Provincial Planning Takeover
You might recall back in October, the Province announced the creation of a special planning Taskforce in HRM. The Province’s purpose in creating the Taskforce is to interfere in planning in HRM. It’s a dangerous precedent and an attack on HRM’s jurisdiction. Creating the Taskforce wasn’t part of the PC’s election platform, there were no calls for it from the general public, and it was created despite HRM’s objections. The creation of the Taskforce seems to have been entirely the result of some connected developers complaining directly to provincial politicians about the speed of approvals.
No one ever likes to be regulated and across the country developers grumble about the rules and regulations that they operate under. That’s normal. It’s also normal for municipalities and provinces to want to improve how planning functions. What’s dangerous is when that grumbling leads to direct provincial interference. Our provincial government isn’t just looking at how to do planning better (I would have supported that), they have taken over direct approval of development and given that power to an unelected Taskforce and the Minister of Municipal Affairs. The danger in doing that is further amplified by the fact that the Taskforce’s deliberations are secret. We’ve swapped a public planning process for a much more private and unaccountable one. I expressed my opposition to all of this at Law Amendments:
Unfortunately, the Province went ahead without any changes to the Taskforce and since the Taskforce was created, it has indeed met entirely in secret leaving all of us to guess at its deliberations. On Friday, some of what the Taskforce’s deliberations involved became public as Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr announced the designation of nine special planning areas in HRM, including two in District 5:
- Penhorn Mall lands
- Southdale/Mount Hope
- Bedford West
- Bedford West 1
- Port Wallace
- Indigo Shores
- Morris Lake expansion
- Dartmouth Crossing
- Sandy Lake
As some of my colleagues and the mayor noted, this could have been way worse for HRM. The Taskforce heard from 31 developers (with no public oversight or record as to what was said) and looked at 41 proposals. The nine being designated are places that HRM had already identified through our planning work as being suitable for development. So that is a plus, but, on the other hand, some of the nine designated areas are much more ready to proceed than others. The two District 5 developments are good examples of both situations!
That Council and the public won’t have the final say in what happens at Penhorn is problematic, but at least at Penhorn, there has already been extensive neighbourhood planning over the last 10 years. Planning for Penhorn got underway before the property owner was even prepared to redevelop! Penhorn really is a situation where the big pieces are already in place and, because of that, it likely won’t be the end of the world that the minister approves the development instead of Council. There is already a strong consensus on what will happen there.
Arguably the Province designating Penhorn as one of the special planning areas is irrelevant since the project is so close to the finish line. Including Penhorn allows the Minister to claim some credit for something that was going to happen very soon anyway! Nothing the Province is doing at Penhorn is going to speed things up in any substantive way, it just allows them to take some credit for all the work HRM has already done.
It’s a different situation over at Southdale/Eisner Cove though where there really hasn’t been any significant past discussions about future development with the community. HRM only held the first public meeting just over a month ago and there are some clear divisions in the community as to what should happen with the lands. Yet, the Province wants to make a decision on Southdale this Fall!
If there is strong consensus, the Fall timeline for Southdale would likely be fine. If there is debate about what form of development is appropriate, and what lands should be protected, that timeline doesn’t leave much room for revisions. Some big questions that I have had in thinking about Southdale:
- Is it possible to connect the development to Gaston Road and if a Gaston connection was made, could the proposed road across the middle be switched to a pedestrian boardwalk instead?
- Might some taller buildings be better here to allow for more of the land to remain undisturbed while still accommodating the same density?
- Should the proposed park in the middle of the site be instead contiguous with the marsh to further add buffer space?
- Is it possible to increase the wetland’s buffer space?
I’m not sure if there will be a real opportunity to examine any of that or any other concerns.
Whatever leverage HRM has at Southdale and at the other designated areas has been significantly weakened by the Province’s move. Developers now know that if they don’t like what HRM planning is asking them to do, they have the ability to take their case directly to the Taskforce. Hard for HRM planning to get the best deal for the public when a developer can go around them to a body that meets in secret and has been created for the sole purpose of approving development faster than might otherwise be the case. That’s particularly problematic for sites that have more uncertainty as to what the best path forward is, sites like Southdale.
Right now, it appears that Council and I will have no say over what happens in Southdale and I have no idea if it’s even possible to make any changes to the plans for the area. Southdale won’t come to Council, there will be no public hearing, and the final decision will be made by the unelected Taskforce and the Minister (an Annapolis Valley MLA with no accountability to people in Dartmouth), and it will all happen behind closed doors. This is fundamentally wrong.
