Major Dunbrack rezoning plan on hold

The Dunbrack re-zoning is on hold due to concerns about neighbourhood impacts, and a housing project on Gottingen is dead.


Councillor Lindell Smith, Chair (District 8)

Councillor Waye Mason (District 7)

Councillor Shawn Cleary (District 9)

Councillor Kathryn Morse (District 10)

Councillor Patty Cuttell (District 11)

Councillor Iona Stoddard (District 12)


Meeting recap (the important stuff):

Halifax and West Community Council kicked the can down the road on the major rezoning plan for the Dunbrak area. 

In response to a development request on Willett Street, last year’s council decided to look at the area around Dunbrak Street and see if it was possible to improve the zoning in the area. The regulations that are in place have weird caveats, like a cap on population density per acre, and was written in the 1970s. 

Councillors Morse, Cuttle and Mason were concerned that the plan staff came up with for the area was density for density’s sake, with no consideration for who the neighbourhood should serve. They were also wary of increasing the density based on the Bus Rapid Transit plan, which is still in the planning phase.

Cleary was very much in favour of the zoning overhaul, pointing out that with the stated priorities for council, like Sackville Drive and Main Street in Dartmouth, this area likely wouldn’t see a major overhaul for at least 10 years. 

They’re going to come back next week for a special meeting with a firm course of action on what to do about this development. 

The affordable housing planned for 2215 Gottingen is dead. The city had changed the zoning for their development to increase density. Controlling how land is used is the only way city council can implement affordable housing without the provincial government’s help. Council initially changed the zoning to allow more density and as a result more affordable housing. Disappointed to be reading the motion to withdraw the agreement Mason said it “tastes like ash in my mouth.”

But because the city can’t do anything other than change zoning the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia had to withdraw due to the rising costs of construction. Their other project continues to limp along.

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Smith: We’re going to start with our Annual Report, and no one’s signed up to speak. Normally people can speak on this, but no one’s signed up. 

Mason: I’ll move to accept the report.

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: Okay, we’re on to deferred business, but we’re going to hold on to 5.1 (Case 22332) until Councillor Morse can get into the meeting (she’s the councillor for the area). Can we approve the order of business with this caveat? 

Staff: Yes.

Smith: Okay, do we have any correspondence? 

Staff: Yes. 

Smith: Okay, but Councillor Morse is here now so we’ll move back to Case 22332. Can someone put the motion on the floor? 

Cuttell: (Reads the motion for agenda item 5.1 as written)

Smith: I’ll let you take it away, Councillor Morse. 

Morse: I think I want to put a new motion on the floor. I want to recognize the hard work of our planning team. Even though we deferred it, I still have some questions about it. The plan it’s being introduced under is from the 1970s and we don’t have a suburban plan for the area. I’m worried this development will set some precedents we’re not quite ready for. So I can do one of those, or go to first reading? 

Cleary: Is there a presentation? 

Smith: Yes. 

Morse: Let’s get the presentation. 

Staff (Sean Gillis): This is a project initiated a year ago by regional council. We normally do this site by site, but this one is an area study. For background, 210-214 Willett Street requested plan amendments for higher density. The current site has two buildings, a round tower and a smaller four-story tower, both vacant. The owners are saying they’re beyond repair. They’re asking for new rules for new buildings because the old plan has weird stuff, like a cap on allowed people by acre. The zone is designed for 60s-70s suburbs, not walkable, integrated cities. The second big part of this proposal is that staff found any site that’s an R-4 zone in the area would have similar issues to the Willett application. The public, at consultations, were worried about the area turning into one big same looking development. That was a miscommunication on our part, we are looking at the zone as a whole, not looking at changing the zone to be the same. But the area has a lot of amenities, so we identified it as an area we could implement a more holistic plan. One of the big things we look for in the Centre Plan is walkability, and there are a lot of things in the area that make it a walkable community. Transit service for the area is good. One of the challenges to walkability is lack of sidewalks and wide fast streets without crosswalks. There are a lot of trees in the area which are important to residents and help with stormwater.

This is the list of pros and cons for the new density zoning plan from staff’s presentation to Halifax and West Community Council.

Gillis: The public feedback: They didn’t like spillover street parking, future traffic volumes, tall towers casting shadows, and think the density is too much and will lead to more developments like this in the future. As for the traffic, the impact statement said there would be little to no change to the current traffic (shocking). 

Gillis: The recommended approach is to have a new designation for the area. The further south you go, the less walkable it is, and so not as good for higher density. The new designation is saying ‘this is a good area for high density’ and it doesn’t make sense to do that to the townhouses in the south. The new designation we’ve been calling R-4B, and even though we’ve done a study of the area, our proposal is only for Willett at this time. But it does give council a framework for future applications in the zone when it comes to heights and setbacks. We also want to make the parks a park zone, and change the houses and townhouses to the proper zones for the buildings. It would also reassure residents that we’re not trying to change everything to R-4B. We want the zoning to have the flexibility to adapt height to the buildings around it.  

