Stadium: Probably most of you have likely heard about my motion to rescind Council’s previous direction to have staff do a detailed review of Schooner Sports and Entertainment’s proposed stadium. If passed, this would effectively end discussion with Schooner Sports.
I haven’t entered into this lightly. A year ago, along with the rest of my Council colleagues, I voted for staff to consider the proposal from Schooner Sports. What we were pitched at that time was a private-sector driven stadium. I expressed some reservations about the project and what I would be looking for from staff, but agreed to see what was on offer. My hope was that what HRM would be asked for would be to give up taxes on the stadium property and associated commercial development (hotel, sports bar, etc). I could live with that since that’s the stadium development itself which otherwise wouldn’t happen (there are virtually no 100% privately built stadiums out there). I expressed at that time that I wouldn’t support giving away all the tax revenue on other development in Shannon Park that will happen anyway, or consider a major capital contribution. Well, now we know what Schooner Sports is pitching and they have a funny way of defining private-sector driven.
HRM and the Province are being asked to pay the entire cost of building the stadium (likely through annual payments on the loan), contribute towards the ongoing capital cost, build the off-site transportation infrastructure, and take on the risk, both by guaranteeing the loan, and on, potentially, not getting payments from the Schooners if the team proves to be unsuccessful. Schooner proposes to handle the operating costs and add temporary bleachers to get the stadium up to CFL size. That’s far from good enough and far from something that I can accept. This is very much a publicly funded stadium, and not the privately-driven project that was suggested during the pitch.
Add to that the fact that HRM has limited capital dollars. Last year during our budget deliberations, Council really struggled with how to limit the tax increase. We also refused to endorse staff’s proposed long-term capital plan because of all the core mandate stuff on the unfunded B list. That B list included a lot of strategic transportation projects including transit, active transportation, and remodeling our streets. HRM also has challenges with the state of repair of a lot of our existing facilities including recreation centres, parks, libraries, and our police station. Add to that the fact that HRM will need to come up with significant capital dollars over the next several years to take advantage of federal and provincial funding programs. In that context, with no established plan to meet many of our core responsibilities and invest in projects that will make an important difference in the day-to-day lives of our residents, it’s pretty hard to justify $2 million each and every year to the Schooners or an upfront payment of between $15 and $22 million to fund the stadium. Putting money into the stadium means not doing other projects. That’s an unpleasant truth, but it’s reality. It’s just basic math.
Given our other priorities and how decidedly not private-sector driven the pitch has actually turned out to be, Council should consider whether we really want to sink six months worth of staff time into analyzing this. Doing a detailed dive isn’t free. It’ll take staff away from other initiatives. It is a cost. My answer to that is we’re too far apart and it’s not worth it.
In the end, we didn’t debate the stadium motion yesterday. My motion has been rescheduled to our next meeting on the 22 at the request of Councillor Walker who is dealing with a family emergency and couldn’t attend Council. Waiting till the 22nd will also give new Sackville Councillor Paul Russel the opportunity to vote on the issue since he’ll likely be sworn-in on the 22nd. A motion to rescind requires 2/3rds support, which will be hard to get, but win or lose, there is value in Council being clear whether we want to proceed to the next phase.
Affordable Housing: The topic of affordable housing came up again at Council, this time in relation to the controversial Willow Tree development. In exchange for being able to add five more storeys onto the building, the Willow Tree owners are obliged to provide affordable housing in their building for a set time period (likely 15 years) or pay $1.8 million to HRM in lieu. The owners have opted to pay the money and Council approved that approach, but not without some discussion.
It’s worth reiterating that the option that everyone would like to pursue, requiring a certain percentage of affordable housing in every development, isn’t something that HRM has the power to do. HRM can require units by agreement through density bonusing, but there are legal limits in that approach as to how long they can be made affordable. This approach isn’t that compelling because it means that newly created affordable housing would only be a temporary benefit and not a long-term addition to our community.
