Well this is it for 2021! Amazing how time flies. I want to wish you and your family happy holidays and all the best for 2022. The New Year is a time to reflect on the year that was. It’s a tired cliché at this point, but it’s true: we’re living in extraordinary times. At times, feels like there is no end to it. We’ve all been affected in some way by COVID. We all feel the strain. There have been moments of joy though and, for a time, we even got to collectively relax just a little a bit as vaccinations rolled out and our Province enjoyed very low COVID numbers. Having COVID charge back onto the stage with Omicron over the last three weeks is an unwelcome end to 2021 and something that we will no doubt be dealing with in 2022. Be kind and watch out for each other.
Throughout 2021, Council met mostly virtually, and, like always, there were some ups and downs at City Hall. Here are some of the highlights from my District 5 perspective:
- HRM’s pilot program of allowing kids under 12 ride free on transit became permanent
- HRM and HRCE launched a pilot program to provide bus passes to high school students
- The last phase of the Centre Plan was approved and the plan is now complete. This closes the book on the unpredictable and divisive era of project by project approvals. We now have clear rules for everyone.
- Updated the municipal design standards (Red Book) to ensure that HRM and developers are building better more sustainable infrastructure
- Several new development projects were approved in District 5 including Twin Lakes, Rosedale Drive, the next phase of King’s Wharf, townhouses at Maple and Thistle, and a new tower on Wyse Road at the Bridge. Hopefully some 2022 construction sites! Dartmouth’s first major Centre Plan application also went through (Moffatt’s Pharmacy lands on Portland Street) and construction is already underway
- On the negative side, HRM badly bungled dealing with encampment sites in August and evicted people who weren’t offered alternatives to living rough. Those mistakes led HRM to rethink its approach and a few months later the municipality entered into the provision of emergency housing in a big way with the modular housing project. The Downtown Dartmouth modular site is almost finished and the Halifax site will follow in 2022
- There was a big shakeup at Province House with the election of a PC government. On the plus side, the new government has acted on two things that HRM has long been asking for: inclusionary zoning, and extended producer responsibility and they have also signaled that they are willing to look at providing HRM with more flexibility around commercial taxation and regulating Airbnb. On the negative side, the new government has set themselves up to interfere in municipal planning in a big way in 2022 and beyond by giving an unelected appointed body the ability to change HRM’s planning documents in secret. We’ll have to wait and see how bad that ends up being
- Several HalifACT related policies were approved including net-zero construction for municipal buildings and an electric vehicle strategy. Unfortunately, lots of heavy-lifting to come as the HalifACT progress report made clear at the end of the year that large portions of the HalifACT plan aren’t on track (more discussion to come on that early in the New Year)
- Significant road redesigns in District 5 including Prince Albert Road, Wyse Road, Renfrew Street, and the Flower Streets (Dahlia, Crichton, Oak). The pace of change can sometimes feel slow, but each and every year HRM is building better streets that prioritize all users and provides people with more choice in how they move around. The results are cumulative and are starting to add up
- Traffic calming was implemented on Maple Street, Joffre Street, and on Hawthorne Street in the school zone
- HRM took action to protect our lakes, including installing pigeon netting underneath the Circumferential Bridge on Lake Banook, building the municipality’s first raingarden for street stormwater (Prince Albert Road), and implementing the Floating Yellow Heart pilot in Little Albro Lake. HRM also approved bringing back the lake water monitoring program in 2022
- Next phase of renovations at Alderney Gate got underway. The renovation will create new public space and better connect the library to the rest of the building
- The Cogswell redevelopment was tendered. Construction on this key city building project is set to begin in 2022
- Alderney Landing secured a new theatre in residence for the first time in years
- 1000s of daffodils bloomed on Alderney Drive for the first time at the Cancer Survivor’s Garden and a small army of volunteers added over 10,000 more to create a sea of yellow coming spring 2022
- The failing boardwalk along Lake Banook was fixed and work got underway for a major refresh of Silver’s Hill Park
- Music was brought back Downtown with HRM’s Summer Series at Ferry Terminal Park and the community-organized Sullivan’s Sessions at Sullivan’s Pond
- Weekly summer green bin service returned after going on hiatus in 2020, but recycling pickup changed to biweekly
- A number of Dartmouth projects received Design Awards including the Cancer Survivor’s Garden, Tel Lofts, the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission’s word murals, and the Pedway renovation at Alderney
- HRM welcomed a new fire boat, the Kjipuktuk, which is berthed at the Alderney wharf
- The next phase of the Moving Forward Together Plan was implemented, bringing changes to bus routes in Dartmouth. The plan focuses on improving service for high ridership areas, but that has come at a cost of reducing some service on less well-used routes
- The Dartmouth Lawn Bowls finally got their new green
Thank you for following my blog and newsletter. Look forward to hearing from you in 2022!