Others of Concern:
Beyond Southdale, there really has been very little discussion or thinking about adding residential at Dartmouth Crossing, Sandy Lake remains a contested place, and the inclusion of Indigo Shores looks to be a clear intent to overturn Council’s recent decision to not allow Armco to speed up the phasing of development (Council had concerns about the ability of services in the area to support a more rapid buildout). All in all, I find absolutely nothing to celebrate in Friday’s designations. The best that can be said is it could be worse.
We seem to be very much, philosophically anyway, on our way back to the 1950s/1960s when planning was viewed as something that experts were tasked with completing, and not an activity that belonged to everyone. Something akin to chemistry with set rules with no values or ideology complicating the mix. When something is the domain of experts, you don’t need democratic accountability or community input and some of planning’s biggest mistakes (urban renewal, slum clearance, urban expressways) resulted from that conceit.
Also in Friday’s announcement was a commitment by the Province to provide HRM with funds to complete planning studies. The four locations are:
- Akoma Lands (former Home for Colored Children off Main Street and Ross Road)
- Morris Lake Expansion
- Sandy Lake
- 102 Corridor
Council actually voted on Wednesday during budget deliberations, before the Province’s stance was known, to fund three of the four studies. So the Province’s assistance there is helpful as it lessens HRM’s costs with the three studies we approved. Some good news. There is a thorny issue though regarding the fourth study that Council voted not to fund, but now the Province wants to give us money to do: the 102 corridor lands.
The 102 corridor lands is the property adjacent to Susie Lake at the edge of Blue Mountain Birch Cove (mainly the Stevens Group properties). Council’s vote was held during budget deliberations and so the decision not to include the 102 lands was made in that context. From what was said around the room though, it seems clear that Council left the 102 lands out, not because of the cost, but because of all the unknowns about Blue Mountain Birch Cove. Parks Canada has identified the Blue Mountain Birch Cove as a potential national park and the Annapolis Group is still very much suing HRM for not allowing them to initiate development.
Council opted not to proceed with the 102 study given all of the unique context around those lands, but now the Province has announced that they will fund the 102 study. I have no idea what that means! Will Council now change its stance? Will the Province force us to undertake a study we just voted not to? Bit of a big unknown to be settled in future.
I will conclude this dreary newsletter opening with the point that after nearly six years on Council, dealing with the Province continues to be the biggest opportunity when things go right, but the biggest of all hurdles when things go wrong!
Parks and Rec Fees
HRM has implemented a new fee structure for Parks and Rec. This is the first change in Parks and Rec fees in 10 years and has come about following a comprehensive review of the fees that HRM charges for all of Parks and Rec’s programs. The problem with the old fee structure was deeper than the fact that it hadn’t changed in a decade. The old Parks and Rec fees were fairly arbitrary, with many leftover from amalgamation, which created a lot of inconsistency. There was no underlying goal or principles behind them.
The recent fee review led to Council adopting a set of principles around Parks and Rec fees. Going forward, fees will be based on the actual cost of the relevant program, and then HRM will subsidize those with the most need. Subsidies will apply to low-income residents (HRM’s Access Program), seniors, youth, and non-profits. The result is some fees are going up, some are staying the same, and some are coming down. The new fees take effect April 1. For a full listing of fees, visit HRM’s page here.
If you’ve contacted my office in the last few months, it might have seemed like there was a different person on deck helping me each time. There have been some vacancies in HRM’s Council Support Office and, as a result, there has been a fair bit of juggling of which constituency coordinators are working with which councillors. I have bounced around more than most, but I’m pleased to share that hiring in the Council Support Office is complete and I think I’m now settled. Michelle Doucet has taken on the role of constituency coordinator for District 5. Michelle is a Dartmouth resident who has worked in a variety of roles in HRM including in transit, building and compliance, and facilities. Michelle will help me with routine constituency issues, managing the District 5 fund, managing my calendar (Michelle books all my appointments), and organizing the print newsletter. Very happy to be working with Michelle. You can reach Michelle at 902-490-6982 or by email at email@example.com
HRM Board/Committee Recruitment
HRM is launching its latest recruitment round for the municipality’s various boards and committees. Recruitment will be taking place for:
|Community Monitoring (Otter Lake)||2||HRM residents|
|Metro Housing Authority||2||Citizen|
|North West Planning Advisory||5||North West community members|
|Regional Watersheds Advisory||9||Water-related professionals (4_, academics/research (1_, community groups (1), resident-at-large (3)|
|Shubenacadie Canal Commission||2||Members|
|Western Common Advisory||4||local business (1), resident Beechville/Timberlea (1), environmental group (1), ecological sciences (1)|
|Women’s Advisory||9||African Nova Scotian, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, immigrant, women with disabilities, Francophone/Acadiean, racialized|
HRM is encouraging residents who are interested in serving to apply online. Check out the municipal webpage here.
