Hawthorne Traffic Calming: For those who might not know me outside my role as councillor, I have two girls, ages 8 and 5. They both go to Hawthorne School and most days, I do the morning drop-off with them by foot (we ride bikes during the warm months). It was an awful morning back in November when we realized the approaching sirens were heading our way because a kid had been hit by a car in front of the school. It was a scary few minutes, but, luckily, the kid wasn’t injured. The driver wasn’t charged because there was nothing to indicate it was her fault (it wasn’t a crosswalk and the fact that the kid wasn’t injured and continued on with his school day strongly suggests low speed).
In the aftermath of that scare, I asked HRM’s traffic section to review the situation on Hawthorne regarding traffic calming. HRM has an organized traffic calming program for residential streets that sees the implementation of around a dozen projects a year throughout HRM. The way it works is HRM gather’s speed data and then prioritizes projects on the streets where speed is the most excessive or that are about to be repaved anyway. It’s an evidence-based approach that is designed to take the politics out of deciding which streets get projects.
The key measure that HRM uses in its traffic calming assessments is the 85th percentile speed. The 85th percentile speed is the speed that 85% of the traffic is travelling at or below. It’s generally established that most people drive the speed that they feel safe, not the speed that is posted. If a few drivers exceed the speed limit, it’s an enforcement issue, whereas if most are, the street’s underlying design is to blame. This is why HRM looks at what the 85th percentile speed is to gauge whether it’s enforcement or design that’s the main problem.
HRM had previously assessed Hawthorne between Erskine and Sinclair several years ago and the 85th percentile speed recorded on that block was 46 km/hr, which is 6 km/hr more than the 40 km/hr threshold needed to qualify for traffic calming. Unfortunately, there are many other residential streets in HRM that have recorded much higher 85th percentile speeds and, although Hawthorne qualified, it was well down the list at #75. In looking at the issue with staff though, what we found was that there was no speed data on Hawthorne’s school zone.
In response to my request, HRM deployed the speed tape in the school zone between Erskine and Portland. The result during morning arrival and afternoon dismissal times was 46 km/hr. The speed on Hawthorne apparently doesn’t vary much, even though the Erskine – Portland block is a school zone while Erskine – Sinclair is not! HRM’s Traffic Calming policy uses 30 km/hr for a baseline in school zones rather than 40 km/hr, which means that Hawthorne has gone from being 6 km/hr over the threshold for traffic calming to 16 km/hr over. Since priority is determined by how far over the threshold traffic is travelling, the new data moved Hawthorne up the traffic calming list from #75 to #16.
The change in placement on the list means that Hawthorne is likely to see a traffic calming project in 2020 or 2021. It’s impossible to say for sure because how many projects get implemented depends on how far the traffic calming budget stretches. Hawthorne won’t be in the first batch of 2020 projects, but staff have indicated it could be in the second round if there is still money left after the first tenders are awarded. If the street doesn’t get done in 2020, it should come to the top of the list in 2021. Since the traffic calming list is constantly being adjusted as new data is collected, it’s possible that Hawthorne could slip a bit if there are a bunch of new streets added with even worse results, but staff don’t feel that’s likely. 16 km/hr over the limit in a school zone is a lot!
So what will change on Hawthorne? I can’t say for sure right now. Traffic calming can include a variety of approaches including curb extensions and speed humps. When the street does reach the top of the list, a design will be worked out. I will update everyone when I have more info to share.
I’m looking forward to seeing some positive design changes to address this issue.
Tree Trimming Dartmouth: The foresters are coming to Downtown Dartmouth next week for routine tree trimming. HRM’s urban forestry master plan commits the municipality to being proactive in managing the canopy of our street trees. A regular cycle of pruning allows HRM to tackle issues proactively as trees grow rather than having to react after things have gone awry. The goal is to visit each street tree every seven years. Over the next few weeks, crews will be active throughout Downtown Dartmouth, Harbourview, and around Victoria Park. Work is weather dependent and could involve temporary lane closures and traffic interruptions. If you have concerns about a particular tree, whether you’re in the upcoming tree trimming area or not, please call it in via 311.
