No conjoined mansions for John Risley

Adsum development moves ahead

Halifax and West Community Council, Jan. 19, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

In spite of the extreme hardship of having two mansions, and needing to join them to have a formal and a casual kitchen in the same house, the variance appeal by Clearwater founder John Risley was denied at tonight’s meeting. 

Risley had intended to join his two large houses, on two separate properties on Emscote Drive, but HRM bylaws prevent having two kitchens in the same house. HRM bylaws allow for variances to them in the case of unique hardship or circumstances, and although this circumstance may be unique due to wealth distribution it’s hardly a hardship. Councillor Waye Mason said as much in his appeal to his fellow councillors to deny the application. Mason also reiterated that the city’s planning strategies tend to have more people living on a single property than fewer people living across two.

In his lively defence of Risley’s appeal, Councillor Shawn Cleary said the city allows variances all the time. He listed various scenarios that have received variances that were not similar to the application by Risley and were in line with HRM planning documents. Cleary also said the point of public engagement for variance hearings is to listen to the concerns of neighbours. Although, when residents of his district spoke against a development in 2019, Cleary voted for the development. Councillor Patty Cuttell also voted for Risley’s appeal citing her experience as a planner. 

The appeal failed with Cleary and Cuttell being the only votes in favour. 

The Adsum development is moving forward on Greenhead Road. The application was straight forward, with everyone largely agreeing it was a good and necessary thing for the community. Some of the feedback the city got about the Adsum development was that someone had a “concern regarding the entertaining of men in the surrounding wooded areas off-site and in private vehicles parked on Greenhead Road.” Member of the public Curtis Rafuse, a resident of Greenhead Road, who had called into the meeting made a point of speaking up to dispel that concern.

The garage on Greenhead Road got approval for the buildings on the property, and will now again be a legal garage. 

Read more about what was said at tonight’s meeting below.

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Smith: On to the meat of the meeting, the public hearings! Starting with a presentation from staff.

Megan Mond, staff: I’ll be presenting the application to legalize the existing automotive garage. Surrounding the property is low-lying dwellings, a mobile home park, the legion and Adsum House. The rezoning would be from rural to commercial. It’s allowed because of a policy (UR-20) that exists so council could allow businesses that had existed prior to the 1990s could stay on the land. The garage has been in business since the 1970s. Community feedback was generally supportive. One person had concerns chemicals could leak into a nearby creek, it was investigated, and is not a concern. Staff recommends approval.   

Mr. Lloyd Robins, applicant: The family has operated the garage since the 60s or 70s, and they own most of the adjoining properties. When Mr. Smith built the two garages he didn’t get a permit, he pled guilty and paid a fine. He wants his business to be a legal member of the community. This probably should have been done in 1992. There is no planned new construction. 

Smith: We have two registered speakers tonight. Curtis Rafuse, first speaker. 

Rafuse: I live down the street, and I’ve been here for 12 years, and I lived nearby for six years prior to that. I have no issues with the Smiths, sometimes his son’ll come by and plow my driveway. I think this is long overdue. 

Smith: Second speaker, Reg Rankin. 

Rankin: I’m speaking in support of this recommendation to rezone this. If this had been dealt with properly at the time and added to appendix A, it wouldn’t have been an issue. I was the councillor at the time and was from 1991 to 2016 and there was never a complaint about the property during my time on council. There’s a moral obligation to approve this application because there’s no good reason to deny it. They’ve paid the price levied by the court, and far beyond that price for consultation in this application. I do not see a motion to refuse happening for this application. 

Smith: Do you want to rebut anything, Mr. Robins? 

Robins: No, I just want to thank the former councillor and the other gentleman whose name I didn’t catch. 

Rafuse: I’d like to repeat my name for that gentleman, Curtis Rafuse. 

Smith: Can we get a motion? 

Stoddard: (Reads motion for agenda item 5.1.1 as written) I live in this area, everything in the report and what I’ve heard matches up. 

Smith: Question? 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: Next case, Adsum public hearing, first up, staff report.

Staff: The application is on behalf of the Adsum Association for Women and Children by the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. The building was a school in 1982 and zoned P-2 (park and institutional). It then became a Lions Club and became R-2 (two-family dwelling) in 1992. There was a development agreement in the early 2000s allowing the Adsum building that exists. Even though the development might not be strictly allowed, affordable housing is a priority with this council. The design was re-worked with the announcement of federal money from the Rapid Housing Initiative. Concerns were smoking off-site, ‘the entertaining of men,’ and the presence of rats. The design was re-worked to take in community feedback.        

Smith: Now on to the applicant.

Adrien Sella: Adsum’s been operating in the HRM since 1983, operates eight locations, 53 units, 17 shelter beds, 10 single unit dwellings and 10 family unit dwellings. They got the centre in 2001. Construction would be done by March 2022. Put a smoking area at the back of the property. Permanent housing will give tenants more privacy and space that they can’t get in transitional housing. It will also be energy efficient and have a park for children.  

Smith: On to the public hearing, we’ll start with Curtis Rafuse.

Rafuse: I have no problems with Adsum expanding, we don’t have enough space for homeless people right now, and I think they’re doing good things. The road itself though is dangerous, there are no sidewalks and it’s too fast. Bringing children here is great, but we don’t want them to get hurt on the road. I see no problems other than that, has anyone looked into that? 