Pleasant Street Safety
Unfortunately, this year has been marked by a tragedy on District 5’s streets. Twenty-seven year-old Suete Chan was killed after a driver ran into her in a crosswalk on Pleasant Street near the Dartmouth General. Chan was a recent immigrant from Hong Kong and worked nearby at Fairechild Clothing in the North Woodside Industrial Park. She is described by her colleagues as “an adventurous spirit, who was living out a dream to work as a professional abroad. She was courageous and talented, and lived life fully with her kind and open heart.” Her life shouldn’t have ended suddenly on Pleasant Street.
After a collision, HRM staff look carefully at the factors that led up to it. I have spoken with staff, and they visited the crosswalk the day of Chan’s death to confirm that the lights were functioning properly. They’re still awaiting the final police report and have committed to doing a thorough review of this section of road. A review is definitely needed given that this isn’t the first death on this stretch of Pleasant Street. Just over two years ago, in February 2019, 57 year old Gary Rodgers died after being struck just a block away from where Chan died. Like Chan, Rodgers died in a mid-block crosswalk. It is worth asking what role Pleasant Street’s design played in these twin tragedies and what HRM could change to make the street safer?
I’m not a traffic engineer, but when I look at this section of road, what I see is a very wide, multi-lane road, with a lot of fast-moving traffic. It’s a hostile environment for pedestrians. I have discussed it with staff and they have actually been looking at this section of road as part of planning to connect the Harbour Trail to Shearwater Flyer. Work is still very preliminary, but staff feel that there are likely options to reduce the number of lanes on this portion of Pleasant Street since the northbound lane closest to the curb becomes right-turn only at Acadia and the centre southbound lane is primarily a turning lane for Mount Hope and Atlantic Streets. Staff expect to have some options available for public discussion early in the New Year.
Making sure streets are well-designed is the most important aspect of road safety, but the challenge with design is the lead-time for construction is significant. Given that pouring concrete and asphalt on Pleasant Street is likely still a ways off, I’m keen to see if there are any interim measures that can be taken. Staff have committed to install a speed display sign, but I expect making Pleasant Street safer will require more significant intervention. I’m not sure what might be possible in terms of temporary measures, but staff have committed to looking at interim options once we know what the final plan for the street will be. Stay tuned for news on this issue in the New Year.
Pedestrian Only on Portland Street?
This is a bit of trial balloon. Last week, the Executive Director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, Tim Rissesco and I met with staff in HRM’s tactical urbanism group. The topic? A summer closure of Portland Street from Prince Street to Alderney Drive. There has been a lot of anecdotal talk about closing this block in the past. HRM and the Business Commission did consider some options back in 2020, but the conditions for success weren’t there at the time. Many of the businesses had flipped to pick-up delivery to survive COVID, and the former Landing was very much a construction site. Construction has finished now and, although there is some fresh uncertainty around COVID, HRM and the DDBC are going to take a fresh look at closing Portland. If we did close Lower Portland, it would likely be for the summer months, allowing the bars and restaurants along the street to spill out into the sidewalk space. With almost every storefront on this section a bar or restaurant, this could be quite a lively space. The DDBC would likely do some programming too. There are a few technical hurdles to overcome, but it’s an idea that’s worth exploring. Tim Rissesco and I will be engaging business owners on this block in the New Year.
