Halifax and West Community Council, April 27, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
The big development on Almon Street has been approved by Halifax and West Community Council. Residents in the area may have noticed work on the parking garage has already started but the developer was allowed to start working as long as nothing went above 0.6 metres. If this development had been rejected the work would have been a waste of time and money. They were ordered to stop doing some of the work on the parking garage because of a “miscommunication” that resulted in the work exceeding that height requirement.
The developer said they want to do affordable units and have hired a firm to apply for the CMHC affordable housing program. Although the general guideline for affordability is no more than 30 per cent of household income should go to housing (housing being all housing costs, rent, heat, electricity, water) CMHC affordable housing standards are 30 percentile or below the current market rate for equivalent units. It’s not tied to income. Which means for a lot of single people, especially single women, CHMC standards are not actually affordable.
Councillor Smith had some worries about the fact that residents expressed concerns with the height of the towers. The developer said the height of the towers was brought up in their consultation. Smith asked why the towers were all taller now as a result of that consultation. The developers said the height of the towers are just a bit taller than what would be allowed in the Centre Plan.
There were concerns about availability of parking for the residents of the towers brought up by Councillor Stoddard, and for clients of businesses in the area, raised by the only public speaker. The developer said 100 of the 500+ spots in the underground parking will be hourly parking. There aren’t enough parking spots for everyone in the tower because the developer (and Centre Plan) want to encourage transit or active transportation.
Councillor Cuttell was concerned about the lack of available greenspace in the area. Not so much specifically for this development which boasts a “pocket park,” “hardscape plaza,” and an “Urban Forest,” but Cuttell is concerned about the lack of holistic planning around accessibility to and the number of greenspaces.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Smith: Welcome to the meeting! First up, presentation, questions by us, then applicant presents, and questions by us, then public hearing which is one speaker, and then that’s it. Staff presentation!
Jennifer Chapman: Here’s a brief overview of the project, these numbers are the correct ones, there was a typo in the report submitted to you:
Chapman: And here’s how we regulate land use in the city:
Chapman: This development was started before the Centre Plan, so it’s a bit weird. The applicant can start building things without approval under this application if it’s less than 0.6 metres in height. So they’ve started the underground parking knowing there’s risk if this is denied here tonight. Which they got permits but are now over the 0.6 metres so they’ve had to stop building. Here’s a more complete version of their proposal:
Chapman: We’ve worked with them on this building because we’re worried about the size of the base of the building, and we also worked with them to make the units larger.
Chapman: The policy that allowed this has since been deleted, but we evaluated it and it fits. It’s a true mixed use zone and the big tower is in the middle. It’s also allowing the area to start transitioning away from industrial. We did public consultation before COVID in Jan 2019. They liked the concept, liked the mobility, but were worried about the height of the towers and traffic. Here’s what the shadow looks like:
Chapman: The Planning Advisory Committee said there should be affordable housing and a cultural space. The developer says they’re interested in affordable housing but there’s nothing requiring it. They were going to do a cultural space but couldn’t get a lease, so they won’t. In response to public feedback they made the following changes (reminder, people were worried about the buildings being too tall):
Chapman: Grandfathered developments can’t have their applications changes dramatically but there can be non-substantive amendments, here are the ones proposed:
Chapman: We recommend approving the development.
Cuttell: Can you talk about the proximity of this development to outdoor public spaces like parks?
Chapman: The North End is lacking in outdoor spaces, the nearest one would be Needham on Gottingen.
Cuttell: I think it’s a concern. It’s one of the densest developments. Is there something in our regional plans that have a park/greenspace network plan or requirements for it?
Chapman: There was something but I don’t know what the status of it is.
Cuttell: It’s not just this development, there’s a lot coming. When we look at things in silos we miss the bigger picture. The density is a good thing but we need to make sure we’re supporting the potential residents. Is there an ability to get information on a green space plan?
Carl Purvis: In the creation of Centre Plan they started with a blank slate and started to layer considerations, capacity, available space, available schools, sewer capacity, etc. There’s not something in the immediate area but there are some larger ones nearby, like the Commons. The Centre Plan was pointing to this as an area suitable for growth and density so we thought this would be a good opportunity.
Cuttell: Is this in the staff report?
Purvis: *Shakes head no*
Morse: Page 8 says the proposal would need to be altered significantly if it was in the Centre Plan, what are those changes?
Chapman: The Centre Plan is a completely different process, much of what the Centre Plan dictates is in relation to the street, this development is mostly driveways, a.k.a. private streets, so we treated the driveways as streets. Centre Plan has a max height of 90 metres and floor area ratios, there would need to be a review to figure that out though. They’d probably need to subdivide it.