Dartmouth Cove Garden
Develop Nova Scotia is looking to green some of their vacant land in Dartmouth Cove. Develop has put out a call to see if there is a non-profit or community group interested in managing and maintaining an urban garden. The partner organization would oversee 750 m2 of garden space along the Harbour Trail near King’s Wharf. Develop Nova Scotia has indicated a willingness to help with costs and services which might include a portable washroom and water. Develop envisions the garden as a one year pilot that could be renewed. With five high-rises in the area, this could be a great opportunity to form a King’s Wharf/Admiralty Place Garden Society and create some gardening opportunities for folks who are otherwise limited to pots on their balconies! For more information, check out Develop Nova Scotia’s page here. Applications are due April 14 at 2:00 pm.
Still with gardening, HRM’s seed giveaway project is taking place again this year. HRM is offering free vegetable seed kits for up to 30 households in a neighbourhood. Each household will be provided with seeds for five different vegetables: kale, beans, Swiss chard, basil, and zucchini. The idea is to encourage connections with neighbours, and have fun by getting involved in a shared project. Applications are due March 31! To learn more and download your application form, visit halifax.ca/placemaking.
Dartmouth North AT
Work is continuing on the Dartmouth North Active Transportation project. The project aims to identify the best options for street and pathway improvements that make cycling, walking and rolling safer and more comfortable in and through the community. A big part of this is to determine the cycling route and roadway changes to complete the Dartmouth North segment of HRM’s All Ages and Abilities network. The goal is to connect the Burnside Greenway to the new Wyse Road bike lanes. Here’s a status update:
- Two rounds of public engagement took place between July – December 2021 to identify areas of improvement and gain feedback on cycling and “complete street” in Dartmouth North.
- Options being considered include safer street crossings, upgraded pathways, bike lanes, and traffic calming
- The planning team is now working with other HRM departments to finalize options to submit to Council for approval
Here is a link to the recent staff presentation given to the Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Staff’s recommendation is leaning towards a hybrid recommendation that combines pieces of the three routes that were discussed during the first round of public consultation. The revised route favoured by staff will go from Albro and Wyse to Burnside via Farrell Park, Victoria Road, and Highfield Park Drive. I have spoken with staff and the two blocks of Victoria Road between Farrell and Albro Lake Road will likely be looked at in the soon to get started Slayter Street Local Bikeway project.
For more information on the Dartmouth North AT project, please contact Chloe Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 902-943-1746
Public Gardens Audio Tour
With spring upon us, the plants and flowers of the Public Gardens will soon be blooming again. Always one of the best times of year to visit the Gardens and you can now pair your visit with a free audio tour. The Friends of the Public Gardens has prepared an audio guide to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th year as Queen. The audio tour details the connections in the Public Gardens to the Royal Family including the Victoria Jubilee Fountain, royal connections to buildings and the bandstand, and Prince Edward’s contribution towards gardening in Halifax. The audio tour is available online and can be listened to at home, or on a mobile device while visiting the gardens. Visit the Friends of the Public Gardens page here to access it.
Last Call Community Grants Program:
Last call for the 2022 community grants applications. Grant deadline is March 31! 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 2021 in the District 5 area included the Elizabeth Fry Society, and MacPhee Centre. You can read the report on all the organizations that received funding in 2021 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 check out the eligibility criteria in the program booklet online on the municipal grants page here.
Halifax Water Work, Northbrook – Harbour
You might recall seeing survey crews out and about from the Sobeys on Wyse Road, along Jamieson Street, and in Crathorne Park last year. The survey work was part of an upcoming Halifax Water project to separate storm and lake water from the sewage system. Right now, water from both Big Albro Lake and Little Albro Lake travels underground, pops up briefly in Northbrook Park, and then enters the sewer system in the Sobeys parking lot. This lake water mixes with sewage and then all of it ends up at the Dartmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant before entering the harbour.
It’s unnecessary to treat the Albro’s perfectly good lake water, and doing so reduces our sewer system’s capacity and makes it more prone to overflows during heavy rain. The plan is to separate the lake water from the sewage and then discharge the lake water directly to the harbour. With planning and surveying complete, Halifax Water is now getting underway with the project. Over the next several months, a lot of paving and pipe will be dug up between Sobeys and the Harbour. The roads will remain open, but expect some construction related delays. Halifax Water expects to have the project finished in late November or early December.
