Silver Sands Lake rezoning moving forward

Community pushback may have an impact, but rezoning of Silver Sands Lake could not be stopped.

Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council, Jan. 7, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

The contentious rezoning application for the property close to Silver Sands Beach moves forward tonight after a unanimous vote to approve. 

The property is currently zoned P-2 which allows for a community facility, like a hospital, and the new zoning is RA, which is a lower density rural designation. 

The Silver Sand Beach area is extremely important to the local community, with a storied history going back to the 1800s when it was a prime tourist destination for the province and Eastern United States. 

But in recent years climate change has been dramatically changing the coastal landscape. Community members who called into the public hearing expressed concern that the HRM was treating the lake as freshwater because of a 2007 Supreme Court decision, even though it’s now open directly to the ocean and want to make sure the city is verifying that the lake is still “brackish.”

There was a lot of tension between what the public expects in a public hearing versus what their city councillors can actually do. According to Tracy Faulkner, one of the community members who called into tonight’s meeting, the community submitted tomes of information, like a former Department of Fisheries and Oceans officer submitting a lifetime of research about the coastal erosion of the beach. Even though almost everyone who spoke at the last public information meeting is absolutely not in favour of this development, it still passed tonight. 

“The consultation needs to mean something, and it really meant something tonight,” said Councillor Becky Kent after the meeting. “The contribution, and the pushback, was really important. Because now we have a chance to fix this.” 

She also stressed that a big part of her job is making sure her constituents understand what they can do in the process. But also making sure they understand what she can and can’t do as a city councillor. 

Because of community input, the motion that got passed tonight includes the following:

“2. Request a staff report identifying issues of increasing environmental concern around the Cow Bay Lake area including the setback regulations of Cow Bay Lake and Barrier Pond, a discussion on the existing P-2 (Community Facility) Zone and the range of permitted uses within the Special Area Designation of the MPS for Eastern Passage/Cow Bay.”

This directs city staff to research and answer community concerns, even though they couldn’t do that directly in tonight’s meeting. 

The city’s public engagement process is normally not well liked by the public who participate. In this case, Kent thinks it’s a win tonight because the second half of the motion wouldn’t have been added without the community feedback. 

Even though the applicant says they want to just build a house, should the rezoning be approved by council there’s nothing to prevent the applicant from building other things allowed by the zoning, like a bed and breakfast.  

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Hendsbee: Happy New Year, and welcome. 

*General chit chat during roll call about Halifax being better than other places because none of our politicians travelled, and Canada being better because we didn’t have a coup attempt yesterday.*

Hendsbee: On to the case on the agenda, a partial rezoning in Cow Bay. We have a staff presentation, Kent want to put the motion on the floor? 

Kent: (Reads motion for agenda item 10.1.1 as written)

Hendsbee: Staff presentation, please.

Staff: The application is to change from a community zone to a rural zone. The purpose of the rezoning is to build a house. This is in a special area designation, but also says council shall zone private lands for low density housing. When the application first came in, it was expanded to include all of the P-2 zoning in the area. But after feedback, we restricted it to the property. Community feedback also had concerns about the environmental impact and water levels. The new zoning is very low impact on the land, but the current zoning allows for all sorts of things like fire stations and fraternity halls. Approving the rezoning is better for the environment than keeping the current zoning. There was also an error in the mapping done in 2006, the highwater mark is 200ft from the shore, but the HRM map put it at 100ft. But the lands for the proposed rezoning are 200ft away. But overall, approving a house zoning that takes into account the 200ft setback really prevents anyone else from putting a frat hall or fire station on this property. We recommend that council approves the rezoning application with a staff report, so we can answer some lingering questions about the development. 

Kent: Is this application restrictive? The RA zone allows a bunch of things, but I just want to make sure that it has to be a single use dwelling if we approve it. 

Staff: No, the full list of RA uses would be permitted in an RA zone. Their intention is a single unit house, but they can do anything within that list. 

Kent: So they can do one of the other uses, like a bed and breakfast? 

Staff: No, we can’t restrict land use like that in a rezoning, not like in a development agreement. 

