Council Update: Store Hours, Bedford Ferry, Heritage Buildings, Spring Garden

Randy's Pizza, Boland Road. Photo: Google

Corner Store Hours
Council gave first reading for a new bylaw limiting hours of operation for convenience stores, restaurants, and grocery stores operating in residential zones. I wasn’t planning to write about this since it’s mainly a Peninsula Halifax issue, but there has been a fair bit of attention on this proposed bylaw.

First, HRM very much understands the importance of a walkable city, and that’s why, in the Centre Plan, there are mixed-use nodes all over the place. These neighbourhood hubs are zoned Downtown, Centre or Corridor and were almost all significantly up zoned in the Centre Plan. Commercial (with no time of day restrictions) and multi-unit buildings are permitted as-of-right in these zones. In Dartmouth, these areas are:

  • Downtown Dartmouth
  • Portland Street around Maynard Lake
  • Pleasant Street around the old Sobeys
  • Victoria Road from just past Boland out towards Highfield
  • northern part of Windmill Road
  • Wyse Road
  • Grahams Grove
  • Penhorn and Mic Mac Mall also come into the mix as comprehensive planning areas
  • Higher order residential zones (mostly large existing apartment buildings) also allow some limited commercial

There are very few neighbourhoods in District 5 that aren’t walking distance to one of these locations. These are our current and future neighbourhood streets and hubs just around the corner from where people live.

Centre Plan zoning in Dartmouth. Pink (Corridor), Purple (Downtown), and Centre (Red) are very permissive for commercial uses and Higher Order residential (orange) allows some commercial. Blue (comprehensive development) generally anticipates commercial once master planning for new development is complete. Beige (established residential) is more restrictive. Click image for full-sized PDF

In the established residential areas (the ER-3, ER-2, and ER-1 zones) commercial uses are still allowed, but by development agreement. Proposals in these areas have to come to Council for approval and development agreements typically have conditions around hours of operation to minimize impacts on neighbours. This is reasonable as the intent of the established residential zones is to have less intensity. Not everything in the Regional Centre is meant to work at the scale of Downtown.

So commercial activity is allowed in neighbourhood hubs as-of-right and can be considered everywhere else by development agreement. The disappearance of corner stores over the last few decades and scaling back of drug and grocery store hours is largely due to market conditions. The way to get those things back is to increase density (higher density = more people = more demand). There is a reason why these services exist in dense neighbourhoods in big cities, but have disappeared in smaller centres like ours. That of course goes back to the Centre Plan’s goal of allowing much more intensive development as-of-right in the downtowns and neighbourhood hubs while also increasing some density in established residential zones (secondary/backyard suites, duplexes, flats, triplexes etc). HRM’s planning is very much aimed at providing every neighbourhood in the Regional Centre with commercial services within walking distance while increasing the population to make a wider variety of businesses there viable.

So where does the hours of commercial uses in residential zones bylaw come in? When a new planning bylaw comes into force, existing uses are grandfathered. This means commercial uses in residential zones that existed before the Centre Plan and would require a development agreement if proposed today, get to carry on operating. Over on the Peninsula, there have been concerns over the last few years about late night activity in residential neighbourhoods, mainly at Jubilee and Preston, that has underlined the bylaw gap. Only two people participated in HRM’s official public process (bit of a bust), but there have been many complaints outside of that formal process. The proposed bylaw would limit hours for convenience stores, restaurants, and grocery stores operating in residential areas (the ER zones) without grandfathering. All businesses in areas with commercial zoning would be unaffected. The staff report indicates that five businesses would be directly impacted.

I don’t know all the dynamics at play around the universities and on local issues Council tends to give a lot of weight to the area councillor and staff recommendation (hence the unanimous vote at first reading). This is a non-issue in Dartmouth where there aren’t any comparable complaints about noise and nuisance activities and I’m not keen on punishing Dartmouth businesses to solve a Halifax problem. I have done my homework in District 5 where we have three commercial businesses operating in established residential zones that could be impacted: Triple N on Windmill Road, Namaste Indian Grocery on Gaston Road, and Randy’s Pizza on Boland Road.

