It was a busy afternoon at Council (agenda here). The main item on the agenda was the 29 storey proposed tower at Quinpool and Robie (aka the Willow Tree). This one has a bit of a complicated backstory. The Willow Tree proposal first came to council as two towers of 22 and 11 storeys in 2014. Council voted to initiate a planning process and directed staff to work with the developer to address design issues concerning height, mass, density, shadowing, and spacing between the two buildings. What emerged from the redesign in September 2016 was a single 29 storey tower. Staff’s recommendation was that the design changes addressed all outstanding issues except height. They recommended 20 storeys instead of 29. Council didn’t accept that recommendation and directed staff to develop plan amendments to allow for 29 storeys. Then the election happened. With some fresh faces around the table, Halifax Community Council voted to return to the original staff recommendation of 20 storeys and the whole issue arrived at Regional Council.
Yesterday’s debate was whether to schedule a public hearing for 20 or 29 storeys? The draft Centre Plan, not surprisingly, lines up with staff’s opinion and identifies Quinpool and Robie as suitable for 20 storeys. The staff recommendation for 20 is based on there already being two other tall buildings in the area of about the same size (Atlantica Hotel and the Welsford Apartment) and minimizing impacts on the Commons. I believe the starting point for the public discussion should be the 20 storeys recommended by staff. If after hearing feedback from the public and the developer Council wants to go higher, we can always schedule a second public hearing for 29. I was in the majority and the motion to send 20 storeys to a public hearing passed 13-4.
50 metre Pool
We spent a fair bit of time debating a motion from Councillor Mancini requesting a staff report to look at building a 50 metre municipal pool. A 50 metre pool is important because you need 50 metres to host competitions. The only two 50 metre pools we have in HRM are Dalplex and Centennial. Centennial is a good training pools, but it isn’t well suited for competitions and it’s showing its age, leaving just Dalplex. The Dal pool, however, sprung a leak in December and is currently out of commission for an unknown period of time (updates from Dal here hopefully current repair efforts are successful). Throw in the fire at Sackville Sports Stadium, the Sportsplex renovation and the unfinished new YMCA and it’s basically a perfect storm. The swimming community has been vocal in contacting councillors to lobby for a 50 metre pool and to express their displeasure with the current situation.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes here since multi-million dollar aquatics centres, or even renovations, don’t happen overnight. It will be at least a year or two before the pool situation changes and likely a few more years after that before HRM might open its own 50 metre facility. The recently completed Community Facilities Master Plan commits HRM to developing an Aquatics Strategy and I think an overarching plan is what we really need. It’s a process that HRM went through for ice rinks and it has been fairly successful in mapping out requirements, potential partnerships, and how best to get there. I voted in favour of Councillor Mancini’s motion in hopes that it will prompt us to move forward with the Aquatics Strategy sooner rather than later. I’m leery of trying to do this as a one-off though without the broader context taken into account. Mancini’s motion passed 16-1.
We had a short public hearing to consider closing a portion of Lower Water Street that’s not currently in use by HRM. The property in question is, in practice, actually part of the Waterfront Development Corporation’s parking lot beside the Maritime Museum. There is a complicated legal backstory to it all, but the long and the short of it is, WDCL needed HRM to formally close this bit of street to allow the Queens Marque project to proceed.
The street closure is essentially a paper transfer with zero impact on the actual street or sidewalk, but some wanted Council to use the street closure as a way to try and torpedo the Queens Marque project. That’s not something I could support. Queens Marque went through the planning process, was approved and nobody appealed that approval to Council. I personally think it would have been better to have split the project into two L shaped buildings rather than have one long expanse on Lower Water Street. This would have provided a better connection to the water from Lower Water Street, just like Bishops Landing does with its courtyard, but that wasn’t my call to make. It wouldn’t be right to try and arbitrarily sink the project over a largely unrelated technicality. Council voted unanimously to approve the closure.
One other item that attracted some media attention this week was a motion by Councillor Cleary to freeze councillor pay until November or until the staff report on revising the pay formula comes back for debate (whichever comes first). I went in expecting to support this, but during the discussion, it was revealed that the pay formula report is coming in April. As far as I can see, this renders the freeze motion moot since, under the current system, the change in pay is calculated in the Fall. There is nothing to freeze between now and the report coming back. Council voted to defer the motion until April. The vote was 10-7 and I sided with the majority since I didn’t see any practical purpose, beyond the symbolic, to passing this now.
Other stuff we covered (1) creation of a Foundation for Halifax Regional Police charity work (2) approved a mixed residential and commercial development in Portland Hills (3) wrote off some uncollectable taxes (4) approved grants recipients for Halifax Explosion and Volunteer Search and Rescue