Rental Market Crunch: The latest CMHC data is out and the picture for housing in HRM is dire. The vacancy rate in HRM has fallen even further from the very low 1.6% registered in 2018 to 1.0% in 2019. 1.0% is basically no vacancy at all. I know some people have looked around at all the cranes and asked who is filling all that space? The reality is HRM is growing rapidly and, even with all the construction going on, supply is not keeping up with demand. With demand outpacing supply and vacancy rates plummeting it’s a landlords market and, not surprisingly, rental rates are increasing, up 3.7% from this time last year! This year’s increase is on top of the nearly 4% increases in 2017 and 2018 as well. This is going nowhere good, with those who can least afford the tight market feeling the squeeze.
So what can governments do? The direct provision of social housing is a provincial responsibility and, unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a priority for successive governments over the last several decades. There have been very few new social housing units created and it’s hard now that we’re in a rental crisis to go back in time and correct that mistake! We need to start building more social housing. It’s the only thing that’s going to work as the market isn’t going to deliver on the deep affordability that’s required for our most vulnerable residents.
For its part, HRM is now charging developers in the Centre Plan growth areas a fee on large developments to create a housing fund. The idea is that, although the municipality doesn’t operate housing, we can provide grants to non-profits that do. Staff will be coming forward in 2020 to get direction on how the fund will be used ($1.8 million is already in it from the Willow Tree project).
The big planning piece that I would like to see action on is HRM’s request to the Province for inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning is something that exists in other cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver. It basically requires developers to include affordable units in their developments through the land-use bylaw. Baking the housing requirement into a land-use bylaw means affordable units exist for as long as a building does. They don’t disappear once an arbitrary contract date is reached. Unfortunately, the Province has, so far, rejected HRM’s request for a Charter amendment to allow for inclusionary zoning. This would be a good one to write your MLA about and the minister for housing/municipal affairs, Chuck Porter as it doesn’t look likely to happen unless there is a change of heart at Province House. You can read the latest CMHC report online here.
Craig Gallery Art Carts: They’ll soon be more opportunities to engage in art at the Craig Gallery at Alderney Landing. Thanks to funding from District 5, the 4CS Foundation, and community donations, the Craig will be launching art carts in 2020. The carts will carry a large variety of art supplies and will be setup outside the Craig in Alderney Landing, giving the public a chance to create their own art at no cost. The goal of the project is to provide some help and guidance for people wanting to try out new tools, and explore making art in a free and open environment. The Craig is looking for volunteers and supplies to get this project off the ground, and artists who would be interested in demonstrating their mediums and techniques. The thought is the Carts will be available on weekday and Sunday afternoons. For more information, contact Lee Cripps at the Craig via email@example.com
Municipal Grants: It’s the time of year for grant applications. HRM is currently accepting applications for its events and community grants programs.
Events: Community event grant applications are due January 31 at noon. Community event grants are meant to support non-profit organizations that put on events, which foster positive community development, celebrate heritage, arts and culture, build bridges between diverse populations, enrich quality of life for residents and improves civic pride in HRM. Non-profits could receive up to $1,000 towards their event. Eligible events must be organized by a non-profit, be free and open to the general public, and be less than five days in duration. They range from neighbourhood celebrations to small festivals. For more information on events grants and program eligibility, checkout the grants page on the municipal website here and the application page here.
Community Grants: The biggest pot of money that HRM provides to non-profits is HRM’s Community Grants Program. Non-profits can receive funding of up to $5,000 for a project grant or up to $25,000 for a capital grant. Funding is awarded by category: (1) arts and crafts, (2) diversity and inclusion, (3) environment, (4) emergency assistance and neighbourhood safety, (5) history, (6) housing, (7) leisure, and (8) recreation. Recipients from 2019 in the District 5 area included the Dartmouth District Pipe Band, Dartmouth Dragon Boats, Christ Church, Dartmouth Crossing Speed Skating Club, and Banook Canoe Club. You can read the report on all the organizations that received funding in 2019 online here.