Modular Housing Update
HRM has nearly completed the installation of seven modular housing units in Downtown Dartmouth along Alderney Drive. The units will be operated by Out of the Cold and will provide housing for 26 people who really have no other options. A second modular site is coming to Halifax in the New Year. I held a community meeting a few weeks ago to talk to the immediate community about this project and attendees expressed a mix of sentiments around the project from support, to support with some concerns, to outright opposition. I understand that there is some apprehension (there always is when it comes to locating social service uses), but this is a project that is desperately needed. The Alderney Drive site was the only spot in Downtown Dartmouth that HRM could setup quickly. There have been some construction delays in setting up the modulars and HRM is now anticipating handing the site over to Out of the Cold in early January. HRM’s temporary shelter at the Gray Arena will continue to operate until the modular site is up and running.
Unfortunately, as all are aware by now, COVID has returned with a vengeance to Nova Scotia. We’re seeing high case numbers, but fewer hospitalizations thanks to our high vaccination rates. Even if Omicron turns out to be less severe, there is still the potential for it to overwhelm our healthcare system by making way more people sick than we’ve had in previous COVID waves and by infecting healthcare workers. We need to avoid that. We’ve done well through the pandemic by following the advice of our public health experts, and that’s something that we need to continue doing.
- COVID’s resurgence is impacting HRM’s services
- There will be disruptions in transit, both ferries and buses, over the next few weeks as HRM struggles with a shortage of staff. Service disruptions are posted online here
- Spectator capacity at HRM’s recreation facilities has been reduced, and physical distancing has resumed, meaning that activities must be booked in advance via a MyREC account and all open events, like open swims, skates, or gyms, have been cancelled
- After getting additional clarification from the Province, the Oval will open after all on December 27. Capacity is limited to 230 people and it will operate on a first-come, first served basis. Equipment rentals will be unavailable, so you’ll need to bring your own skates, including a CSA approved helmet for any kids under 12
- New Year’s Eve celebrations will be virtual and the New Year’s Day Levee at City Hall has been cancelled
- Council and committee meetings will switch back to virtual
HRM doesn’t anticipate further disruptions at this time, but the situation around COVID is fast-moving. I will share updates as needed. Get your shot, be cautious, support local business, look out for each other, and follow public health’s advice.
Findlay Pottery Studio
Before this latest COVID wave, I heard from a few people who were wondering why the Findlay Community Centre’s Pottery Studio hasn’t reopened. HRM has had to keep the studio closed due to issues that have been identified with the space. Funding has been allocated in the draft 2022 capital budget and if the budget is approved, over the next six months the studio will be renovated to help create a better and safer experience for folks using it. Improvements will be focused on separating the kiln operations from the working studio, improving the layout of work areas, and making improvements to the furnishings and flooring in the space. The upgrades will provide participants with the space needed to enjoy creating hand built and wheel thrown ceramics. HRM anticipates reopening the studio in the fall of 2022.
Traffic Light Programming
Just a quick note on the traffic light reprogramming. Frequent readers of my Council blog and newsletter might recall that HRM is working on switching a number of traffic lights in Downtown Dartmouth to automatically display a walk sign without a pedestrian having to push the button. The button at these lights will be used to activate an audible signal for folks with reduced vision and to activate the traffic light in the late hours (after midnight). So far, work has been completed at Wyse/Boland, and Victoria/Woodland. HRM had anticipated having all of the planned work finished in the fall, but that hasn’t come together. I asked staff for an update and staffing challenges combined with some unexpected hardware upgrades are behind the delay. Staff anticipate the work being complete by mid-February.
The winter season is well and truly upon us now. Since my last e-newsletter, there have been two snow events. Snow is something that we all love to hate when it interferes with our plans. HRM has set standards for how long it will take to clear your street and sidewalk. Check them out below:
|Priority 1 (main streets, bus routes, streets with steep inclines, emergency routes, school zones)||Plow passes through once every three hours. Fully cleared 12 hours after the storm ends|
|Priority 2 (residential streets)||Plow passes through once snowfall reaches 10 cms, and every 8 hours after that. Fully cleared 24 hours after the storm ends|
|Priority 1 (main roads, Downtown cores)||Fully cleared 12 hours after the storm ends|
|Priority 2 (transit routes)||Fully cleared 18 hours after the storm ends|
|Priority 3 (residential streets and walkways)||Fully cleared 36 hours after the storm ends|
To find out what priority your street is, check out the interactive map here. There is also a map for sidewalks that you can view here. HRM posts the official snowfall stop time on HRM’s webpage here and on the municipality’s twitter account.