Morse: The tallest building would have to be shorter and it’d look different on the street?
Chapman: Yes, right now it’s roughly 110 metres.
Smith: There’s a stop work order that’s been issued, can you expand on that? The two bedroom unit requirement, did that expand the height or the width of the building? Building E, there was a hope there’d be some sort of art centre, and now it’s not, and it went from 2 to 10 stories, what’s the mixed use of that building now?
Chapman: On site there’s a lot of work happening, a permit was for the below grade work, and it got too high, so they’ve had to stop.
Smith: When was it issued?
Chapman: A few weeks ago. The two bedroom requirement, we made it so that 50 per cent needed to be two bedrooms. 10 per cent of the large tower needs to be three bedrooms.
Smith: Making them bigger, did it make the building taller or wider?
Chapman: Neither, they reworked it to make a larger tower base. The mixed use building is residential in the upper stories and lower floor is commercial.
Smith: Moving on to the applicant.
Christina Lovitt: This application was started in 2016 and started doing public engagement before applying. (She’s repeating a lot of what the city staff just said.)
Susan Fitzgerald: There were issues with the site, there was not a lot of green or public space and they were just large blocks. Two things are lacking in the neighborhood, public space and green areas. We want to add this. We did this by adding a hardscape plaza for parking and an event space. Clifton Green will be an urban forest (it’s really small, I’m not a tree expert, but generally, forests are, you know, forests. Not a triangle of trees). You can walk between the buildings. Here’s the hardscaped “green space”:
Fitzgerald: This used to be a railyard so we’ve used some wood in the design. There used to be a garment factory here so we made some of the metal look like lace.
Cleary: It was questioned earlier, I’m assuming you did some shadow studies and wind analysis, do you have any images that show specifically the shading that would happen at various times in the day?
Fitzgerald: Yes, we’ve done those studies and organized the development around the path of the sun (path and rotation of the Earth, sun doesn’t move! Though if you’re high or prone to anxiety stop reading: The sun is in fact moving 200km per second, travelling through the milky way where eventually our sun will collide with another star and wipe out the solar system as we know it, unless it goes supernova first! But relatively speaking, we move around the sun. For you pedants!). It’s why the buildings are where they are. Building A casts its shadow onto the roof of the big box building.
Cleary: Wind mitigation comes from the placement? Articulation of the building?
Smith: Can you elaborate on the stop work orders? What needed to be stopped? Why?
Danny Chedrawe: We started working a couple years ago because the site was heavily contaminated with hydrocarbons. We applied to build the parking structure below grade, and when we were cleaning up we wanted to make placeholders, and we did. There was a miscommunication where they poured columns above what was allowed. So we’ve stopped working there but have been able to continue building the parking garage. The goal is to fill the hole and bring right of ways back to the public. But the stop work order was on part of the construction, but we’ve been able to keep working on the parking garage.
Smith: Two things that have come up, staff advocated for a smaller building but you wanted to keep it large. The square footage of the units isn’t in the report. The max units has changed, increased, what feedback did you get in 2019 to add the height when the feedback was don’t add the height?
Lovitt: In the summer there was a switch from two stories of commercial to one story due to market fluctuations, so that changed from two to three stories, which is now more residential.
Smith: For Building A?
Lovitt: All of the podiums for all buildings. Having a high requirement for two and three bedroom units also added to that. And when we talk to density, this is slightly under the Centre Plan density.
Cleary: Typically when we hear from builders it’s about this ball of clay where it moves from one place to another. Normally people don’t take away clay, which is what you’ve done here. What does that do to the site?
Lovitt: It’s not taking away from our design, it’s compared to what the Centre Plan would allow.
Cleary: For our planners, if you’re doing less than what you could do, what does that mean for the site? Practically for the people in the neighbourhood or residents?
Lovitt: Connectivity, shared streets, and at grade open spaces. And the pedestrian connections. It also keeps things low in the morning.
Fitzgerald: Adding the streets going through and the public spaces. None of these streets will be asphalt, they’ll have trees.
Smith: What’s the total square footage?
Lovitt: I don’t know, it’s at least 20 per cent open space.
Chedrawe: Over 50 per cent is green space or three stories or less. The public engagement sessions, people want larger units and they want more open space. If this development went through the Centre Plan there would be smaller footprints. But since this is larger, we can commit to it being so many two bedroom or more units.
Smith: In the old proposal, it had the total floor area in sq feet as 700,010, what’s the new total floor area for this proposal?
Lovitt: For the entire? Or?
Smith: The proposal from 2019 has the gross floor area for each building and then the total. What’re the numbers for this one?