The time limit issue would go away if, instead, HRM had the power to do Inclusionary Zoning. Inclusionary Zoning would make a percentage of affordable housing a requirement in new development as part of the land-use bylaw rather than by density bonusing agreement, which means it would be required for as long as the bylaw is in effect rather than disappearing at an arbitrary contract date. Taking money for housing through density bonusing isn’t without merit. In Saskatoon, their housing fund has produced over 5,000 affordable units over the last five years. Like in Saskatoon, a fund in HRM could help get non-profit projects off the ground and could be used by groups to help tap into federal money, but a fund isn’t a substitute for what Inclusionary Zoning could do.
HRM asked the Province to amend the Charter to allow us to do Inclusionary Zoning, but the Province has been, unfortunately, unwilling to act on that request. They replied by amending the Charter to allow density bonusing outside the Regional Centre instead. So, HRM is left using density bonusing payments to do the job that Inclusionary Zoning would be better at. This would be a good issue to write your MLA about since, without a change a heart of at Province House, HRM is stuck trying to work around this issue with less effective options.
Centre Plan: The Centre Plan’s Package A passed! This long, long process has finally produced new planning rules for Peninsula Halifax and Dartmouth inside the Circumferential. I have gone on about the Centre Plan a lot in the past, and I think most people have heard about it at this point so I’ll just quickly say that the process of establishing clear rules about what development is permitted where and what form it will take will be of benefit to everyone. People should know what to expect in their neighbourhoods and landowners should know what they can do with their properties. Package A deals with the growth areas, which in Dartmouth are Downtown, Portland by Maynard Lake, Pleasant by the old Sobeys, and Wyse Road, as well as future growth nodes where a more traditional discretionary planning process by development agreement will apply including Shannon Park, Dartmouth Cove, Mic Mac Mall, and Penhorn Mall. HRM is expecting Provincial sign-off on Package A by the end of the year (rules are binding now), with consultation on Package B, the established residential neighbourhoods, beginning in 2020.
I did want to take a moment to discuss the creation of an Urban Core Community Council since a few people raised this as an issue of concern and how it relates to Dartmouth’s identity and control over local matters. To be clear, Dartmouth’s Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council isn’t going anywhere. It will still have jurisdiction over most things and it will still be the once a month community forum at Alderney Gate where residents can directly present issues of concern to Dartmouth’s councils. None of that is changing. The creation of a Urban Core Council is necessitated for a few very narrow reasons created by the new Centre Plan.
Regional Council has delegated authority on planning issues in three areas to community councils and jurisidiction for each has to be assigned with the arrival of the Centre Plan:
(1) variances and appeal
(2) development agreements and
(3) land-use bylaw amendments (MPS changes would still be a Regional Council decision).
The new Urban Core Community Council needs to have control over appeals because otherwise the Halifax and Harbour East Councils would interpret the same plan separately, creating the potential for inconsistent rulings. Two subsets of Regional Council separately interpreting the same plan! This power is likely to be very minor in the grand scheme of things since variances will be largely done by development officers. In the whole time that Downtown Halifax has had the same model under HRMbyDesign, there have been just two appeals up to Council. Based on that, a Community Council that is in charge of appeals alone could go years without meeting
The second area that the Urban Core Community Council needs to have jurisdiction over is amendments to the land-use bylaw. If it doesn’t, then it would be technically possible for either the Halifax or Harbour East Councils to amend the Centre Plan without the other! Obviously that won’t work so the absence of an Urban Core Community Council would mean joint sittings. If we’re doing joint sittings that’s 11 of 16 councillors making it easier to count who isn’t needed than is. A majority of the 11 also wouldn’t even represent Centre Plan areas. That doesn’t make sense and isn’t practical.
Where Harbour East and Halifax and West will retain control though is development agreements. Development agreements will still be the route for determining the type and form of development in future growth areas (Shannon Park, Mic Mac Mall, Penhorn, Dartmouth Cove), and could also be pursued for sites larger than 1 ha, and for properties involving heritage buildings. They’re inherently local and encapsulate a vision for future local development that the Centre Plan hasn’t fleshed out. I don’t support the Urban Core Community Council taking on development agreements. That needs to to stay with the existing Community Councils.