Kent: A lot of the concerns I’ve heard have been about water levels and erosion. This application says they can build the house closer to the water than currently allowed? Why did you bring up the 200ft setback if that’s the case? 

Staff: The applications decided to move the rezoning back to meet the 200ft, if this isn’t approved then they can’t build on the P-2 zone, so they’d have to build further back where the current RA zone is on the property. 

Mancini: Can you just clarify what you mean about having a discussion about the P-2 zoning? 

Staff: I want a staff report so I can study if P-2 is appropriate for the area. I don’t expect a hospital to go in there any time soon, but one could. The community has raised it as an issue, and we see it as one too. 

Mancini: And a report would allow you to make a recommendation for us to change it? 

Staff: Yes.

Austin: The P-2 zone, is that used elsewhere in the Cow Bay, Eastern Passage area? 

Staff: Yes, but not in a special designation area like this one. 

Austin: It seems weird to be allowed to have a house with a daycare, but not a house with no daycare. Seems dated. 

Kent: Does this motion address or validate or reflect the many points of consideration that have come forward to staff about this property? A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten has been good and should be included. 

Staff: I like to think so, and this report can allow us to tap into the province’s plans. And there’s also a Supreme Court decision about this body of water, but I don’t want to get into the weeds here, but it would also require a setback. 

Kent: Can you explain what community engagement will look like? Whatever we do in the future, we need to make sure we’re tapping into the community. The community is crucial in figuring out what we need to look at.

Staff: There are a lot of stakeholders in the area that we would engage, but I don’t know what that looks like with COVID protocols. There are always limitations on what we, as a city, can do in our jurisdiction. This hopefully allows staff to educate the community on how they can use their passion to apply pressure to the other levels of government who can do the things they want to see. I’m very interested in hearing from community members, we want the resolution to be general enough that we can adapt to information that we just might not have right now. 

Kent: So if we do this tonight, it still could be years away due to the province? Is there work that could come forward in the city’s long term planning documents that would impact what we’re doing today? 

Staff: Sorry, the province might be years away from doing their coastal plan, that’s not our planning timeline. But in general, we try to be in line with what the city is doing. 

Hendsbee: What’s the historical significance of the property? If I remember correctly this was used to rebuild the Hydrostone after the explosion. And there used to be stone statues, I remember an alligator from my childhood. Will this application have an impact on access to Silver Sands Beach? 

Staff: We can dig into the history of the property, but it’s been used to rebuild other parts of the city more recently than the explosion. We can include it in the report or larger study though, to find out. Access to the beach is separate but concurrent to this rezoning application. Our report is more about P-2 uses and environmental protections, not alternative access to Silver Sands Beach. 

Hendsbee: On to the public hearing! Is the applicant here? Do they want to speak? 

Representative for the applicant (Rob LeBlanc): For background, when the applicant bought this property it was all one big property that was going to be a golf course at some point. What the applicant is looking to do is just make sure their property is all one zone that can be a single family home, with a little more flexibility than currently allowed with wetlands protections along Cow Bay Road. 

Hendsbee: On to the public, Tracy Faulkner are you here?

Tracy Faulkner: I just wanted to touch base and be the voice of a passionate community member. The first slide said you got emails, but can you confirm that you got the email from the DFO officer who spent their whole life researching this beach? Or any number of the other well researched emails that I know were sent? I just want to know if those are weighted the same as what the developer submits. Has the HRM done any water chemistry tests to make sure that it’s not getting saltwater from the ocean? Because it’s open to the ocean now. Storm surges are happening all the time, not every hundred years. 

Hendsbee: We’ve seen all of the emails, can the clerk confirm? 

Clerk: Yes, six items in this case. 

Kent: Can staff respond to any of those questions? 

Hendsbee: No. Bill Faulkner? 