I have visited all three District 5 businesses and spoken with all three owners and none have any concerns about the bylaw. Triple N on Windmill closes at 9:00 pm and the owner has absolutely no plans to extend hours. It’s a similar situation for Namaste on Gaston Road which closes at 10:30 pm, but often wraps up for the night just after 10:00. Randy’s Pizza on Boland Road would be one of the five affected businesses referenced in the HRM report since they’re currently open to midnight. The owner of Randy’s has no concerns, however, with closing an hour earlier at 11:00 pm. He told me that there is almost no business after 11:00 pm (see my earlier point about market conditions) and they’re usually cleaning the kitchen up in that last hour in preparation for closing. None of the three business owners in District 5 were concerned about HRM restricting hours in residential zones to 11:00 pm and every other convenience store/pizza place in District 5, from Jake’s, to John’s, to Lakefront Variety, to Showtime and everything in between is in a commercial zone and is unaffected by the proposed bylaw. This is very much a Peninsula Halifax issue in both neighbour complaints and impacts on businesses.

Given that HRM has lots of commercial zones in close proximity to most neighbourhoods where all hours businesses are allowed, given that the proposed bylaw only affects commercial businesses in residential zones where there would normally be restrictions on hours through a development agreement, given that the proposal has the support of staff and the area councillor that represents the area most affected, and given that there are no negative impacts in District 5, I’m okay with the proposed approach. There has been a lot of additional feedback on this issue though over the last few days and I wouldn’t say my position is immoveable. If another alternative approach to deal with nuisance issues around stores is identified I’m open to that.

Concept plan for a Mill Cove Ferry

Bedford Ferry
HRM is moving closer to making a major investment in expanding the ferry system. Staff brought a report to Council on the potential for a Bedford Ferry to Mill Cove with options for Council to consider. Preliminary work had suggested a cost of around $120 million and tentative federal and provincial commitments to the project were secured. More detailed work, however, has revealed a much more sizeable cost of $288 million. Quite a bit of sticker shock in that increase! HRM has revised some of the project components to reduce costs to around $215 million. What we will get for that money is a new Halifax Ferry Terminal with five ferry berths, a new ferry terminal at Mill Cove in Bedford with five berths, and five to six electric ferries.

$215 million is a lot of money and this project is really only possible because of federal and provincial infrastructure dollars. Based on the original $120 million estimate, the Province notionally earmarked $40.3 million (1/3 of the original estimated cost), the feds $47.4 and HRM $32.3. The question is what happens now that the overall budget is much higher? Staff conversations with the Province indicate that it’s unlikely that the Province will increase their contribution. HRM could seek to divert infrastructure dollars that were notionally allocated to a new Burnside Transit Garage to the ferry project and seek other program opportunities for Burnside, but that comes with risks too.

Depending on whether the Province increases their share or not, HRM will have to come up with $57.3 to $88.7 million, which is much more than the originally estimated $32.3. With commuter rail not possible though because of restrictions on the CN right-of-way and with bus only options on the Bedford Highway much more expensive to build, a ferry service appears to be the best and most cost-effective option to provide higher order transit to the Bedford area. We’ll know more about costs and how HRM, the Province, and Feds will share in the expense in future once the Province and Feds have reviewed HRM’s final funding application.

In this image: henry hicks
Henry Hicks Building at Dalhousie. Photo: Dalhousie Gazette

University Heritage Buildings
Council gave direction to staff to look at heritage registration for buildings belonging to HRM’s various universities. HRM’s universities have generally been good stewards of their heritage properties, maintaining many important buildings and renovating them adaptatively so that they’re not just museum pieces, but functioning parts of their campuses. When I was a King’s student back in the early 2000s and the New Academic Building was under construction, I remember being impressed that they were putting actual stone, not a facsimile or precast panels, but actual stone, on the first floor so that the new building would somewhat reflect the historic King’s campus.