So Harbour East and Halifax and West will continue to exist and an Urban Core Community Council will have narrow jurisdiction over land-use elements that can’t practically be handled elsewhere. It’ll meet maybe 1-3 times a year, if that. I don’t see an issue here that in anyway threatens Dartmouth or its identity. It’s just the routine aspects of good governance. Staff will return to Council in the future to formally establish a narrowly delegated Urban Core Community Council.
Youth Transit Pilot: Council gave final approval to the fare changes that took effect on Monday, September 30. While the $0.25 across the board fare increase has already been covered in detail (see my August update), Council did identify a source of funding for the youth transit pilot program. The youth transit pilot will increase the age that kids ride free until from 5 to 13. Making transit free for younger kids is something that other cities in Canada have been doing including London (age 12) , Toronto (age 14), Kingston (age 18), and Victoria (age 18).
There are social benefits to providing transit to youth for free, but the part that makes me really keen on this initiative is the potential to create a culture of transit use. It’s pretty hard to convince someone in their 30s that has had no experience in using transit that they should leave the car at home and start taking the bus. If we want to get more people on transit, it needs to be a normalized and regular part of life. The hope is that kids that experience using transit growing up will go onto become regular users when they become adults. It’s a long-term investment in ridership and sustainability.
I’m hopeful that free until age 13 is just a starting point. Council has given direction to staff to explore the potential of a pass program for junior high and high school students with the Province. Since university and college students already have access to a U-Pass, a partnership with the Province would fill the remaining gap from 12-18, creating an affordable youth transit program right from birth through university. Checkout this video explaining how it works in Kingston
Expanding youth transit to provide older students with passes will require a commitment from the provincial government. It’s not something that HRM can do on its own. Hopefully we’ll be able to work something out as it would be ideal to offer free transit for kids that are likely riding with parents, then student passes for the older grades that are more independent and able to ride alone.
EV Vehicles: The rise of the electric car seems to be increasingly a question of when, not if, which is good news as the potential environmental benefits are significant. Yes, Nova Scotia still gets a majority of its power from coal, but burning coal in a power plant is still much more efficient than gasoline. Obviously the environmental benefits improve the more renewables are used in the power grid, but the superior fuel efficiency means an electric car powered by our coal plants will still cut emissions by 50% compared to a gasoline vehicle.
Although electric vehicles are better for the environment and have the potential to produce long-term operating and maintenance savings, the uptake in Nova Scotia has been very slow. There are 41,000 electric vehicles on the road in Canada, but just 170 in Nova Scotia. The positive influence of the tax credits/rebates in British Colombia, Ontario, and Quebec is striking, and hopefully, the new federal credit will have an impact here. Beyond the financial side of things though, the lack of infrastructure to support electric vehicles is also part of the problem.
HRM is in the midst of preparing a municipal Climate Change Plan that will set out actions to reduce HRM’s emissions. Greening the municipal vehicle fleet and encouraging others to switch to electric vehicles will be a significant part of the plan since transportation accounts for about 25% of all our carbon emissions. HRM’s Climate Change Plan will come before Council in the spring, but Council set direction for staff to start work on an EV vehicles strategy right away. The strategy will guide the installation of public charging stations at municipal facilities (libraries, community centres, park and rides, etc) and, possibly, on streets as well. The strategy will also look at what’s needed to start converting the municipal fleet.
In addition to the strategy, Council will also be looking for specific Charter amendments from the Province to allow us to require developers to install charging infrastructure in new developments. Hopefully, with the attention on climate change, this is an amendment request that won’t languish at Province House. Expect to hear more about HRM’s Climate Change Plan in the spring.
Pet Waste: Council voted to look at a pilot project in next year’s budget to collect dog waste in a few HRM parks. Collecting and diverting dog waste from the landfill would be new to HRM, but it’s something that several other municipalities across the country are doing. Waterloo and Mississauga, for example, have several Sutera receptacles (pictured above) in parks. Waste is stored underground and then collected and broken down using anaerobic digestion. Several municipalities in and around Vancouver also collect pet waste and then use the anaerobic processes in their wastewater treatment plants to break down the waste.
