Municipal

Community Council heard Beaver Brook concerns, approves development anyway

RIP to endangered Beaver Brook wood turtles
 | April 13, 2021

North West Community Council, April 12, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

In justifying their vote in favour of the controversial land lease community proposed for Beaver Brook, Councillors Blackburn and Lovelace said that community members needed to trust the development process. 

Members of the community phoned in en masse expressing several legitimate concerns about the proposed neighbouring development. Some community members were concerned that no matter what the study said, there isn’t enough water in the water table for 525 new homes, since they’re already running out of water in the summer. City planner Shane Vipond stressed repeatedly that the water table study presented to the city is just to give councillors confidence that there is enough water to approve it, and if there truly isn’t enough water the province won’t issue permits. But that it’s not the city’s responsibility. If there isn’t enough water after it’s developed, residents and the city would have to appeal to the province. Councillor Blackburn recommended that residents in the area start testing their water annually so there’s a benchmark in case they need evidence in the future. 

The community also expressed concern that this development would eradicate the core habitat of the at risk wood turtle species. Here again it was stressed that this wasn’t city responsibility and the province and the process needed to be trusted. Although in the case of the wood turtle, former Minister turned Premier Iain Rankin’s department was found to not be enforcing the laws that would protect endangered wood turtles from this development.    

On the part of the developer, their consultant Jennier Tsang, told council to ignore community concerns because the municipal planning strategy says they have to vote for this anyway. She also said the developer doesn’t need to listen to the concerns of the community if the planning strategy doesn’t say they need to. She also said that if councillors didn’t vote for this it would be sent to the provincial review board, which would be expensive for their client. She mentioned that these were high quality manufactured homes, a sentiment that a handful of callers from the manufactured home industry and former councillor Gary Meade echoed. Not one caller from the community mentioned they were concerned about the quality of the homes. 

Councillors Russell, Lovelace and Blackburn voted for the development. Councillors Outhit and Deagle-Gammon voted against. 

Two other developments got through first reading and will head to a public hearing. Councillor Lovelace put forward a motion to get a staff report on alternate land uses for Hammonds Plains for children beyond education and daycare. 

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Russell: It’s time for the presentation about Case 19117!

Shane Vipond: It’s for a 525 unit mobile home park. The applicant is Cygnet Properties Ltd. The lot is currently vacant. The proposal does not plan on extending Old Truro Road. The layout isn’t finalized, it would be at the permitting stage. Mobile home parks are allowed under current zoning. Typically there is some support for developments in public hearing, in this case it was mostly people who lived in the neighbouring park and no one supported it. The MPS says it’s okay to build a mobile home park if the services are good but we don’t assess whether it’s good enough at this level. That happens at the permitting section of the application and the development agreement can’t override the mobile home park bylaws. All that this development agreement is for is saying a park can go on these lands, in the time allotted, if it meets permitting. In December council requested a supplemental report and looked into the concerns, like the wood turtle and it was determined that the province has the responsibility for the turtle. We were worried about Old Truro Road being a provincial highway and whether or not the province would allow the use of the road with the wood turtle present. The province said it was fine. When the province starts to look into the wood turtle habitat the park will have to meet the required permitting for the wood turtle habitat. There are no traffic concerns, since the roads are being upgraded. There’s enough police, fire and water services and East Hants won’t be stretched if people in this park use their municipal facilities. We recommend council approve the development agreement. 

Russell: Any questions before we open it up to the public hearing? 

Blackburn: Is it possible in this DA to get rid of the language “mobile home park” to “land lease community”? The updated mobile home park bylaw is coming this year, if this is approved now, what do the changes mean for this development? 

Vipond: The mobile home park bylaw is the name of the piece of the legislation, so the language has to stay. The new bylaw, when it comes into effect, council will have to decide if it’s retroactive or not, and if it’s retroactive, to what extent.

Deagle-Gammon: The water table, the concerns the community has with available water, if there isn’t enough after this is approved do they have to take it up with the province? 

Vipond: Yes, our role is to see if water is there to service the development. It’ll also get reviewed at permitting. 

