Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee, Feb. 4, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
The Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee met today to hear presentations and pass a motion.
HRM is creating a water quality monitoring policy and program to be implemented in the near future. Mancini’s motion was to send the report to the Regional Watershed Advisory Board so they could have input on the report before it is sent to council.
The committee also received three presentations. They received a presentation from city staff about the progress HRM has made in implementing HalifACT 2050. It’s still a fairly new policy, so a lot of the stuff that has been accomplished sounds like not much, because it’s still in the planning stages. In the future progress reports will likely have more information. But overall, steps are being made and in the right direction, it’s just a matter of time and implementation to gauge success. And as always, a lot of it depends on the province, so, it’s kind of an open question.
The committee also heard a presentation from the Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park Coalition. They want council to get a staff report on their proposed Sandy Lake expansion, focusing on the biology of the site. They said it should be done by outside experts, as outside experts have better expertise in biology than city staff. No motion for a report was made at this meeting.
They also got a presentation from a Toronto-based consultant/entrepreneur Michael Szego about parking lots. He suggested that council make parking lots more environmentally friendly, although seemed largely unprepared for the presentation. When asked by Councillor Morse for first steps the city could take, he recommended looking at potential sites on Google Earth and finding councillors who’d be interested in championing this. Which seem like things that should be done before making a presentation like this? And Councillors shouldn’t need to Google Earth to know places in their districts? Anyways, all of his suggestions for what could be done to improve parking lots seem like they could be implemented as policy changes in the development process. It’s entirely unclear what he was hoping to achieve with this presentation.
And finally, Councillor Austin has a smoke detector with a low battery in his house (beep). Please, if you’re reading this, (beep) change the battery before the next committee meeting (beep).
Who said what (paraphrased):
Mancini: On to presentations, we have three! Two from the public and one from city staff, first up how parking lots can contribute to low carbon, Michael Szego.
Szego: *Garbled audio*
Clerk: Maybe do another presentation first?
Mancini: On to Sandy Lake!
Karen McKendry: The city started doing planning in the 70s about where would be good for large parks. Parks like Long Lake are due to this planning. Sandy Lake was first identified as a potential park at this time. We’d recommend calling it Sandy Lake – Sackville River Regional Park moving forward. It’s a hidden gem. HRM and Bedford Lions have both invested in this park. We’d like to see the park expanded as per this map:
McKendry: It’s still mostly wild, and 1800 additional acres. It’s owned by a mix of governments and private. There are 15 species at risk in the area. The lake is slowly getting worse, and we have a chance to save it. If we take action now. The Sackville River is extremely important to Atlantic Salmon, and Sandy Lake is the biggest headwater of the river. There was an Atlantic Salmon in Sandy Lake in the summer!
Karen Robinson: We’re a coalition of 28 local groups. The municipal plan has this park being expanded, as well as a good place for the city to grow. Developers west of Sandy Lake have applied to develop. Complete communities need parks like this one. There were no studies when these lands were rezoned for development. We believe it should be saved, but we’d like to see what an independent biological boundary study, we hope that you request this today with a motion.
Mancini: Thank you for this presentation, question?
Austin: I don’t know this area of the HRM very well, but one question of water quality, has there been an examination of where the nutrients are coming from?
Robinson: Dr. Patriquin has been studying that, some of the tributaries have more nutrients than others, and we don’t know what it is for sure yet. We know the uplands park sewer system is helping.
McKendry: There are ongoing studies. In 2013 there was a clearcut on the west side of the lake that happened in 1 year, and the monitoring saw a blip in nutrients that year.
Austin: I remember that clearcut from the news, it seemed like spite cut.
*Tech issues, my sound cut out*
Lovelace: Thanks Karen times two, Karen squared I guess lol. There are issues with stormwater in Hammonds Plains that Halifax Water has to deal with, have you had conversations with Halifax Water about that? How much water is Farmers Dairy taking from the lake? The uplands park sewer system, you mentioned that it could be contributing, is it a fact? Known belief?
Robinson: Farmers Dairy isn’t taking any water from the lake, they were going to take water and dump it into the lake, but was taken care of three decades ago and are no part of our coalition. Uplands Park Community group is also part of the group. We’ve attended meetings with Halifax Water, and I know they’re taking action to approve things.
Lovelace: Is there any information about DND and their land lot near the lake.
McKendry: A small part of the land is the rifle range, but the rest is not open to the public. There’s a designation OECM (other effective area-based conservation measures), it’s not a park, but does conservation work. It’s new, so it’s slow, but it looks good so far.
Morse: Thank you Karens R. and M. Why are you requesting a report? Why don’t you think we should do it in-house with Parks and Rec?
Robinson: I respect those in the parks group, but an independent group could bring in other expertise that isn’t Parks and Rec based, and more conservation based. The maps that we showed you were created as a planning perspective, but we’d like to see an ecology-based map to use in its planning.
Morse: Would we be eligible for federal funding if there are species at risk?
