There has been a twist in the controversial Prince Albert Road and Glenwood Avenue development. Site preparations are underway, but the developers don’t intend to build the eight storey apartment building that Council approved back in September. Instead, they intend to build a 16 storey hotel. The hotel development is as-of-right, and doesn’t require Council approval. It’s a decision that makes a mockery of both the upcoming Centre Plan and the seven year process to get to an approved mid-rise residential project. It’s deeply disappointing and infuriating and I will fight it.
Unfortunately, options are very limited because the hotel development is as-of-right, meaning it doesn’t require community consultation or Council approval. So how in the world can a 16 storey building be as-of-right? The fault is with our antiquated 1970s zoning rules. The Dartmouth Plan requires Council approval for all apartment buildings of more than three units, but, at the same time, most commercial zones have few limits. Since Prince Albert/Glenwood is zoned general commercial, the developers need approval for an apartment, but not for a hotel. This makes no sense and is an example of why it’s so important to replace Dartmouth’s old zoning bylaw with the new Centre Plan. Our current planning rules are dysfunctional and have been for a long time.
So why do the developers want to build a hotel after they spent so much time and energy pursuing an apartment building? When they notified me of the switch to a hotel, they indicated that they had reconsidered their options a few months ago because it had taken so long to get the apartment approved, and because the appeal to the Utility and Review Board by the Banook Area Residents Association had created uncertainty as to whether Council’s decision would be upheld. The developers also indicated they were concerned that, even if the UARB upheld Council’s decision, the ruling might be further challenged at the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
The appeal may have been the spark to get the developers to seriously look at the hotel option, but it has since been dismissed, and the time for additional appeals has elapsed. There is no longer anything standing in the way of the eight storey apartment building that Council approved. At this point, the developers have simply calculated that a 16 storey hotel is more profitable, and have completely disregarded what HRM has identified as appropriate for Grahams Grove in the Centre Plan.
There is a profound difference between having the legal right to do something and it being the right thing to do. The developers, Tony Maskine, Wadih Jabour, and Pierre Jabour, have opted to take advantage of Dartmouth’s outdated planning strategy to construct a building that is totally out of scale with everything around it. They’ve done so knowing that it’s not supported by the community, after Council already rejected 15 and 9, and mere months before the incoming Centre Plan will eliminate District 5’s flawed commercial zoning. They’ve done so after an exhaustive process that produced an approved apartment project. The seven storey plus penthouse option that Council approved in September wasn’t loved by everyone, but it was a fair compromise reached in good faith and, from the feedback that I received, it was generally supported by the broader community.
The developers have turned their backs on the compromise to pursue a 16 storey hotel, not because it’s right for Dartmouth, but because they can and it’s in their financial interest. Maybe that’s good business, but it’s not in the community’s interest. They’re putting their interest ahead of everyone else. It may be their legal right, but it’s not the right thing to do. I’m deeply disappointed in their decision.
Next week, I will introduce a motion at Council to see what, if anything, HRM can do to stop this. It won’t be easy. The hotel is allowed under Dartmouth’s current planning rules, the developers have had a permit since 2009, and site preparations have already begun. Being a planner, I know that’s not a great place to be starting from, but this is worth fighting. There are places in Downtown Dartmouth where this hotel project would be a perfect fit, but it’s the wrong approach for revitalizing Grahams Grove. The current location serves the interest of three people, and three people alone, and should be stopped.
Dartmouth, join me in speaking out if you think this hotel project and the developers decision is simply wrong.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reach HRM’s planning department