HRM’s challenge won’t really be collecting the waste, it’ll be figuring out what to do with it since our existing composting facilities don’t use anaerobic digestion. That’s why HRM doesn’t take pet waste in the green bin, our compost facilities are’t designed to handle it. HRM is in the midst of tendering for new long-term operations of our composting program and whoever wins the contract might opt for an anerobic process. It’ll come at a cost, but HRM might be able to accept pet waste curbside in the years ahead. For now, we’ll start with a pilot in a few well-used parks. I expect Shubie will likely be one of the locations given the popularity of the off-leash area in the Park. More to come on this initiative next year.
- Made revisions to the District Capital and District Activity fund policy
- Appointed a new building official
- Approved the issuance of the fall debenture (municipal debt)
- Council agreed to reconsider our previous direction not to study the idea of charging fees at some high demand park and rides
- Closed a portion of Purcells Cove Road which was actually the front of someone’s house, and closed a portion of Grosvenor Road to allow a daycare to reorganize their driveways
- Increased contract budgets for the new St. Andrew’s Community Centre, Woodside Ferry Terminal renovation, and design work for the Herring Cove water project
- Directed staff to complete an employee survey and develop an employment equity program to try and increase the number of women working for HRM (HRM is 70% men)
- Potentially rerouted the new route 91 in Bedford (I opposed this)
- Set the 2020 Council meeting schedule
- Asked staff to consider whether land-use bylaws protecting the shoreline around the Northwest Arm need to be improved as part of the upcoming Bylaw Simplification Project (a Centre Plan for the suburbs effort)
- Final approval (second reading) for the $0.25 transit fare increase and the changes to the taxi bylaw
- Renamed Brenton Place to Clyde Street to give the four block continous street a consistent name, and approved the naming of several new streets and private lanes
- Corrected a typo in the Dartmouth Main Street Business Improvement District area rate
- Awarded the tender for the new fire station in Williamswood (replaces Herring Cove)
- Provided a one-time contribution of $10,000 to the Vimy Foundation for a Vimy Oak to be planted at Vimy Ridge in France
- Amended the Convention Centre Business Case to allow any potential deed transfer tax revenues from the property to be deposited in the reserve account (it’s a fairly meaningless paper exercise as the bill has to be paid regardless)
- Approved a one-time exception to the District Capital Policy to allow Councillor Karstin to make a contribution to the Beacon Community Newspaper in Eastern Passage
- Wrote the Province to request permission for a crosswalk in front of Porters Lake Elementary
- Requested staff reports on allowing artisan vending in Ferry Terminal Park, a trail connection from Westmount Plains to the Old Lawrencetown Road, on potential road projects that could impact Blue Mountain Birch Cove (Highway 113 and Eider Drive – Sussex Drive connection), wood debris pick-up from Hurricane Dorian, on establishing a new committee to hear taxi license appeals, heritage protection in South End Halifax, and on a potential grant to the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre
- Amended the Regional Plan to protect wildlife corridors and sensitive areas identified in the Green Network Plan
- Approved minor tweaks to the development agreement for the Seven Lakes development in Porters Lake
- Granted a flypast request for the HMCS Kootenay Remembrance ceremony and for Remembrance Day
- Increased the budget for the Lucasville Bridge Rehabilitation project
- Awarded the contract for four new fire trucks
- Initiated the planning process to allow for the conversion of a former corner store into apartments near Aulburn High School
- Amended the Civic Addressing Bylaw so that HRM can takeover sign maintenance on private roads
- Asked staff to look at amendments to the Board of Police Commissioners bylaw to ensure compliance with the Police Code of Ethics
- Appointed Councillor Blackburn to the Police Commission to fill former Councillor Craig’s vacancy
- Approved an events grant to WE Day Atlantic
- Extended funding for the Street Navigator Program in Downtown Dartmouth and North End Halifax while the two Business Improvement Districts pursue Provincial funding