Smith: We can get that feedback to you.

Rafuse: About people hanging out and being around, I’ve had no problems with that, and I live on the lower end of the road (fuckin’ champ Curtis Rafuse, I’m your number one fan). 

Speaker: I’m a resident of Adsum in Dartmouth. We’re in an affordable housing crisis. Adsum does great things, I can sleep peacefully at night knowing I’m not going to wake up with an eviction notice saying my house has been sold. Without Adsum I would have continued to struggle with homelessness and mental health issues. I’m happy, content, and I want to live. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. 

Smith: Back to Adrien for rebuttal, if she has any.

Sella: No, thank you for hearing our application.

Smith: Close the hearing? 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye 

Stoddard: (Reads the motion for agenda item 5.1.2 as written) I’m in support of this. I approve of this development and think it’s a great idea. I’m glad they can take advantage of the funding available. 

Cuttell: I’m impressed with how thoughtful this plan is, incorporating design elements that respected those comments. It’s an improvement for this lot. 

Cleary: I’m in support of this, I’d never been out this way so I did a Google Maps walkthrough of it. And Mr. Rafuse seems to be right about the need for repair on the road. Stoddard you have your work cut out for you there. 

Smith: Adsum are good neighbours and they demonstrated that by incorporating the feedback, the Question? 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Smith: On to the last item, variance hearing. On to staff presentation. 

Matthew Conlin, planning staff: The applicant wants to join their two houses with a corridor. It was refused by planning staff, and the applicant appealed, which is why we’re here. You can allow the appeal and let them join the houses or deny it. We recommend denying the application. 

Cuttell: Can you talk about what ‘general difficulties for houses in the neighbourhood’ means?  

Conlin: If everyone has the same constraints, like everyone on the street has a narrow lot. 

Smith: On to the applicant. 

John Risley, applicant: I live here, and I was confused by the drawings. I think you need some background here. We always wanted a single-family house, i.e. a house where we could see each other without travelling outside. We knew we could buy the lot next door so we started building on our lot, and then we bought and built up the other house. One house was for the teenagers and friends, entertaining. We put a kitchen in both houses, and the house we have a couple streets over had two kitchens so we didn’t think having two kitchens would be an issue. I’m confusing you by calling it two houses when we’re trying to make it one (so it is two houses, reader). And we were denied because we had two kitchens! So to keep the two kitchens you need to change the setback. The only other option we have here is to consolidate the properties, tear out the kitchens, and rebuild at great expense. We wanted a formal kitchen and an informal kitchen. (Just a note dear reader, I literally cannot picture having this much disposable income, that something like needing a formal and casual kitchen might be such a huge headache, my kitchen has to do both, and sometimes, it’s even sort of clean, but I digress). We asked our neighbours and they think it’s fine. I hate banging on people’s doors and imposing myself on people like that. We didn’t mean to break any rules, ignorance of the law is no excuse but hopefully, you’ll understand how we got into this position. (Reader, it’s worth stating again, I can’t even conceptualize being in the position of needing to join my two mansions so I can have a formal and a casual kitchen).      

Smith: No questions and no speakers so close the public hearing? Okay. Lawyer, how do we do this? We frequently mess this up.  

Megan McDougall, HRM solicitor: There’s a presentation by staff, the applicant, the speakers. If you allow the appeal you allow the variance, if you deny the appeal, you deny the variance. 

Mason: (Reads the motion for agenda item 5.2.1 as written) We have to do a negative motion here because a tie would approve it. I’m asking you to deny this. We are bound by the same rules that the development officers are. The arguments we’ve heard tonight from John Risley, they don’t really have any standing in law. There’s nothing unique about having two homes that you want to connect. The core reason to have variances at all is to address hardship, which we’ve had to do for things property being on a slope of 45 degrees. But this is not a hardship unique to the applicant (this isn’t a hardship at all?). 

Cleary: I disagree with Mason, the rules are clear, his interpretation as a development officer could be different from a different development officer. You can’t have a property across two lots, but we just approved a bylaw for two buildings on one lot. And this is pretty unique, it’s never been done before (has anyone had the money?) — *Technical difficulties* — We allowed an older gentleman to build a garage on top of his driveway because he couldn’t shovel snow. We’ve granted all kinds of variants. We have public hearings to listen to the neighbours. No one objected. 

Cuttell: Is the two kitchen rule still an issue in the HRM? 

Staff: The single kitchen per dwelling is still a rule, but a secondary suite is an internal unit. So another unit on the same lot could have a kitchen. But you could still only have one kitchen in your main house. Depending on zone. 

Cuttell: This is two lots with two dwellings? Generally, variances are granted for unique hardship, but variances because zoning doesn’t match someone’s vision might undermine the strength of variances. But it also needs to be consistent with the zoning. The separation, privacy and access aren’t a concern. We allow variances for flexibility. So I’m going to support this variance. 

Mason: Variance stays even if the property is sold to two different owners. Secondary suites and garages are all on one lot, this is not that. This is making two houses and making fewer people living in them. This is just something that’s not allowed. 

Smith: The question? 

Vote – Aye – Cuttell, Cleary – Nay – Mason, Smith, Morse, Stoddard – Variance denied 

*Meeting adjourned


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)





Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Previous meeting

Current agenda

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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