Halifax City hall through the memorial arch
Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee

Heritage district for downtown to be considered

Blue Mountain Birch Cove needs more support
 | April 15, 2021

Community Planning & Economic Development Standing Committee, April 15, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

The Community Planning & Economic Development Standing Committee decided to give the go ahead to a study about the potential of a heritage district in downtown Halifax. It’s one of the first steps in a long process, so it may not seem like much, but it’s how things get done in government. 

The heritage district, if realized, will allow for better coordination of saving and maintaining heritage properties around Province House.

The committee also heard two presentations. The first was from the Friends of Blue Mountain – Birch Cove, who made the case the city wasn’t planning well enough for the park to become a reality. Councillors pushed back against that, saying they were going as fast as municipal rules would allow. Councillor Austin said that the city is trying to acquire the land for the park but the landowners don’t want to sell. 

The Friends of Blue Mountain insisted that the larger plan for the park needs to be finalized because right now decisions are being made by developers on a case-by-case basis. This ad hoc approach to planning the park is already having an impact by making planned trails less accessible. They’ve asked for the city to get serious about planning for this park. 

Nova Scotia Power also gave a presentation on smart meters and they say the rollout is going great. 

Who said what (paraphrased):

Blackburn: First up is a presentation from Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Update!

Diana Whalen: Thank you for this opportunity, we have two key points, the first is that Birch Cove BM is an economic boon for the city. There’s a lot of wilderness in the park, it’s a large park, it needs a big plan. It’s not business as usual for the parks department. This park was put in the plan in 2006, and the first addition was in 2018 and nothing since. We’re encouraging the city to do more. But thank you for helping the nature trust in the way that you did. The proposed plan is 7700 acres and it needs a big plan. But we’re worried about the pace from the city, we’ve only gotten 500 acres in the past 15 years. There’s a lot of development happening in the area and the city doesn’t seem to be planning for the park. If there’s only one small parking lot, that’s where everyone will go. In summary here are our asks and concerns:

Whalen: We need resources and funding. 

Lovelace: A plan that’s this large for a large park like this requires partnerships with the province and groups like you. Everyone here knows we need a plan for this park. I’m happy that a lot of your requests are already done. We need to make sure the people going to the park have an understanding of the rules and regulations, there’s some confusion as to whether or not fires are allowed if they’re on city land or provincial land. Are you doing consultations? 

Whalen: Yes, we’re doing partnerships with local groups. But we haven’t started working on the provincial aspect because they’ve set aside their portion of their lands. We’ve also started talking to our federal MPs this week as well. 

Mary Ellen Donovan: We’ve been having meetings with the province but staff don’t have the time or resources to meet with us. The city’s the big group that we’re trying to talk to, we’re doing our bit to make sure we’re doing our part. But we can’t write cheques. We appreciate the survey, but it’s no substitute for public consultations. 

Cuttell: Thank you for advocating for this park. Dedicating parkland to this now is essential for shaping our city. Now is the time to protect this land because getting it back is near impossible. The city is working on legal issues around this park. The trailheads, without having well marked trailheads it’s bad for the neighbouring communities and restrict access for people who don’t know the layout of the park. When it comes to trailheads, what do you think is needed in the short term to get them in place? 

Dale Smith: The big issue is the lack of the overall plan, the plan would set up where the trails in the park should be. Is it a park for recreational use? Is it a wilderness area? Without a larger plan we’re doing it subdivision by subdivision which doesn’t allow us to make plans for trails. 

Whalen: The best places for the larger trailheads might be gone if we don’t plan for them now. We don’t need to build them right now but we need to know where they can go so we can plan for it. 

Donovan: There was a plan done in 2012 by the city which identified trailheads, there was a lot of work put into that plan, and doesn’t seem to be considered or worked on. We’ve been encouraging people to look at the previous plan but when you’re doing the decision by developer instead of doing a plan, it doesn’t work. And developers have created a ledge at one of the planned trailheads, so now the elevation is out of whack and we can’t get any answers about it. 

Austin: There’s a fair bit that council has tasked staff to work on with this park, but when it comes to parkland acquisition, what specifically is HRM lacking on this? The HRM went out to each landowner in the ‘core’ areas of the park area and didn’t run into a lot of people willing to sell. One of them is suing us quite aggressively. I’m not sure the problem is we’re not putting enough money into it or not putting enough effort in. I’m just wondering what more you think we can be doing? I don’t think it’s money or effort, my sense is that we can’t find willing sellers. 

Whalen: A lot of the planning we’re talking about is making sure we’re looking at the most beneficial areas, and talking to those landowners. It’s about having the plan to make sure we’re starting with a good vision. When it comes to buying the land you can leverage money from a lot of places. Some people are telling us they want to have their land be part of this, so I’m not sure who the city has approached. We want to see a plan and the plan starts with ‘what will this park look like’ so at least you know what you’re aiming for. 

Dale Smith: The lawsuit will determine whether or not we have a great municipal park, or a lot less than that. 

Whalen: We want to say thank you to council for reaffirming the vision of Blue Mountain – Birch Cove. 

Blackburn: On to the smart meter project update, we have Mary Black and Stephen Pothier.

Mary Black: Thank you for giving us this opportunity. First up is Amy Woodford, and then Stephen Pothier.

Amy Woodford: We have a government relations hotline if you have questions from your constituents. 

Stephen Pothier: Here’s what our customers want from us:

Pothier: Smart meters will save us $38 million which will keep rates stable (notably not reduce rates). Smart meters record energy data and talk to each other on a secure wireless network which gets sent to NS power and you can see your daily use on your phones/computers. Here’s the details on the project:

Pothier: Here’s information about the benefits of smart meters:

Austin: I think the meters are all replaced in my district, I think the meters being on the outside of the house made a huge difference. I didn’t hear from anyone about the power meter.  

Blackburn: On to Case H00473, Establishment of a Heritage Conservation District in downtown Halifax. Is there a presentation? 

Seamus McGreal: I have one, yes. *Technical difficulties getting it full screen* Heritage districts allow for the protection and preservation of heritage buildings in the district. There are three conservation districts in the HRM.


McGreal: There was a motion in 2019 to consider extending the boundaries, here’s the proposed new area:

McGreal: We have a public participation program in place. Here are the rules about Heritage Conservation Districts that the study will look at, benefits:

McGreal: There are some planning implications, we’d need to come up with a consistent policy set to integrate the centre region rules with heritage rules. We’d be revisiting the height rules. We’re going to be looking at streetscapes and see what’s heritage or not, but council will be able to make that decision on a case by case basis as we bring it to council. Heritage districts draw visitors, strengthens community identity, helps with public education, helps with sustainable development, financial incentives for saving heritage buildings. Here’s the steps in the process of making a heritage district: 

Blackburn: Question? Can someone put the motion on the table? 

Cuttell: *Reads the motion for agenda item 12.1.1 as written* I think heritage districts are important and give our city its historical context. 

Lovelace: I love this and I’m happy to support this.

M/S/CVoteAyeUnanimous

*Meeting adjourned*

Present:

Councillor Lisa Blackburn, Chair (District 14)

Councillor Sam Austin, Vice Chair (District 5)

Councillor Trish Purdy (District 4)

Councillor Lindell Smith (District 8)

Councillor Patty Cuttell (District 11)

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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