Deagle-Gammon: The infrastructure and roads, the 90 degree turn is a significant issue, the developer is going to build up the intersection and then turn it over to the province? 

Vipond: Yes, it’s proposed to be built to a standard. TIR is also planning upgrades. 

Deagle-Gammon: When comparing the DA and bylaws, East Hants isn’t currently asking if you’re a resident of East Hants or the HRM to access services? 

Vipond: Correct, it’s first come first served, it could change in the future though. 

Deagle-Gammon: Once the province has the road snow removal is their responsibility? 

Vipond: Yes.     

Deagle-Gammon: A lot of the concerns, should this go through, is addressed at permitting from one phase to the next? 

Vipond: Yes. 

Russell: On to the public hearing, first step is the applicant’s presentation. Jennifer Tsang of Sunrose Consulting.

Jennifer Tsang: I realize you feel like you’re in a difficult position but take solace that your decision is based solely on the MPS, not whether or not it fits in the community. Public consultation isn’t to ask people if they want something, it’s to listen to their concerns, but we don’t need to actually address them if the MPS doesn’t need it. We will be upgrading some of the roads. The setbacks are more than they need to be, by regulation. We’ve done water tests and the city reviewed them, and there’s enough water for the first third of developments, which is phase one. Further testing is required for the other phases. We completed a study about the wood turtle, which we’re sending to you. There is a housing crisis and this park will provide a lot of good housing. These aren’t yesterday’s trailers, they’re built like any other new homes (too fast and cheap then? Ay-ooooooo). We have a low density compared to other mobile home parks. The province has stepped in here to make sure you don’t have to make decisions and you don’t have to listen to the people here, just read the MPS. Your job is a challenging one but luckily you don’t need to think about it, just read the MPS and vote for this development agreement. If you don’t want to approve this, change the MPS, if you didn’t change the MPS, then you have to vote for it. If you send this to the UERB then the developer has to prove that this development is okay, and it’s a burden for them. (Oh no, booo hoooo Mr. Cygnet Properties Ltd.)

Deagle-Gammon: Are these units purchased or rented? 

Tsang: The homes are purchased, but lease the land, that’s why it’s called a land lease community. 

Deagle-Gammon: Yes. Thank you. Would the road be built up to the provincial standard in the first phase? 

Tsang: Yes. 

Russell: Public hearing!

Paul Turbitt: I’m the President of the Nova Scotia Association of Turtle Patrollers and that’s why I’m here today. Turtle Patrol exists to protect turtles. I’m surprised we’re here today, since there’s a lawsuit against the developer and the province due to the Endangered Species Act. This lot specifically is the core habitat of an endangered species, so shovels should not break ground. Every time we discover woodland turtles, nothing happens and we lose the turtles. Developers have been pushing the bounds of what they can do with little to no punishment. We’re here because the wildlife doesn’t get a vote, so I request you deny this development. 

Karen McKendry: I’ve shared a PowerPoint with councillors so you can follow along. I’m going to tell you how the MPS can deny this claim due to wood turtles. One of the main threats to wood turtles is the development of residential and commercial properties. The federal and provincial rules around wood turtles are the same and can be applied to private property. It’s against the law to destroy or disturb or interfere with wood turtles or their core habitat (or attempt to). You got a letter saying this lot was a core habitat, and the staff report got it wrong. The HRM charter says developments need to follow the law, but this development breaks federal and provincial law. Here’s the case for why the MPS means they can’t approve it:


McKendry: There’s no question that there are wood turtles, there’s no question that they’re threatened, there’s no question that this development will kill wood turtles. I implore you to follow the MPS and deny this application. 

John Murphy: I’m not hearing a lot of objections to the product. The manufactured housing industry has improved drastically. We make good homes, they’re not mobile homes. These are houses, the only difference between these and other houses is that they’re built in a factory (the issue is that they’ll kill turtles, and the land lease setup itself is predatory, not the houses). I just wanted to dispel misconceptions about the houses. If there are no concerns about the houses, the next person can speak. 

Outhit: For clarification, you mentioned how these are built and stuff, but can you estimate the cost saving on building on site vs building in a factory? 