HRM doesn’t take service requests for streets or sidewalks until service timelines have expired so please check your street/sidewalks priority and the snow stop time before calling. Experience has shown that HRM can meet the established standards in most storms. When a storm, however, drops more than 30 cms, it becomes quite challenging for the municipality and its contractors to meet the timelines. When more than 30 cms falls, there will be delays.
I did hear from a number of folks during that first storm on December 8 and 9th who were frustrated with the time it was taking HRM to clear the streets and sidewalks. With 36 cms on the ground in Dartmouth, it is the kind of storm that will always challenge the municipality. It did get me thinking again though about the whole issue. There will always be a period of time from when the snow stops falling to when streets and sidewalks are cleared. That time period will never be zero. Similarly, there will always be a threshold where existing standards break. HRM can put more resources into snow clearing to speed things up, but it comes at a cost. The key question is what is a reasonable period of time to wait for your street and sidewalk to be cleared?
Last year, Council put more money into snow clearing to enhance timelines for clearing bus stops to 24 hours. Council also considered making priority 3 sidewalks a 24 hour timeline to match priority 2 streets, but in a year where there was significant pressure to keep the tax bill impact low due to COVID, Council turned that down because of the cost ($4.5 million more a year). I expect discussions of priority 3 sidewalks will come up again this year during budget deliberations since that 36 hour timeline is the longest of HRM’s service standards. Council will have to once again weigh improving the service versus the tax implications. I would welcome any feedback.
Dartmouth Common Snow Clearing
I have had a few people reach out to ask why HRM installed a bunch of “No Winter Maintenance” signs on the Dartmouth Common. The sign placement has come about from a change in service standards on the Common, but, despite appearances, it’s not a reduction in service, it’s actually the exact opposite. Snow clearing on the Common has been increased this year.
Before this season, the only route on the Common that was consistently cleared of snow by HRM’s Winter Works staff was the active transportation trail from the corner of Wyse Road and Thistle Street across the Common to Dahlia Street. Parks staff would sometimes clear other routes, but only as time and resources allowed. There was no standard, which meant clearing would happen days after a storm or sometimes not at all.
A few months ago, Council considered a report on snow clearing in Parks and, as part of that, I requested additional information on expanding snow clearing on the Dartmouth Common. I know the Common is more than just a park, it’s also the most direct route between several destinations on the Park Avenue and Thistle Street sides. There is a lot of value beyond just recreation in making sure it’s open during the winter months.
In response, staff identified several trails on the Common that will now be cleared on a priority 3 basis (within 36 hours). The map below shows all the routes on the Common that will be regularly maintained during the winter months.
My one disappointment in the expanded snow clearing plan is that it wasn’t possible to add either of the hilly sections that go from Park Avenue to the upper Common. Unfortunately, both trails border on steep embankments and, as a result, it’s not possible to safely operate snow clearing equipment on those paths. The only way either of those pathways could be cleared would be by hand and that’s not something that staff could commit to at this time.
As part of expanding snow clearing on the Common, staff committed to marking the trails that won’t be cleared with signage, which is where the new signs have come from. The trigger for the signs was service improvement, not scaling anything back.
2021 Volunteer Awards
A few weeks ago, HRM held its annual volunteer award reception (delayed this year due to COVID). The volunteer awards are an annual event designed to recognize the good work that people do in our community. 2021’s Distirct 5 winners are:
Jeff Aucoin: Jeff is a key pillar in the Dartmouth and Nova Scotia soccer communities. He has been coaching for over 25 years and has served as president on many volunteer boards.
Natasha Beuree-Edwards: Natasha organized a food drive in her neighbourhood for the holiday season, collecting over 2,000 food items.
Michelle Thornhill: Michelle is an author and artist who established the Laurie Mersereau Little Free Library
Congratulations to Jeff, Natasha, and Michelle and all of the recipients from across HRM.