Robinson: There was money for it, and HRM used it for Blue Lake Birch Cove, so if it’s in line with federal goals, then yes.
Mancini: I have not been to Sandy Lake. If I can offer advice, we get a lot of emails about Sandy Lake, but they’re mostly cut and paste. Those have very little value. I read all emails, but if they’re cut and paste… well I’ve already read it. What percentage of the land is privately owned?
Robinson: There are 22, some owned by people who traditionally do housing development. But I don’t know the percentage. Most of the parcels, not the land, is privately owned.
Mancini: We’re familiar with the nutrient concerns with Lake Banook. Back to the previous presentation, parking lots.
Szego: *Choppy audio*
Mancini: I think we lost you. Are you with us?
Mancini: Okay, welcome!
Szego: Sorry, I missed the start time due to timezones. Parking lots probably don’t come up a lot. Parking lots are a great opportunity for green infrastructure that can help with environmental goals. I’ve been reading and learning about the initiatives in Halifax. Parking lots are something all municipalities are overlooking. They’re working against most cities’ goals about transportation networks. Parking lots are hostile. Halifax has a lot of ambitious goals. Here are the issues with parking lots:
Szego: Parking lots are classist, benefiting the rich. In the IMP you outline a complete streets hierarchy, parking lots are just for drivers. The IMP says there’s a surplus of parking, there’s a 40 per cent vacancy. Parking lots are everywhere, which is good news. It’s relatively cost-effective to improve the design. We’ve catered to cars, no wonder active transportation isn’t increasing. There’s another way to do this! The Welcome Lot! By doing things like this:
Szego: This isn’t a proprietary thing, it’s a concept in search of a progressive municipality. Here are the benefits:
Szego: I put together a project team, just to demonstrate the work I’ve put into this, but the goal would be working with a local group. I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a consultant, I’m a concerned interested citizen (of Toronto), I’d like to see a pilot policy for the Welcome Lot. There’s funding available.
Cleary: I regularly see how inhospitable parking lots are, what powers over private properties do other cities have? How do they mandate these changes on private property? Even if we could make these changes, everything that exists is grandfathered in. What success have you had in other cities?
Szego: I’m not an expert on municipal policies or the policy framework, I’m a student at that aspect. So far, there’s lots of interest and acknowledgement of the issues. Public property is easier. I’ve had positive conversations with large property owners and developers. There’s been some interest, but the best bet is a progressive landowner who would do the right things if properly incentivized by the city (so not a ‘progressive’ landowner, a capitalist one). In Toronto, they have parking lot design policies in place to increase greenery and permeability of pavement. There’s a cost benefit in new builds because permeable pavement makes it cheaper.
Cleary: Halifax Water has some policies like that. I’m intrigued by this.
Morse: If you were to find some candidate sites, what would be the first steps? Quick, simple implementations.
Szego: Google Earth based analysis. If there’s a councillor or district lead who is interested, we can use Google Earth to look at different sites and see if they’re close to stuff. (Google it? First step is Google it? Okay.) We can analyse public sites to label them red, yellow and green to start conversations. To answer your question, find a champion and do inventory analysis. (These are first steps lobbyists should do before lobbying, not the first steps that I think Morse was asking for.)
Morse: So doing one parking lot on its own isn’t worth doing?
Szego: No, what I’ve found successful is when a councillor is interested and zero in on an area. Two is better than one though.
Mancini: Do you have examples in Canada or North America that have taken on the Welcome Lot approach.
Szego: In a holistic way, Honda in Ontario has built a progressive parking lot. But you’re more likely to see aspects of it in bits and pieces. Honda’s parking lot filters water, and there’s a case study on it. I can share that with you.
Mancini: You’ve had a lot of conversations with developers, does this lot cost more? Cheaper?
Szego: There’s interest in the sustainability groups because it aligns with their mandates. They bump into resistance on the cost front. There’s a couple incremental costs being waved here. When you’re talking paving, it’s more costly to do permeable paving. It costs more than asphalt. It’s not an easy argument to replace asphalt. There are developers that are more ecologically and socially minded. Permeable pavement is better in winter because snow can melt right through it.
Mancini: As you’re talking I’m thinking about candidates for this in the city, and I think about the grocery stores and Dartmouth Crossing. Finding champions, interesting. Up next, HalifACT annual progress report!
Taylor Owen: Action needs to start now, and within the first 10 years of the plan. There’s three main parts, decarbonize, connected communities, government leadership. Immediate action areas!
Owen: The plan was approved in June, we put together a collaboration plan. (This presentation is a lot of in-group jargon that legitimately sounds like nothing is happening. Sharing stories, meetings, innovation thinkings, prototyping teams diving into action.)
Kevin Boutilier: The retrofit design team has been assembled, to build on the success of the Solar City Program. We’ve applied for funding, if we get it we’ll hire experts and do training, and do a study about how to finance this project. We’re having weekly meetings. The EV strategy, we want people to do active transportation, but some people won’t be able to do that. We hired a consultant to create an EV strategy which we’ll have for you in the spring, to change the city’s fleet to EVs. We’ve reduced building emissions, Woodside Ferry Terminal and Dartmouth North Community Centre are examples of building where we’ve reduced emissions. The feds are going to be releasing a new building code with environmental standards later this year. But we’re already doing this with our new buildings to make sure they’re net zero. Williamswood Fire Station is a perfect example.