Murphy: About 30-40 per cent cheaper than building on site in a mobile home park. Partly because you don’t need to do the slab, well or septic.

Trevor Harvie: My largest concern is the strain on the resources, mainly the water table. A lot of the wells in the area are 300 ft deep and even with that people are having to build second wells because they’re currently going dry. This development will require a lot of water. What’s the contingency plan if we don’t have enough water? Are we just on our own with legal bills? If the water table’s good for 125 units, but the development is for 525, why’s that okay? Also I find it odd that the consultant said ‘it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t belong there.’

Shannon Doane: The report from planning says the water can support 125, even if it’s phased, you should know if it can handle 525 units. And even if there is enough water, sewage systems breaking can cause environmental damage. When a land lease community down the road ran out of water city staff said water should be piped in at the cost of $5.5 million paid for by the residents. The route of the river and Old Truro Road are historically important, and could be archeologically important, and should be considered. The wood turtle was ignored in these environmental assessments done by the city. As an alternative plan, maybe make this a park? A conservation area? If these are in fact real homes, then this isn’t a mobile home park. You should reject this proposal.   

Lovelace: You live on Old Truro Road, how long have you been in the neighbourhood? 

S. Doane: 20 years.

Lovelace: You’ve seen the Beaver Brook community grow? 

S. Doane: A little bit, it hasn’t grown much. 

Frank Doane: This project is too large for the available water supply. It’ll be 1260 people in a 79 acre site, it’s more than Bridgetown, or Pugwash, and doesn’t even have a sidewalk, or transit. Just two roads. The report provided even says the report is no guarantee that there will be enough water. There isn’t enough water. The developer’s backup plan is to directly or indirectly drain water from Black Brook. Currently 66 per cent of the water is already drained out of Black Brook for the housing that is there already. This development is too large for this area at this time for the available water. Please reject this plan or at least limit the number of homes to 200.

Outhit: Are wells going dry in the area a common problem right now? 

F. Doane: In dry summers, absolutely. Last summer people needed trucked water or drilled another well. They didn’t frack, which this project is planning to do. 

Deagle-Gammon: Have existing homeowners had to frack their wells? How deep are the current wells? 

F. Doane: Mine’s 235 ft, and that’s shallow. Most are 400 ft. The test wells were all 400 ft deep, three of them were fracked. 

Deagle-Gammon: 1260 new people, is that based on the 525 units? 

F. Doane: Yes, 525 units at 2.4 people per unit. 

Francis MacDonald: I’m the person who sold this property over 10 years ago now and they did a conditional offer, conditional of being able to develop. The city said he could develop, and so he bought it. It’s been recommended by city staff, I understand some of the concerns we’ve heard this evening. The water issue has been approved for the first phase which is just over 100 sites. And other phases would need to be approved then. The previous speaker isn’t an expert (oh really, Mr. real estate agent?). The developer has to meet the restrictions in place. The affordable housing aspect of this development, the city says affordable housing is $300,000 and these houses are $200,000 or less (but they don’t own the land though, which is where the equity is). The market in Halifax is an aggressive market, a mobile home in Sackville went on the market and had 19 offers, so people want affordable housing (what were the offers? This statement has no context). It’ll be a well hidden development, so it won’t affect the value (unless there’s no water). This will enhance the value of the homes in the neighbourhood. 

Deagle-Gammon: Can you qualify how this development would increase the value of the other homes? 

MacDonald: Mobile home parks built next to existing mobile home parks have gone up in value, the houses too. 

Jordan Crowe: We’re in a unique position, the new road development is adjacent to our property, and the Beaver Brook actually runs through our property. One of the perks is that we get to see wildlife, and have even seen wood turtles! No one’s calling into question the quality of the homes or anything, but the quality of life, with the density or water quality. The number of homes would immediately change the feel of the community. Yes, East Hants aren’t currently questioning which municipality you live in, and they’re first come first serve, which is great, but they’re too crowded with resources just not available. Tsang said these communities are for new families, I have four children, we’re feeling the strain on recreational programs. Ditto seniors and healthcare. *Technical difficulties he’s breaking up*  

Russell: Just a reminder, the chat in the zoom is only for city staff and council members. 