Bill Faulkner: In the staff report it says the developer may need to address the elevation with fill, but there are some issues with that statement. They will have to. There will be flooding from the south and the west and with storm surges. It floods every year. The intent of the MPS (Municipal Planning Strategy) was to protect the low lying wetland land from development, does this known flooding issue meet the development criteria for a single family unit? In increasing the elevation, they’ve essentially created a dyke, which floods our land, but without a development agreement there’s nothing the city can do. According to the city, it’s up to the property owner to make sure they don’t do that, but there are no bylaws to apply. So what will you do to prevent this from happening? 

LeBlanc: Thanks for calling in. The issue of whether it’s a freshwater lake and movement of the beach, there seems to be some confusion about the current zone being used as a conservation area, but it allows more intensive developments. And about 90 per cent of the properties on the lake are zoned RA or R1, we’re just asking to be the same. The 3.8 meter vertical setback is recommended by the HRM to guard against future flooding, so that’s already fixed. It’s a simple request. We’re asking to go from a more intensive use to a less intensive use. 

Hendsbee: Alright, that’s the public hearing, what do you want to do councillors?

Kent: I’m not sure we got a good understanding of the answers the Faulkners were looking for. 

Staff: The lake is brackish (some saltwater), but because of the Supreme Court decision that classified it as freshwater, the 3.8 meter elevation isn’t required. The 3.8 meter is for the ocean, so it doesn’t apply here. Here we did it with the setback of 200ft, which due to the mapping error is actually only 100 ft. 

Kent: Is there an ability in the permitting stage to deal with the height? 

Staff: Not really, that’s a different thing than what we’re doing. And the permit stage is somewhat limited. 

Hendsbee: When do watershed and elevation of property come in? 

Staff: Permitting, we can’t do that in rezoning.

Purdy: If I understand correctly, the elevation discrepancy is already affecting Mr. Faulkner’s land, is there any way to retroactively address that in the permitting stage? To make them take responsibility for that? 

Staff: No we can’t really circle back and fix that, but the permitting process should do that. But when it’s two private landowners it’s typically a civil matter and the HRM’s responsibility ends. 

Staff (Thea Langille): The new lot grading bylaw that was just passed, will be applicable during the permitting process. 

Austin: As part of the process of the supplemental information, can we get some information about what the point of the P-2 zoning was? 

Staff: Yes, if there’s data, but yes that’s the intention. 

Hendsbee: The question? 

Kent: Point of order: Can I speak about whether or not I plan to support or oppose the motion? 

Hendsbee: Yes.

Kent: This is important to our community. Our staff has been through this, and the community has been here and put in the work, and we need to make sure we’re taking it seriously. We need to get this right. This application allows for a single unit dwelling, but it also allows for other uses as well. What the rub for me is that the change is fairly significant. We’re usually being asked to increase intensity, it’s not frequent that it goes the other way. But I don’t know if it’s consistent with the larger plan for the city. A local woman put together a thesis about Cow Bay and Silver Sands, and it gives a really good context for the history of the area. I’m talking about this because I need you to understand the impact of the ocean and coastal erosion on this community. In the 1800s this beachfront was a major tourist destination. The sand and gravel were used as the foundation for a lot of construction in the HRM. There’s some confusion in public about what we can legally do here tonight. The work the community has done has spearheaded the second half of this motion. The second half is more important than the first half. We need to ensure that progress happens, but we need to update, review and correct errors of our past. We need to do that, so we can honour this hidden gem of Nova Scotia. I may not be popular with everyone in this meeting, but I’d like to ask you to work with me, and our community to make sure our communities don’t have this convoluted situation we have at Silver Sands. After careful consideration, this motion has to stand. I can’t identify a reason within the policy that’s in play now, that it’s not within the MPS right now. But we have work to do. 

Hendsbee: If this passes, what are the appeal options for the public? 

Staff: They have 14 days from Saturday to the Nova Scotia Appeal and Review Board.    

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Hendsbee: Motion to adjourn? 

Kent: Moved.

*Meeting adjourned*   


Councillor David Hendsbee, Chair (District 2)

Councillor Becky Kent, Vice-Chair (District 3)

Councillor Trish Purdy (District 4)

Councillor Sam Austin (District 5)

Councillor Tony Mancini (District 6)





Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Current agenda

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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