Shannon Medema: The climate crisis is an opportunity. Halifax’s Economic Response and Recovery plan align with HalifACT. The five-year economic strategy has green economy themes. Here are some successes:
Medema: Here are our next steps:
Lovelace: What’s the ETA of the public engagement program?
Medema: We did a bunch of public engagement in developing the plan, and got a lot of feedback about the plan, ‘glad you’re doing it, should have started sooner,’ etc. Our next step in public engagement is about keeping the momentum going. It’s an ongoing thing, we have someone on contract from the innovation outpost thinking about engagement. But we haven’t started to draft the policy yet.
Morse: Can you comment on the Ecolens? How will this be introduced to staff?
Medema: There’s a report outlining how to include environmental considerations into the staff evaluation process, and we’ve been helping staff integrate it into their recommendations so they understand the connection between the work they’re doing and the environmental impact.
Austin: Net zero on our buildings, fantastic. *smoke detector beep* What’s the uptake like our capital planning? I know they’re trying to squeeze the most out of every dollar in building and green stuff is more expensive upfront.
Boutillier: They’ve been fantastic. We help them identify rebates from Efficiency NS to offset those costs, and we can do it too from our climate change account. The Williamswood Fire Station tender included solar and environmental stuff and came in on budget.
Austin: Offsetting, our buildings have energy needs, and the potential for a power buy through green procurement. I don’t think city hall will be net zero on its own *smoke detector beep* can we use the provincial program on green procurement.
Medema: We’re excited about the green choice program and the province has secured the consultant who’s going to do the tender and we’ve started having conversations. It’s something that needs to happen. It’s not a rigid plan, because we need some flexibility.
Morse: Is there a priority list of converting buildings?
Boutillier: Our onsite energy manager has a list of 83 buildings, which will be public soon. And that’s where we’re starting.
Austin: How are we doing with the lobbying of the province, since so much of HalifACT requires the province *smoke detector beep* where are we at with the province?
Medema: We’re working with the province closely. There’s good news there, they’re developing their climate plan, their 2050 targets are the same as ours. The province is sending people to our training. Our innovation centres are right next door to each other.
Austin: You guys are coming back in budget deliberations, I am very keen on the resourcing plan to make sure we have the people in the HRM to do the work.
Medema: Yes, we’re doing the work there.
Mancini: What in the budget is critical for your success, what do you need approval for?
Medema: The strategic funding piece that Fraser is leading, that lives outside of business as usual. We’ll be back in June once it’s approved. We’re also looking at making the most of the money we are getting. And other finance options, financial institutions are interested (I don’t trust that, for some reason).
Mancini: Some people are saying it’s not important for the HRM since we’re so small, and the province hasn’t stepped up, so why is this a priority?
Medema: It saves us money, it protects our community and infrastructure from things like storms.
Mancini: I look forward to what’s coming. It’ll be interesting to see what the province does, I have my favourite of the NSLP leadership candidates. Take the rest of the afternoon off (aight, I’m out, editor take over hehe). I have a motion (reads motion for agenda item 13.1 as written). Shannon, can you answer some questions about this? Why is this the next step? What’s the action you’re looking for? On what timeline?
Medema: The intention is to allow RWAB (Acronym: Regional Watershed Advisory Board, pronounced Are-WAB) to comment on the report that’s coming to the environment committee in May. We had an issue when our specialist went on leave, but we have an expert, and a recommendation report, we wanted to give them an ability to comment on work like this if we’re doing a long term monitoring of lakes. We want feedback from this group of experts. So we wanted to get it to them for their meeting next week.
Cleary: This is tangentially related; if you look at RWAB, they can look at regional plans. It’s not often this committee has referred anything to RWAB. Let’s say there’s an application for a rezoning, if there’s important water nearby, can we refer the application to RWAB?
Medema: This is a question for someone else.
Dente: We changed the terms of reference in 2012, RWAB is only involved as directed by planning strategies, but not planning applications.
Cleary: The terms of reference currently say ‘as required,’ but is there a specific thing that says they can’t? It’s not required or recommended, but could we refer things to RWAB?
Dente: I don’t know, I’ll have to double check. But it was usually policy, not routine applications.
M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye
Mancini: In-camera item, can we do this outside of in-camera? It’s just minutes.
Cleary: Sure (makes a motion).
M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye
Councillor Tony Mancini, Chair (District 6)
Councillor Kathryn Morse, Vice-Chair (District 10)
Councillor Sam Austin (District 5)
Councillor Shawn Cleary (District 9)
Councillor Pam Lovelace (District 13)
Councillor Kathy Deagle-Gammon (District 1)
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting minutes and 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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