. With the new design, there will be no street parking on Spring Garden and no drop-off spots since the street has been narrowed. Closing Spring Garden to cars really shouldn’t have much impact given how the street has been evolving into a pedestrian and transit focussed place. The business community is split on the idea, with a slim majority, 54%, of business owners supportive of making the street transit only. Given Spring Garden’s use, the new streetscape design, and the support of the business community, Council voted to proceed with making Spring Garden from Queen to South Park transit only during the day starting in June. Transit only should make the street much more pleasant and our transit system more effective.
Blue Mountain Birch Cove
Everyone’s favourite park to be, Blue Mountain Birch Cove, was before Council again. Council approved the staff recommendation to initiate park planning that will include the so-called back country lands north of the Highway 113 corridor. This motion was an important reaffirmation of HRM’s commitment to the wider park. There was some controversy and doubt as to HRM’s commitment to the back country because, last year, staff recommended against providing a contribution to the Nature Trust to help the Trust acquire a key piece of back country land. Staff recommended at the time that HRM focus on the core lands to the east of the highway corridor instead. Council overruled the staff recommendation and opted to provide a contribution to the Nature Trust to help secure a key piece of back country land that connects two already protected provincial parcels into one unbroken block of protected land. With Council affirming that the back country is part of HRM’s planning, any doubts about HRM’s commitment to those lands should now be put to rest. The back country is included in the park project.
Besides reaffirming the conceptual boundaries, Council also approved continuing with planning for the park including formalizing roles with the Province, Nova Scotia Nature Trust, and Parks Canada. Why Parks Canada? Parks Canada is involved because Blue Mountain Birch Cove might become a national park in the future. Planning will also involve consultation with the Mi’kmaq and with the wider community.
HRM has made a number of successful land acquisitions in Blue Mountain Birch Cove over the last few years and it’s good to see that now being paired with advancing the planning process.
Council approved changes to HRM’s Youth Live Program. Youth Live is an employment program designed to provide opportunities and experience to youth who are facing employment barriers. Eligible program participants are 16 – 24 years of age, not attending school, and face barriers such as a lack of job experience, no high school diploma, learning disabilities, personal management challenges, criminal history, mental health challenges, or past drug addiction. Some program participants go onto co-op terms within HRM.
Youth Live has two locations, one in Beechville the other on Mitchell Street in South End Halifax. Work opportunities at Beechville focus on paper recycling and green bin repairs while the Mitchell Street depot is focussed on beverage container recycling. Over the years, interest in Youth Live has dwindled. Recent program participants have indicated it wasn’t a good fit for future employment as work was limited to warehouse type settings. After reviewing the program, staff recommended closing the Mitchell Street recycling depot and replacing it with a Monday – Friday food service at the Sackville Sports Stadium. Sackville Sports Stadium was chosen because there is a need for food service at the facility, but the private sector has never been able to make the business model work. Youth Live, being a social enterprise with different goals, won’t face the same pressure to generate a profit. It seems like a win-win for Youth Live and Sackville.
My one concern though is that moving Youth Live from the South End of the Peninsula to Sackville will mean that the program will effectively become unavailable to many youth on the Peninsula and Dartmouth who could have previously accessed it. This isn’t just a geographic and transportation challenge. If you’re feeling fairly alienated from society, it’s a big ask to require you to travel to an entirely different community, especially if it’s a community that you don’t know. Moving Youth Live to Sackville is a great opportunity for youth in Sackville, but the move will leave others behind.
When Youth Live report was in front of the Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee, I attached an amendment to the main motion for staff to return to Council with a supplementary report on expanding Youth Live to an additional site in the urban core. I suggested considering the Zatzman Sportsplex since the Sportsplex has had the same food service challenges as Sackville Sports Stadium. The Public Gardens or the Halifax Forum might also be good fits. Council approved my amended motion and staff will return with options to expand Youth Live in the future.
Commercial Districts (tax reform)
Council made a key amendment to the Regional Plan to enable HRM to average changes in commercial assessments: the creation of a commercial development district. A commercial development district is defined in the HRM Charter as containing one or more commercial properties and being located in an area that has central water and sewer services. The Province created commercial development districts to provide HRM with more flexibility on taxation, including the ability to average assessments. Commercial properties aren’t capped, meaning that the fluctuations in assessment can impose sudden increases in cost. HRM intends to average out the extremes over three years, giving property owners advanced notice and the opportunity to plan for rising costs. The creation of a commercial development district for all serviced areas now enables the municipality to bring forward an averaging system. Staff intend to bring forward specific boundaries for districts to Council in future and begin averaging assessments in 2022/2023.
- Approved registering 5492 Inglis Street and 5943 Spring Garden Road as registered heritage properties
- Reviewed the 2021 residents survey
- Approved official names for a bunch of private lanes, two public streets, and the renaming of Mawio’mi Place in North Woodside to Mawio’mi Place. Good to see the proper Mi’kmaq place name now that apostrophes can be used on HRM streets
- Authorized tenders for properties coming up for tax sale
- Agreed to sell Park West School Park in Fairview to the Province so that the Province can build the new Park West School next to the old one
- Appointed a new building official
- Agreed to proceeding with design work for the next phase of the Herring Cove Water project
- Approved a $300,000 increase in the fleet budget to acquire six new vehicles to meet the needs of additional building officers
- Requested staff reports on registering St. Mary’s Boat Club as a heritage building, developing a management plan for Kearney Lake and Little Kearney Lake, a senior’s safety program, and on ditch maintenance