2022 Volunteer Awards (Nominate Someone!)
If you felt inspired by 2021’s volunteer award recipients, good news, you can nominate someone for 2022. Do you know an outstanding community volunteer? Feel that it would be worth recognizing them for their good work? HRM is is accepting nominations for the municipality’s annual volunteer awards. The deadline for nominations has been extended to December 31 so there is still time to nominate someone. For more information, to check out past winners, and to nominate someone awesome, visit HRM’s website here.
HRM 2022 Budget Deliberations
If you’ve been following my Council blog, you probably know that Council has begun our 2022 budget deliberations. At each budget meeting, there is an opportunity for members of the public to address Council on any budget related item. Since virtually everything HRM does has some sort of budget implication, it’s a pretty open-ended opportunity to speak to Regional Council about whatever you feel is important.
Council has reviewed the 2022 capital budget and starting in early February, we will review each department budget. Here’s the schedule:
- Wednesday February 2, Finance and Asset Management, CAO’s Office, Auditor General and an update on assessment values
Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency
- Friday, February 4, Legal and Legislative Services, Corporate and Customer Services, and People, Communications and IT
- Wednesday, February 9, Transportation and Public Works
- Wednesday, February 16, Halifax Transit, and Parks and Recreation
- Friday, February 18, Planning and Development
- Wednesday, February 23, Halifax Regional Police, and RCMP
- Wednesday, March 2, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, Halifax Public Libraries, and Fiscal Services
- Wednesday, March 23, Budget Adjustment List
- Tuesday, April 12, budget approval
You can speak to any subject you want at any meeting, but, if you can, it’s good practice to line up whatever your issue is with the day that the relevant department is presenting to Council. Makes it easy for Councillors to ask staff about whatever issue you’ve raised. Meetings typically start at 9:30 am and public participation takes place early in the meeting. Since Council is once again meeting virtually, you have to register in advance to speak. Please contact the Clerk’s Office at 902-490-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 4:30 pm the day before a meeting.
To keep you informed about what is going on at Council, I’m writing a regular blog after each meeting. Each of my entries is about what I saw as noteworthy from a District 5 perspective and my views on the issues. We might not always agree, but I think it’s important to provide a record of how I voted and why.
Council Update, December 14
Budget deliberations are underway, starting with the upcoming capital budget. The big District 5 item in the draft is the next phase of the Sawmill River project. Plus, changes coming to how HRM’s traffic calming program prioritizes streets. Read about it here.
Council Update, December 7
The future of HRM’s Youth Live program, buses only on Spring Garden Road starting this summer, and planning and boundaries for the future Blue Mountain Birch Cove park. Read about it here.
Council Update, November 23
Regional Council established a community rink program, advanced several HalifACT initiatives, and discussed what HRM and the Province’s roles should be regarding affordable housing. Plus a protecting Dartmouth’s heritage in Crichton Park. Read about it here.
One new tender awarded in District 5 since November’s E-News.
- Queen Street streetscape repairs, $21,507 (Elmsdale Landscaping)
Removal and replanting of some dead trees
Four District 5 related tenders released over the last few weeks.
- Alderney Gate 5th floor office renovations, Closing January 22
- Alderney Pedway elevator modernization, Closing January 6
- HRM Policing Study, Closing January 14
Evaluation of HRM’s shared policing model in which service is delivered by Halifax Regional Police in the core and the RCMP in the suburban and rural areas in what was once Halifax County
- Grahams Grove Parking Lot improvements, Closed December 17
Grahams Grove’s gravel lot is being turned into a proper parking lot with marked spaces, plus the gap in the Banook path from the Superstore intersection to the edge of the parking lot is being filled
With COVID again on the rise, there are really no events to report.
Public Gardens Lights
now – January 1, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
For the first time, the Public Gardens has been lit for the holiday season. A good place to take a stroll on these early winter evenings.
Virtual New Year’s Eve
Friday, December 31, 11:00 pm
HRM’s usual New Year’s Eve festivities aren’t possible this year due to COVID, but the show will go on virtually. Tune in on youtube or Eastlink at 11:00 pm on New Year’s Eve. Music and a few surprises for the show. Check out the HRM page for more info closer to New Year’s Eve.