Cancer Survivors Garden
With spring just around the corner, a big splash of yellow awaits on Alderney Drive. The daffodils at the Cancer Survivors Garden will bloom in just a few weeks. Dartmouth’s Truefaux films has done a short video about the garden and what it means to many of the folks who have been visiting the space. Check it out:
Thanks to Truefaux for donating their time to tell the story of this Dartmouth gem.
Youth Live Applications Open
HRM’s youth employment program, Youth Live, is currently accepting applications for the spring session. Youth Live offers 24 weeks of paid job and life skill building for youth between 16 and 24 years of age who are facing employment barriers. While in this supportive environment, program participants gain hands-on work experience and participate in job readiness workshops to improve your employability skills. Apply by April 1, 2022 for the spring session. For more information check out the HRM webpage here. To contact staff or apply call 902-490-5589, text 902-579-5446, e-mail email@example.com or message Youth Live through Facebook: facebook.com/hfxyouthlive
Camp Courage Applications
Camp Courage is now accepting applications for its July 3 – 10 session. This year’s Camp Courage will be for young Indigenous women. The idea behind Camp Courage is to introduce young women (15-18) to careers as first responders. The goal is to have the young women leave with a sense of empowerment and confidence to pursue a career in these non-traditional roles. The Camp is free and applicants are chosen based on an entry essay. For more information, check out Camp Courage’s page here and get in touch either by phone 902-701-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Applicants can also apply through the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. Applications are due by April 13.
Income Tax Help
Halifax Public Libraries is again hosting free tax clinics. The tax clinics are offered by the Canada Revenue Agency and community organizations and are designed to help people who struggle with the complexity of filing their taxes. Tax clinics are aimed at people who might have limited funds to hire someone to do their taxes for them and that have a relatively simple return to file. Suggested income thresholds are:
|Family size||Total family income|
|More than 5 persons||$52,500 plus $2,500 for each additional person|
You can register for 2022 tax clinics by calling your local library branch or by visiting in-person. To learn more, visit the Library’s page here. You can also sign-up to help others as a volunteer here.
Active Transportation Education and Promotion Grants:
HRM is now accepting applications for the Active Transportation Education and Promotion Grant. The AT Education and Promotion grants are intended to support community organizations interested in doing projects to increase the number of people walking and bicycling. Projects may include:
• Safety and skills training programs
• AT promotions and marketing programs
• AT education and engagement
• Transportation Demand Management programs
• AT related events
For more information on the grant and the application form visit the HRM page here. Applications are due April 11.
Regional Plan Review
HRM is inviting residents to participate in Phase 3 of the Regional Plan review. The Regional Plan sets out a common vision, as well as principles and long-range, region-wide planning policies. The Plan outlines when, and how future growth and development should take place between now and 2031. Right now, HRM is gathering feedback on several site specific requests for amendments including:
- Atholea Drive Area
- Bedford Commons
- Lake Loon Golf Course
- Purcell’s Cove Road lands
- First Lake Drive, Sackville
- Paper Mill Lake, Bedford
- Lindforest Court, Middle Sackville
- Morris Lake
- Birch Hill Mobile Home Park
- Exhibition Park
- Herring Cove Holding Zone (Spryfield)
For more information on the site specific requests, check out the summary table here and for more information on the Regional Plan Review check out the HRM page here. The deadline for feedback is 4:30 pm April 18. Feedback or questions can be submiited by email email@example.com or phone 902-233-2501.
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, March 1
Planning for a fish ladder at Lake Banook, photo radar, an on-demand accessible taxi service, and a bunch of housing updates. Read about it here.
Council Update February 8 and 15
Commercial tax reform, scrapping polygraph testing and funding for the art gallery. Read about it here.
A slow time of year for tenders.
- Alderney Landing stage deck replacement, $77,000 (GA Leblanc Construction)
- HRM Lake Monitoring Program, closing
The return of HRM’s late monitoring program! District 5 lakes included in the program are Banook, Big Albro, Maynard, Penhorn, and Oat Hill.
- Milverton Road sidewalk repairs, closing April 1
Repairs to the sidewalk on a small section of Milverton Road from Prince Arthur Avenue to the first 90 degree corner by civic #6.
Pleasant Woodside Neighbourhood Meet and Greet
Wednesday, April 13, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Woodside Tavern, 209 Pleasant Street
Come meet or reintroduce yourself to your neighbours in the Southdale/Pleasant/North Woodside area. The Pleasant Woodside Association is holding a neighbourhood meet and greet at the Woodside Tavern. Curry and company! Kids welcome.