Deagle-Gammon: The extension to the Old Post Road in phase six, can you give me more details there on what you were saying the sound wasn’t good. 

Crowe: *Inaudible

Deagle-Gammon: Can we get this information? 

Clerk: Maybe, he’s on the phone though, that’s how we’d reach him. 

Shelly Johnson: We’re here from the manufactured housing association and we have a video. 

Russell: Okay, hold up, if you use the chat again, you’re getting booted. 

Johnson: Our developers invest millions, they provide their own water and sewage and follow all of the environmental guidelines (except specifically, explicitly, in this case). The developer has heard the concerns about wood turtles and would design outdoor spaces for people. Residents of land lease communities need to do criminal record checks and have higher credit scores, which is more stringent than normal homes. So we are developing affordable housing, which is the mandate of all levels of government (except this isn’t affordable housing). We’re happy to be a consultant on updating the mobile home bylaws (I should hope not).

Russell: Can I get a motion to extend the meeting? 

Valerie Peori: As I understand the plan, Old Truro Road will be extended. And it’s great there will be improvements to the intersection of Old Truro Road, which is great. But once you enter the subdivision there’s the rest of the road. Which has no sidewalks and has no room for the extra 200 people walking around the neighbourhood. That’s one of the issues, the MPS says there needs to be enough safety for pedestrians but there isn’t, is the onus then on the province? That’s confusing. The water issue, everyone’s saying you have confidence in the water. Can we have something in writing from you saying if there’s not enough water we’re not on the hook for it? The fire services, police service, the report says you asked the police if they could do it, they didn’t respond, and then the report just says ‘well Elmsdale station’s within 2.5 km.’ Do you know police can police the area? 

Arnaldo Peori: I’m opposed to this subdivision for a lot of reasons that people have talked about already, water, police, fire, traffic volume, property value, etc. But I’d like to speak to two items, water and the access point. My main concern is how will the houses after the initial 125 be addressed when it comes to water? There’s no real indication and the costs from the impact of that down the road for us could be huge. The access to the development through our subdivision, will Old Truro Road be extended?   

Gary Meade: I live in Foxwood Village and I was a councillor, and I want to talk about the house I live in. We sold our three story home and moved into this flat manufactured home. Everything’s on one level. This development was built by Andrea and Jim and they’ve been really professional in building these 57 houses. It won’t cost the HRM anything to build this and it’s basically affordable housing because it’s all on one level. (Here’s a review from the Coast about Gary Meade’s performance as councillor from 2008: Gary Meade’s just calling it in. If he shows up for meetings at all, he’s late and leaves early. For the short while he’s there, he’s either reading magazines or eating, or he’s part of an annoying private council chuckle club with Peter Kelly and Reg Rankin. He’s spoken publicly perhaps five times over the last six months’ worth of council meetings and even then he said nothing of note or importance, much less coherency.

Clearly, Meade’s only in it for the paycheque. He’s a disservice to his constituency, to his colleagues and to the public purse. He’s a disgrace. The only good thing to say about him is he won’t be running for re-election in October. The sooner he’s off council, the better for everyone.) Look everyone’s talking about water but the water at my development is fine.

Karen Rudman: The water table is terrible, the reviews and studies are great, but from personal experience the water table is terrible, we’ve run out of water almost every summer in the past 10 years. And there are sulphates, so the water needs to be softened and filtered. Dutch Settlement School is a very small school, so any influx will require a new school which will require taxes. If the water dries up, who’s responsible for the pipes? The homeowner? Or the province? I’m concerned about the displacement of wildlife. My backyard would go right up to the new development. You talk about affordable housing, and it’s great that the cost is low, but there’s no transit, and I need to travel 50km to the city for a doctor. So I’m not sure how this would help seniors or single parent families. 

Husband of Karen: If the intent of the development is for people on reduced income what’s the plan for integrating them with no municipal services available? (He’s just blasting through a list of grievances from the last presenters, it’s a concise summary of the general “WTF?”-ness from the residents.

