Council Update: Twin Lakes

Harbour East Community Council had a significant development proposal before us last night: Twin Lakes. The Twin Lakes project site is located on Prince Albert Road near the Braemar Superstore (where Napa and the Surveyor’s Association are now). The project consists of two 12 storey buildings linked together with a pedway and a shared parking podium. The site is a good spot for development because it has good access to roads, transit, active transportation, commercial services, groceries, a school, and parks. That’s why the Centre Plan identified Grahams Grove as a great location for new development.

Despite the location being well suited for development, staff recommended that Council not approve Twin Lakes. Staff’s concern is that the project is too big and bulky for the location.

I give the recommendations of HRM’s planning staff a lot of weight. In the fours years that I have been on Council, I have rarely voted against staff’s recommendation on planning matters, and it’s even rarer that I have voted to override a negative staff recommendation (a project in Bedford that had the local Councillor’s support is the only other instance I can think of). I did so here with Twin Lakes because of some very particular circumstances.

Public Support:
Despite not getting staff support, Twin Lakes does have strong community support. Feedback at the public information meeting held in 2019 at the Mic Mac Aquatic Club was overwhelmingly positive, as were the submissions made as part of the public hearing. Only one nearby neighbour expressed concerns about the project. While the planning department isn’t supportive of Twin Lakes, people in the neighbourhood clearly are. That’s pretty rare.

Existing Development Agreement:
Twin Lakes isn’t a blank slate. It’s actually a redesign of an already approved 2006 proposal. The 2006 proposal allowed for a 12 storey multi-unit building, but at that time, the developer only owned a narrow strip of property on Prince Albert Road. That limited street frontage on Prince Albert Road forced the developer to situate the tower in the 2006 version near the crest of the hill, well back from the street, and in close proximity to both the duplexes on Curley Drive and Alderney Elementary. It was a very awkward location.

Rendering of the 2006 Twin Lakes design

What has changed since 2006 is the developer acquired two additional properties on Prince Albert Road (Napa and the Surveyor’s Association). Adding those properties has allowed the developer to redesign the project and move it down to street level on Prince Albert Road. This provides several positive benefits:

  1. Retaining the treed area between the development and Alderney Elementary, resulting in a better buffer between the development on one hand, and the school and nearby duplexes on the other
  2. Moving the height down the hill means that the building will be less impactful on the scenery around Banook (building at the crest of the hill would have made the building appear much taller)
  3. A better more pedestrian-focussed streetscape on Prince Albert Road

These are all big improvements over the original proposal! What the developer gets out of the redesign, besides a better project, is two towers instead of one.

Twin Lakes 2006
Twin Lakes Redesign

The 2006 development agreement is expired, but it hasn’t been discharged by Council. It was sitting in limbo awaiting the outcome of the revised application. Staff recommended rejecting the Twin Lakes redesign, but they also recommended that Council renew the 2006 development agreement. Staff’s advice to reject the improved Twin Lakes project, while allowing the 2006 version to potentially go ahead didn’t make practical sense to me. The redesign is a much stronger project.

In theory, Council could have opted to refuse both the redesign and the extension to the 2006 agreement, but there would have been a lot of risk in that. Refusing to extend the timeline would have been appealable to the Utility and Review Board. If HRM lost an appeal of the extension, the developer’s remaining option would be to build the much less compelling 2006 design. That wasn’t a gamble I was prepared to make, especially when a much improved redesign that has community support was on the table.

Finally, I don’t think the Twin Lakes proposal is nearly as incompatible with the neighbourhood as staff have argued. Grahams Grove has quite a mix of buildings and uses. There are duplexes and small homes at the far end of Prince Albert Road, some small-scale commercial buildings, the two storey, but massive in footprint, Superstore, several mid-rise apartments, and, soon, a 16 storey hotel. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what the form of this place is, and so much of what’s there now is in flux. Besides the hotel, the properties between Twin Lakes and Lawrence Street have all recently been bought by developers. Those properties are all zoned to allow for about six storeys (20 meters), meaning that there will likely be more construction at Grahams Grove in the future. Prince Albert Road by the Superstore is going to look very different in five years.