I would encourage all non-profits to take a look at the Community Grants program. It’s money that will be awarded to someone, why not you? You can checkout the eligibility criteria in the program booklet online on the municipal grants page here. Community Grant applications are due on March 31.
Boards and Commission Volunteer Recruitment: HRM is currently seeking citizen volunteers for several boards and committees including the Design Advisory Committee, Women’s Advisory Committee, Western Common Advisory Committee, and the Regional Watersheds Advisory Board. The deadline for applications is February 10 at midnight. For more information on the committees and to apply online visit HRM’s website here. On a somewhat related note, checkout the pitch video on how to get involved with HRM below.
2020 Budget Deliberations
Council is well into our 2020 budget deliberations now. A draft capital budget is in place, and some extra capital items have been added to the options list (aka the parking lot) that will be considered after Council has reviewed the operating budget for each department and has the full picture. Council has also settled on a tentative plan for an increase in the tax bill of 1.5%. I say tentative because if Council decides to fund any of the many worthy initiatives on the options list, there will likely be an impact on the 1.5%.
I want to take a moment to explain what the 1.5% tax bill means. The tax bill isn’t the tax rate. When it comes to municipal budgeting, the tax bill is a combined measure that looks at what the tax rate and assessment changes mean, together, for the average homeowner.
Looking at what the municipal budget means for the bill rather than the tax rate is, in theory, a more transparent measure since it takes into account the combined affect of the tax rate and assessments on the municipal budget. I say in theory because most people don’t know that we do things this way! It’ll probably come as a surprise to many to learn that for most of the last several years, HRM has actually cut the residential tax rate because assessment increases have outpaced inflation and have been enough to cover HRM’s costs. The important distinction between tax rate and tax bill is often lost in the headlines and many people assume that they’ll be paying more on top whatever the quoted percentage is each year due to assessment increases. HRM’s transparency ends up leaving many people with the mistaken belief that they’ll pay more in the coming year than they actually will.
So what’s a potential 1.5% increase in the bill mean for 2020? About $30 for the average homeowner. As noted though, it’s likely to be a bit higher since there are usually some extras added to the budget from the options list.
HRM’s budget process is a fairly open one. At each budget session, members of the public have the opportunity to speak directly to Council on any budget topic. People usually focus on whatever department is presenting that day, but it’s not required. Since almost everything that HRM does involves spending money, it’s really the best opportunity to speak to Council as a whole on any municipal issue. Here’s Budget Committee’s schedule:
- Wednesday, January 29: Parks and Rec, Planning and Development, Transportation and Public Works
- Wednesday, February 5: Police, Fire
- Wednesday, February 12: Review of the budget options list
- Tuesday, March 10: Budget approval
Council begins each day’s budget deliberations at City Hall at 9:30 and there is a public participation component after each presentation.
Bayers Road Open House
Wednesday, January 20, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Maritime Hall, Halifax Forum
HRM will be holding an open house on proposed changes to Bayers Road. The plan is to add bus only lanes to Bayers Roads to facilitate better transit service on this key route. Everyone is welcome to attend. For more information, checkout the HRM website here.
Roadside Memorials Survey
Now – February 2nd
HRM is conducting a survey on Shape Your City concerning roadside memorials. The topic of roadside memorials came before Council in 2019 with a staff report that made a number of recommendations as to how memorials can be placed and how long they can be left up. Council had some concerns with the recommended approach and debated a number of changes. In preparing a second report to Council, staff are gathering feedback from the public. You can take the survey online here and checkout my Council blog from the summer here.
Public Hearing, King’s Wharf Revisions
Thursday, February 6, 6:00 pm
Harbour East Community Council Chamber, Alderney Gate (opposite the library)
Harbour East Community Council will consider a revised development agreement for King’s Wharf at its next meeting on February 6th. The proposed changes include revised building massing and street layout for future phases of the development, and a new approach to providing grade-separated access across the tracks (only for emergency vehicles and pedestrians). King’s Wharf isn’t seeking any additional units in the revised proposal. The proposed revisions are considered substantial changes to the existing development agreement and, therefore, Council will make a decision on the proposed changes only after members of the public have an opportunity to share their views. At the hearing, members of the public will have up to 5 minutes each to present to Council. You can review the materials in advance of the meeting online here.