Outhit: You mentioned that you can’t run your hose for long and your well runs dry, where are you on the property and how deep is your well? 

Rudman: Ours is over 200 ft, can’t say about our neighbours. 

Husband of Karen: We’re on top of a hill, I don’t know if that matters. We have a pool, I can’t top it up, gotta truck it in. 

Tsang: The water, it’s been explained to me that the water table, underground, isn’t a big lake, it’s an underground river, so it kind of hit or miss when you drill a well. We had to drill a number of test wells because some had issues, but it’s a provincial issue, and the water isn’t guaranteed because that happens sometimes. The phased approach to building means that once the first phase goes in, we can test those wells. We could do a baseline water test of current water. If someone’s having issues it isn’t with this development. Someone mentioned it was a green belt, it’s not a greenbelt, it’s private lands zoned for development. It’s mixed use, I’m not trying to scare anyone but it could be a gas station or intensive livestock. Wood turtle, we’ve been talking to the province, but this land isn’t zoned as protected. We’re working with them though, we have to, by law. I think there was some confusion about density, it’s low density because it’s two units per acre (but all of the units are jammed into a corner of the whole lot, so the development overall isn’t dense, the community will be). 

Deagle-Gammon: Density is over a thousand acres, but the development is in 79 acres, right? 

Tsang: The overall density is over the full thousand, so density is low. You’re talking about intensity, we don’t do the numbers on that. (We can though, intensity is 6.6 units per acre.)

Vipond: The phase six is an old map and plan, it’s not relevant. Old Truro Road will not be extended. The potable water issue, the analysis is reviewed by our experts and it’s an iterative process to make sure that everything is agreed upon, but it’s only for a portion of the development. The province still has to evaluate this and they may not get the permit from the province. Our role is to provide confidence that there is potable water but the technical requirements are the province, which is after this step. There are no municipal pipes here. Fire and police, there is a local volunteer fire service that has a cooperation agreement so they’d respond to a fire and make sure it’s optimal. The police are similar. The 525 units are over 25 years, and I have to agree with Tsang, additional study is done for each phase. 

Russell: So…. what do we want to do? 

*Extremely long pause*

Russell: Deagle-Gammon, want to make the motion? 

Deagle-Gammon: To get us started? Sure. *Reads motion for agenda item 10.1.1 as written* This is a difficult decision. No one has any issue with the quality of the homes, we need housing that’s affordable. And it seems like the developer has met all their requirements and that makes sense, and those are the positives. The things that have me really concerned are the issues the community are already having with their water tables, they’ve taken out another mortgage to re-drill wells. The concern around the 90 degree turn on the road. It does sound like there’s some protection in the province around protecting the habitat. The faith the community has to put in the permitting is scary because their voice isn’t there. There are some big concerns around what the livelihood for the residents looks like, what their municipal services look like, I look forward to hearing from my fellow councillors. 

Lovelace: Thanks to all the speakers. It’s important for all of us to understand your perceptions of the impact of this development on your community. It’s important for everyone to understand the role of why we’re here, and it’s community consultation. Beaver Brook subdivision used to be woods and before it was a subdivision there were concerns. As a resident I’m sure it’s frustrating because where is the province? It’s the next step. If you have concerns you have to call your MLA, but keep us in the loop as well because we’re here to support you through that. We are grateful for your input. How we build complete communities is building diverse housing stock (and complete communities by jamming them all into the corner of a large lot with one road in and out?). East Hants is growing significantly. When my parents moved into their neighbourhoods thirty years ago it didn’t have anything, but now it does. We’re asking you to trust us. 

Blackburn: This has been challenging and your input is important. I’m not saying this to be callous, but just because you don’t get what you want doesn’t mean you haven’t been heard. Your voice has been heard in every pause we took (before eventually approving it). This isn’t in the city’s jurisdiction. Take water tests annually so you have a baseline so you can make a case if your concerns turn out to be true. The community can rest assured your councillor will be watching this every step of the way. 