The elephant in the room in terms of height and scale is the Prince Albert/Glenwood hotel that’s currently under construction. The hotel is in much closer proximity to low-rise homes than Twin Lakes and, yet it was supported by staff at 10 storeys. Council didn’t support the scale of the Prince Albert/Glenwood development, but we lost that battle when the developer changed the project to the as-of-right hotel option. Making the 16 storey hotel the new height standard for everything around Grahams Grove doesn’t make sense, but completely discounting its existence doesn’t make sense either. It’s going to be part of Grahams Grove and we have to think about what that means for the cityscape.

The Centre Plan dictates that everything else in Grahams Grove will be no more than about six storeys (20 meters), which means that without Twin Lakes, the hotel will be 10 storeys taller than everything else. It will be all alone. A finger sticking up out of the landscape! Twin Lakes’s two 12 storey towers provides an opportunity to take some of the edge off the out-of-scale height of the Prince Albert/Glenwood hotel and better manage the transition to the surrounding neighbourhood.

Because Twin Lakes had community support, because it was really a redesign that made significant improvements over the 2006 version of the project, and because the neighbourhood is quite mixed in size and scale, I was comfortable approving the project. Once the appeal period is over, the ball will be in the developer’s court as to when they want to get started.


  1. When all these new developments like this one and the one at Penhorn mall is any consideration done to the impact of the traffic. Dartmouth is congeted enough without adding more.

    • Hi Gina. Congestion isn’t going to be something that’s ever solved. It’s something that we manage. In new development, it’s easy to imagine the worse, all the new residents and cars coming out. The situation is usually much more complicated. New development close to us here in the core actually creates less of a burden then if we force it out to the edges. We know from Stats Canada that apprxomimately 50% of folks in these new developments won’t take a car to work. They’ll use alternatives. Out in Cole Harbour though, 90% will drive. The best transportation plan is a good land use plan. Managing traffic starts with making sure we’re putting development where vehicle alternatives are the most appealing. Grahams Grove and Penhorn both have a good chance of that.

  2. ‘ The Centre Plan dictates that everything else in Grahams Grove will be no more than about six storeys (20 meters), which means that without Twin Lakes, the hotel will be 10 storeys taller than everything else. It will be all alone. A finger sticking up out of the landscape! Twin Lakes’s two 12 storey towers provides an opportunity to take some of the edge off the out-of-scale height of the Prince Albert/Glenwood hotel and better manage the transition to the surrounding neighbourhood.’ Wow! So we have a 16 storey out of scale monstrosity being built because the bylaws were outdated and the Centre Plan was being debated for over a decade. Now we have a Centre Plan and height restrictions (6 storeys or roughly 20 metres) for Graham’s Grove but we’ll still allow more high rises to be erected so the 16 storey monstrosity does no longer looks as monstrous?! Incredible argument!

    • It’s one aspect of it, yes. I didn’t want the hotel, but it’s done. We can’t go back to a time when it wasn’t going to be part of the neigbourhood. We have to deal with it. The other key aspects of Twin Lakes is there was no neighbourhood opposition to this project whatsoever (direct opposite in fact) and that they could have built a much worse project if I followed staff advice.

  3. Erik: having carefully re-read Sam’s update, I’m perplexed at your comment.

    The central justification for moving ahead with the Twin Lakes 12-story twin-tower development is not based on “taking the edge off” the nearby 16-story hotel development. It is simply an obvious observation Sam fairly makes, pointing out that Twin Lakes has some potential to ameliorate the objectionable visual impact of the hotel.

    I’m strongly in favour of the Twin Lakes development and have appeared at public hearings and provided written submissions in support. The development supplies much-needed quality accommodation, currently in short supply in District 5. Furthermore, it contributes to slowing the suburban sprawl that plagues HRM. For those who have made the decision that their home-ownership days are over, developments like Twin Lakes provide the option for conveniently-located apartment living. These factors, I submit, are what overwhelmingly justify it.