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, January 14: Decisions around ride hailing regulations, townhouse rezoning for Sea King, Lancaster, and Woodland approved, and initiation of heritage registration process for the Dartmouth Post Office. Read about it here.
Family Literacy Day
Saturday, January 25, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Boys and Girls Club, 60 Farrell Street
Join the Boys and Girls Club and the Darmouth Learning Network for Family Literacy Day in Dartmouth North. This open house style event will allow families with children ages 2-12 to participate in a variety of free activities from family portraits, book swaps, visits with storybook characters, author readings, and more. Admission is free, they’ll be healthy snacks on hand, and kids will go home with a free children’s book.
Underneath the Dartmouth Oil Refinery: Finding Fort Clarence
Tuesday, January 28, 7:00 pm
Burke Theatre A, 923 Robie Street, Saint Mary’s Univeristy
Join the Nova Scotia Archaeology Society for a lecture by David Jones on Dartmouth’s lost Fort Clarence and what might still remain beneath the ground at the refinery.
Pleasant-Woodside Neighbourhood Meeting
Wednesday, January 29, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), 27 Parker Street
Come checkout COVE on the Dartmouth waterfront and hear/discuss the activities of the Pleasant-Woodside Neighbourhood Association. The start of the meeting will include a presentation on COVE.
Nova Scotia Mass Choir: A Celebration in Song
Wednesday, February 5, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Alderney Gate Library
As part of African Heritage Month, the Nova Scotia Mass Choir will be performing at the Alderney Library. The oceans of sounds from this multcultural, community gospel choir will stir your soul and have you clapping to the rhytm
Pleasant-Woodside Meet and Greet
Thursday, February 6, 7:00 pm
Woodside Beverage Room and Grill
Join the Pleasant-Woodside Neighbourhood Association for billiards, darts, and some great food.
Downtown Dartmouth Ice Festival
After an overwhelmingly successful first year, the Downtown Dartmouth Ice Festival is back. They’ll be lots to do in Downtown Dartmouth over the weekend including live ice carving, horse-drawn wagon rides, campfire songs, bouncy castle, a visit by the ice princess, and free public skate at the Sportsplex. For complete details, checkout the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission’s website here.
Sing Along Annie
Tuesday, February 11, 2:00 – 4:15 pm
Alderney Gate Library
Based on the hit Broadway musicial, a young oprhan girl attemps to find a family. Showing is the remastered 1981 film starring Carol Burnett. The movie is a descriptive version featuring audio-description for those who are blind or partially sighed. All are welcome.
Puppet Show: Frog in Love
Wednesday, February 12, 10:30 – 11:00 am
Alderney Gate Library
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a frog’s love story is coming to Alderney Gate. A great outting for preschoolers.
Thursday, February 13, 10:30 -11:15 am
Alderney Gate Library
It’s story time at the libary! Stories, songs, finger plays, and rhymes help children experience independent group activity, gain pre-reading skills and develop a love of reading. Children attend the session independently, but caregivers are requested to remain close at hand in the Library.
Book Club: The Inconvenient Indian
Friday, February 14, 1:00 – 2:00 pm
Alderney Gate Library
Discover thought-provoking books and discuss them with fellow readers. This month’s book is the Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.
The Black Hair-Story of Nova Scotia
Tuesday, February 18, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Alderney Gate Library
Hairstyling has always been a tool for cultural expression. Discover the unique and deep heritage of Black beauty culture in Nova Scotia and its connection to the life of civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond, her proteges, and other Beauty pioneers of the past century.
Reel Family Move Night: Shrek
Friday, February 21, 7:00 – 10:00 pm
Alderney Landing Theatre
It’s family move night at Alderney! Come see Shrek in the Theatre for free. Tickets are available at Alderney Landing, Scotiabank on Portland Street, from the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, Celtic Corner, or Strange Adventures. Concessions will be available at the movie, with all proceeds going towards funding future movie nights.