Gillis: Staff recommends creating a new zone, change the zoning of existing housing to match the buildings and change the zone of the parks to park and industrial. 

Smith: Thank you, that was very thorough for sure.

Mason: Can we do a round of technical questions instead of pulpit statements? What under the current rules could/would the volume be for these two buildings? If we say in the MPS that we’re changing this zone without setting a height limit, we have to hear every development until we had a limit? 

Gillis: They could build a 20 story tower, but could only have 75 people per acres so I’m going to do some math *does math* about 140 units. But the building has 170 now. 

Mason: Second question, if we adopt this now, what does it compel us to do in the future, since there’s no set height? 

Gillis: If you put in place this designation, the new developments would have to follow the new zone, 6-16 stories, 12 stories or more only next to major intersections. This designation is designed to be high density. You’re likely to get people coming in asking for the biggest they think they can get away with. So 6-16 stories. If you’re going for this, you’re going for it.   

Morse: The park isn’t a park like you’re imagining. It’s mostly for stormwater management, it’s fenced off and not accessible to the public. Would part of it be used for the transit corridor? 

Gillis: Don’t know, it’s not my specialty. 

Morse: It makes a lot of sense to have denser buildings where rapid bus transit will be, but it needs to be in place. It’s not yet. We don’t know how it’s going to roll out. I just wanted to point out that we’re not there yet with transit. To take a huge jump in density for a transit plan that’s a year away is a bit of a leap. 

Mason: I was hoping to speak after the amendment, but I’m going to follow her lead. If you look at the attachment B1 page 26, I can get behind it. Make the houses house zoning, make the park a park, I can get behind the zoning on this one property. When you said if we’re going for it, we’re going for it, I was like ?. I don’t see Dunbrack becoming Spring Garden Road, it’s not designed for this. I think we need a more complete plan. We need more detail than saying ‘ok let’s have at ‘er.’ I think this new zone is too aggressive for this whole zone. I don’t feel comfortable that I can explain what we’re doing here to the public. We need a plan for the area. I’m excited for this, our first real debate with new councillors!

Smith: Legal, in terms of process, I can’t remember the last time we had such a huge discussion before first reading. Before putting the amendment on the floor, is there anything preventing us from having a debate on the motion before first reading. 

Lawyer (Meg MacDougall): The first reading and public meeting happens at regional council, so this is a recommendation to council. If there’s a supplemental staff report, you defer the motion on the floor and get the report. You can defeat the motion on the floor and pass a new one, with amendments, to send to council.  

Cuttell: In terms of process, do we hear the amendment first, or? 

Smith: If we’re going to see an amendment? 

MacDougall: You should defeat this first and then do the amendment. 

Smith: Mason said he wanted more clarity, so it’s up to us for what we want to do. Do we want a supplemental report? 

Stoddard: What would we be looking for in a supplemental report? What Mason asked for? The Shadows and heights? 

Mason: The more complex our edits are going to be, the more complex we make it on the fly the worse it gets. So if it’s going to be one of those it’s better to get a report on what we want to do. 

Cuttell: You took these three towers and ran with it. My main concerns were about the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) that doesn’t exist yet. But Mason’s right, we need a broader plan. We can’t just do things if they’re in vogue. The big question for me is what kind of community are we looking to build. My concern with the MPS amendment is that it seems like density is the only goal. We need to be creating neighbourhoods. We’re not at a point yet where people don’t have cars, this will lead to more street parking. There are other realities in our city that need to be addressed. It’s small non-family units, but school availability is a concern. Who is this neighbourhood for? It’s heading in the right direction, but I’m not convinced yet. 

Cleary: The towers in the park aren’t a 70s thing, it started in the 20s and became in vogue in the 70s. But this neighbourhood is terrible, and I can’t wait until this area is re-developed. I’m enamoured with what staff have come up with it. I like the new proposal, compared to what it’s replacing. I’m confident that we’ll have a BRT, if we’re not, what are we doing here? We are unlikely to get to this area for a broader plan for at least 10 years. I think this is a progressive plan by our planners. If there’s a reasonable amendment, I’ll support it. 

Smith: If we’re looking at a supplementary report, can we move forward on the Willett proposal? Or because of how staff prepared this can we not just do the Willett property? If everyone’s happy with R-4B for this one property can we do it? 

Gillis: It’s not all or nothing, we can move forward Willett on its own and one of the others, or a combo of the other proposed courses of action for the rest of it.

Morse: I just want to remind everyone that the Seton Ridge development is close and will add 5-6000 people to the area. There’s a lot of pressure and density in the area about to happen. The residents are already starting to notice traffic slowing down and schools crowding. We have a building that’s going to increase the density, and it’s in a good place for increased density, but I’m uncomfortable with just how many people it will be. I’d like to see a deferment with a supplemental report. 

Smith: So what do we want to do? *long pause* Not seeing anyone jump up. 