    I was also a supporter of the 10-story apartment development originally proposed for the corner of Glenwood and Prince Albert Road. In retrospect, one suspects the hundreds of naysayers opposed to that development would, given opportunity for a do-over, now be more than pleased to have the apartment development they so strenuously objected to, as opposed to the 16-story hotel they’re now stuck with. And, it must be pointed out, a 16-story hotel the developer was entitled to build from the get-go. This is a classic example of people thinking they’re driving the bus, when in fact they weren’t even aboard for the ride.

    Finally, the central issue plaguing HRM, and one that I’m convinced isn’t even acknowledged as a problem, let alone close to being solved, is the inordinately time-consuming bureaucratic process involved in getting anything approved. This, in combination with the inability of Council to resist the entreaties of small-in-number but loud-of-voice NIMBY critics and other special interest groups. Taken together, the result is a city stuck with white elephant convention centre, empty bike lanes, and supposedly ‘temporary’ plywood living shelters set to proliferate on public property.

    In the instance of Twin Lakes, I applaud Councillor Austin for having displayed the good sense and strength of conviction required to reject the advice of HRM staff, on an issue where the latter had not fully considered the best interests of the community.

  4. On a different topic- I am not sure what you mean by “empty bike lanes,” but I will add- I find the bikes lanes recently added in downtown Halifax (like South Park street going towards Point Pleasant) are quite scary because they are between the sidewalk and a lane for parked cars. This means that cars coming out of driveways need to block the bike lane when pulling out and waiting for a break in traffic- which is a scary and requires quickly breaking and stopping on the bike if a car happens to be trying to get on the road (and is esp dangerous if another biker is behind me). And it’s a bit anxiety inducing to think of the lack of visibility of drivers turning into the driveways that intersect those lanes to see bikers, as the view is blocked by the parked cars! As a regular biker, I avoid those streets for this reason. I am honestly surprised no one has been killed yet. I really wish the bike lanes would have been put right next to the road- that way a car trying to get on or off the road could see oncoming car and bike traffic at the same time. No more blocking the bike lane at bad times.

    • Hi Rowan. Generally the best practice is to use parked cars to further buffer bike lanes from the rest of traffic. I take your point about areas of potential conflict though. Not sure if it would be any better by putting the bike lane in front of parking since then every parked car would have to be able to cross the bike lane as well rather than just those going into driveways.

      • Hi Sam, thanks for the reply! But I still think it’s too dangerous where the bike lanes are now. Even though more cars are parking, they have a clear view of the bike lane, they would cross the bike lane quickly, and they wouldn’t be stopped in the bike lane (as cars leaving driveways are now).

        Another thing: where the bike lanes are now has the risk of being doored by a person on the passenger side of the car. I think passengers are less in the habit of checking behind the car before opening the door. While being on a bike, there is always a risk of being hit by an opening car door, but I feel like people on the driver’s side are more cognizant of check for traffic or bikers before opening the door since they are beside road traffic.

        I know the lanes have been made as they are, money has been spent, and can’t really be changed, but I suppose I do want to put forward this feedback for future development design.

    • Not meaning to be obtuse here, but it means no bikes, in either direction, for as far as the eye can see, for significant portions of each day. Especially during months when the weather is inclement, which is about a quarter to one third of the year in Halifax. I bike commuted to and from work, in Halifax-Dartmouth (pre-HRM), Ottawa ON and Victoria BC, for the best part of fifteen years during the period 1986 to 2010. Apart from dedicated cycling networks isolated from traffic, such as those in Ottawa, there is really no scenario where urban cycling can be made risk-free. Risk is an element of urban cycling that every cyclist has to assess. Those who find it ‘scary’ should probably take the bus or walk. A final note, in all my years of urban commuting, I experienced more knock-downs as a result of inattentive cyclists than I did from cars (1) and buses (2).

  5. Fantastic, right development for the location, will insure the survival of Alderney
    School for another generation..

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