Outhit: This is different. I have concerns about turtles, traffic, neighbouring communities. I have no problem with the type of home, the one that’s still nagging with me is the water issue. If Shane’s still there, can you take me through the water issue?  It’s hard for me to swallow that council doesn’t have some sort of role with the concern over water. Is the next investigation after the 125 are complete? Or is there testing as they’re being built to stop it if it’s getting worse?

Vipond: The role council plays in groundwater, the requirement for evaluation is so that council can have confidence that the groundwater has been analyzed and engineers agree that the conditions have been met. But you don’t have the power to approve the permits for groundwater. We do the best with what we can to provide assurance you’re making an appropriate decision and then it goes to the province for higher scrutiny. In terms of the 125 units, the analysis of the groundwater says it’s fine for 125 and that’s it. It still needs to be re-analyzed and accepted at the permit level. Each phase has to pass the test and scrutiny of the province and it’s a higher bar. 

Lovelace: Just to reiterate the legislative authority of this case. We have a limited scope. 

Russell: Can I get a motion to extend this meeting past 10? (No, please?)

*Meeting extended*

Outhit: I understand Councillor Lovelace’s comments but is this because it’s land lease? How is this different than Monarch Rivendale? When someone built those houses there wasn’t enough water, how is this different? Because this isn’t adding up to me that there’s no liability to the HRM if we pass this and people have issues with water. 

Vipond: It was a nuanced situation, and I don’t want to say it’s a one-off but it had special circumstances. If there is a problem with the groundwater it’s a provincial responsibility. 

Thea Langille: At the provincial level they’re going to be looking for a water withdrawal area, since it’s all one area. A suburban example is single sites. Monarch Rivendale, when we looked at expansion there were known concerns with water in the area but it was prior to the HRM looking at it. Under the regional plan we now do take a look sometimes. There were some questions known in the community but it wasn’t in jurisdiction to look at it (seems familiar), but now we do. 

Russell: What happens if we approve this and all of the approvals go ahead, and 50 units into the development there’s a problem with water is there a way to stop this?

Vipond: That would be an appeal to the province, that would be an unlikely circumstance, that’s not to say it wouldn’t happen, but if there’s an issue on site the province issued the permit, so we’d appeal to the province. 

Deagle-Gammon: We would appeal? Who is we? HRM? Developer?

Vipond: The developer or the HRM would need to appeal to the province’s water withdrawal permit. It’d be nuanced depending on the circumstances. 

Deagle-Gammon: Thanks for your patience, it’s clear that it meets the terms of our bylaws and stuff. I know there’s not a justified technical reason to vote against this but the big worry I have is still around the water and transportation and infrastructure. Four years from now I’m still concerned that we’ll be getting calls about not having schools, or water or police and our answer will be that’s the responsibility of the province. 

M/S/CVoteAye – Blackburn, Lovelace, Russell – Nay – Deagle-Gammon, Outhit 

Russell: Next item, 13.1.1. Case 21355.

Blackburn: *Reads the motion for agenda item 13.1.1 as written*         

M/S/CVoteAyeUnanimous   

Russell: Next item, 13.1.2. Case 23111.

Blackburn: *Reads the motion for agenda item 13.1.2 as written*

Lovelace: I drive by this schoolbus yard every day, why now? 

Blackburn: There’s been school busses parked there forever but there was a bylaw complaint made on a separate issue and the bylaw officer tagged ‘em while they were out on that call. They’re just trying to make it legal. 

M/S/CVoteAyeUnanimous  

Lovelace: I’m looking for a staff report to expand zoning for children beyond education and daycare. We’ve had an incredible amount of growth in the Hammonds Plains area, which includes children. And it limits our abilities to have businesses open that serve the underserved communities, i.e. children. Other areas have other land uses, like dance studios. 

M/S/CVoteAyeUnanimous

*Meeting adjourned*    

Present:

Councillor Paul Russell, Chair (District 15)

Councillor Lisa Blackburn, Vice Chair (District 14)

Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit (District 16)

Councillor Kathy Deagle-Gammon (District 1)

Councillor Pam Lovelace (District 13)

Absent: 

N/A

Interviews:

N/A – COVID

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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