Mason: We all have our training wheels on right now and we will for the next couple months. We need to get a motion on the floor. I do think the proposal has merit on that site, and can’t wait for BRT for this site. Essentially it comes down to what the councillors in the area can live with. I don’t want to stop this development, or accurately zoning what exists, but staff will need direction, which is why I want the report. 

Morse: I’d like to defeat the motion on the floor and put a new motion with a supplemental report. 

Smith: You can’t do that. The two choices are to defer the main motion and get a report on it, or defeat it and make a new motion. 

Mason: Point of order, it’s not really a point of order it’s just to get back on the speaker’s list, but there’s a third option, which is to defer it to the next meeting.   

Gillis: The most value from a supplementary report is if it’s specific things that can be changed specifically. Very clear asks are important for supplemental reports. 

Smith: So saying ‘we want the setbacks to be eight instead of 20 meters’ is better than ‘what is the context for the community.’ We need to be very clear. 

Morse: I’d like to defer and go for the report, specifying things raised in this meeting: parking, shadowing, size and shape of the building. Do we need to give the specifics of what we’re asking tonight, or can we do that tomorrow? 

Smith: More detail tonight is good for being on the record, and supplementing it tomorrow with more details. 

Cleary: One big thing to consider is that staff will be taking direction from committee, not specific councillors. It would be helpful if we can specify a specific concern and specific questions. And/or ‘what about this solution?’ 

Smith: Most of your concerns are about this specific site? 

Morse: Yes

Smith: If we defeat this motion, and do a new motion, can we get supplemental information on the new motion? Can we send this to council and just change the plan for the one site? I’m just trying to make sure we’re not deferring the Willett development because we don’t like the overall plan. 

Lawyer: You’d have to wait, and the council would have to ask for the report, which would come back to this committee and then go back to council. That might extend the process. 

Mason: Can we take a five minute break to figure out what we can do and how that fits with what we want to do? We can’t do it in the formal process because everyone’s out of time. Move to extend the meeting. 

M/S/C – Vote – Morse, Cuttell, Stoddard – Aye – Cleary – Nay 

Mason: Should this maybe be the next meeting? We’ve been at this meeting for two hours. 

Morse: Can we do a special meeting next week? 

Staff: You need five business days, so you absolutely can. 

Smith: To be clear, why are we deferring to the special meeting. 

Cleary: A motion to defer is always in order!

Mason: We’re deferring to next week to come back with an actionable motion. 

Smith: Well if it gets secon-

Cleary: I SECOND IT!

Smith: It’s a legal motion now, so let’s call the question. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye 

Smith: That’s been deferred. Next item, Case 22851, can someone put it on the floor? 

Mason: (Reads the motion for agenda item 8.1.1 as written) I have nothing on this, I’m glad it’s still alive and limping along. 

Smith: Happy to see it move forward. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: Case 23219

Mason: (Reads the motion for agenda item 8.1.2 as written) It tastes like ash in my mouth, I wish it was affordable housing. I assume they’re going to come back under the Centre Plan. Until the province gets on board with regulating this, I’ll never vote for another upzone for the promise of affordable housing again. 

Smith: I asked staff to explain what happened to the affordable housing in this case. 

Staff: The development agreement was zoned because affordable housing is implemented by the city by regulating how land is used. It’s our only tool. This development proposal had half of the units be affordable housing, but the development agreement could not and would not make them do affordable housing. They’re withdrawing. 

Smith: They had to do this because of the rising costs and so they withdrew, to sell this, to make affordable housing with the other development they put forward for us here. 

Cuttell: I heard a lot about this project is that one of the biggest fees is Halifax water. We really need to find a way to make sure our utilities can support affordable housing projects. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: Case 22978.

Stoddard: (Reads the motion for agenda item 8.1.3 as written

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: Meeting schedule?

Cleary: I have a question for staff, the schedule says Tuesdays but most of our meetings are actually Wednesdays. Why are our Tuesday meetings on Wednesdays? 

Cuttell: It’s because of council.

Staff: (More formally) It’s because of council. 

Cleary: For the last four years it’s been Tuesdays, but I’d appreciate the other Tuesday option. 

Smith: Is that a motion he needs to make? 

Staff: Yes, motion to amend. 

Cleary: I move to amend the schedule to include as many third Tuesdays of the month as possible to avoid conflicts with council. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: Councillor appointments to boards and committees

Mason: (Reads motion for agenda item 8.1.5 as written) Peninsula Planning I nominated Smith and Mason.

Cuttell: I’d do Western Common.

Smith: I’d do Grants if no one’s interested, it’s pretty easy. 

Cleary: I nominate councillor Smith!

Mason: Seconded!

Stoddard: Don’t we have to make sure they accept our nominations? 

Smith: I mean…

Stoddard: Not that formal? 

Mason: We all just nominated ourselves…

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

*Meeting moves in-camera*



Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Agenda for the meeting

Minutes from the previous meeting

A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.

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