That said, our university’s record of respecting their built heritage isn’t without some blemishes. Back in 2014, Saint Mary’s University tore down Bethany House, aka the the Halifax Infants Home. The building was definitely important provincially if not nationally as part of the social history of our province. Fixing it was judged to be too expensive by SMU, however, and it was torn down for what is now a sidewalk, and lawn. There was nothing anyone could do to intervene and prevent that from happening since the building wasn’t a registered heritage building. From beyond the rubble, Bethany House warns that just because a building is owned by a university, doesn’t mean that its heritage significance can be taken for granted.

The Infants Home in better days. Photo courtesy Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia.
Bethany House before Saint Mary’s University demolished it to build a sidewalk. Photo: Heritage Trust

Dalhousie, however, is concerned about the potential for registering their buildings. The concern seems to boil down to fears that it would limit the university’s ability to grow, particularly regarding some of the old houses that Dalhousie owns that the university doesn’t see as forever assets. Dal is somewhat missing the point in my opinion.

The staff report points out that other universities in Canada, like the University of Toronto and McGill have large numbers of heritage properties and that certainly hasn’t held those institutions back. Heritage registration also doesn’t freeze a building in time. HRM’s policy on heritage buildings in fact allows for much more flexibility in terms of land-use planning for registered buildings than for unregistered buildings. That’s why we’ve been seeing more and more developers coming to Council to seek registration of their properties. You can do more with a registered building than an unregistered one under the Centre Plan, encouraging preservation! The most development rights that Dalhousie might get for some of their old houses might in fact be as registered properties, although it’s very much an open question whether HRM would want to register them all. Just because a building is old doesn’t mean it has heritage significance.

HRM and Dalhousie clearly need to have some further conversations about heritage registration and HRM has some work to do there. Dal felt taken by surprise by the staff report and that’s not a great spot to be coming from. There will be time for more conversation now as the next step for staff is to go away and start looking at individual properties to bring forward for consideration.

Police enforcement on Spring Garden Road during the failed first attempt at a bus only pilot. Photo: CBC

Spring Garden Road Transit:
Council has officially rescinded this year’s failed attempt at a bus-only pilot on Spring Garden Road. You probably recall the much criticized pilot that didn’t work because drivers kept using Spring Garden Road. The existing signage clearly wasn’t adequate and it became very clear that the only way the first attempt was going to work was if HRM had a police officer standing in the intersection all day, which isn’t feasible.

The new plan is to bring the bus only pilot back in the spring with additional traffic control measures to make it actually effective. For the next attempt, staff are considering different signage and pavement markings (likely to be insufficient on their own), barriers, traffic signal changes, or an automated gate, like what Transit already has in place to allow access at the Highfield Bus Terminal. My own assumption is that an automated gate is probably about the only thing that will really work, but we’ll see what staff come up with for attempt number two. Staff will return to Council with a report on new measures before next year’s second attempt.


  • Reviewed two information reports: (1) HRM workforce report and (2) area rate and business plans
  • Renewed a less than market value lease with the West Halifax Housing Co-Op on Regent Road in Halifax
  • Deferred a public hearing for planning changes in Fairview to request a report on requiring density bonusing in the area
  • Scheduled a public hearing to consider development off Ingram Drive in Fall River
  • Increased design consultant contract for the new fire department headquaters in Bedford
  • Requested staff reports on removing heritage registration for 954 Old Sackville Road (vacant land that has been subdivided from an adjacent heritage property), and on developing a framework around major events

1 Comment

  1. I reaLLY do not care about Downtown Halifax when its the number one cause of the wacko shortcutting traffic through the Brightwood area which is making hard for people to cross both Slayter St and Victoria Road . Something immediate needs to be done there when drivers ignore both Stop signs and pedestrian at intersections in a residential area . If HRM is serious about walkability they need fix this now and I mean before winter comes or before someone gets hurt. This needs attention ASAP

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