Lovitt: The building area is 82,706 square metres.
Cuttell: More comments.
Smith: Unless it’s a question of clarification.
Cuttell: Are we still on that part? I’ll come back.
Fitzgerald: We’ve also heard from the public that they want larger units, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. (If this is finished while the pandemic is still ongoing they’ve taken shortcuts or this pandemic is a lot worse than we think it is right now.)
Smith: It’s 890,000 square feet now. Public speaker!
Martha Purdy (public speaker): I’m a physiotherapist and I own property on Robie in a mixed use building. We back right onto the construction site. The concern for myself and patients is parking in the area. There hasn’t really been any information about what parking in the North End is going to look like. We want to make sure we’re accessible to our patients. So that would help me with business planning. It’d be nice to stay in the neighbourhood but I’m worried about congestion in the area. How will those underground parking spots be allocated? Will there be any for the public? Businesses in the area?
Cleary: You have a physio business in the area, you don’t have parking right now I assume? And you rely on, on street parking? Is that your major concern?
Purdy: Yes, and we have five parking spots for the unit, but it’s not enough because it’s not just for our business. We just want to know what the consideration is for the businesses in the area.
Mason: This is your first hearing I assume? You and the applicants and you can’t have a dialogue, you wrote the letter, can you clarify your concerns?
Purdy: Yes, I normally teach exercise on zoom, not meetings like this. I asked about the alley behind and got confirmation that the alley will remain clear, so I don’t have concerns about that anymore.
Lovitt: (Not going to lie, something about this presentation is just bouncing off my brain. The mix of jargon, buzzwords, and repeating statements without much tangible information in her closing is really making it hard to pay attention to this one.)
Chedrawe: Our vision for this site is diversity and inclusion. Not everyone wants to live in small units (not everyone can afford to live in larger units). This development will allow young entrepreneurs a chance to live where they work. We are creating a space for diversity; young people, families and the elderly. This development embraces active transportation, we gave up land to create a protected bike lane. We have a 550 car parking garage, 100 of those slots are going to be hourly parking. When HRM invests enough in public transit we can turn the parking into a public space (in an underground parking garage?). We’ve hired a firm to hopefully have some affordable housing units if this project qualifies so that people who can’t afford to live in their neighbourhood can.
Smith: Public hearing’s closed.
Mason: *Reads the motion for agenda item 6.1.1 as written* I would say all of the issues that were raised by the letters were answered in the presentation. I’m always pleased when developers respond to the planner’s concerns. The concerns I’m hearing around parking, transit and traffic, once you get downtown most people start walking to the employment centres. (The Navy has ridiculous parking requirements, so most people drive to somewhere in the North End and walk down, or get up early and read a paper or phone in their car until work starts.) I have a small concern but not enough to derail this. King Square and Clifton Green will probably be shady in the winter, so I wouldn’t do it that way. But I will be supporting this.
Cleary: I was taken by Cuttell’s comments about the parks. Ardmore Park is 675 metres away, Chebucto is 900 metres, Bilby, Common are nearby. What was identified when we did the Forum was a lack of green and park space and we’re looking at putting a big park in front of the Forum on Almon Street. We need to densify and re-densify the peninsula, and we also need to make sure we’re creating enough green space where we can as a city. This a phenomenal neighbourhood and it’s going to be better than the metal sheds that used to be there, even though the tool library was good. The stores in this area will be more successful when more people live in the area. I’m excited for this development.
Cuttell: Now’s the time! I am excited to see development that pays attention to unit mix and unit size. This is a big development, it’s going to be transformative, I think in a good way. The open space in there is for the people who live there but it’s not part of a larger green network. I think it highlights the urgency to get that sorted out because these types of dense developments need green spaces to play and a safe way for kids to get there. That is where I think we need to go as a city if we’re doing projects like this one. It’s more than individual projects, we need to consider the larger picture. When we look at a private development of this size it aspires to many of the things we want as a council.
Smith: I have things I appreciate, like the applicant taking the time to integrate with current planning and encouraging1 pedestrian safety. I appreciate what would have been the art centre, which is now, not. The applicant and landowner are dedicated to affordable housing and will work towards doing. Unfortunately, we can’t write that into the development agreement, I can only hope we can in the future. They’ve said it a bunch on record in public so I hope they follow through. And I hope they’re doing it to CMHC standards, which is 30 per cent of household income (CMHC affordable housing standards are 30 percentile or below the current market rate for equivalent units, it’s not tied to income.) My concern is the art centre, which isn’t an art centre, which went from two stories to 10, which would be more in line with the houses on the street. The other piece I’m still confused about is when hearing from the public they wanted bigger units and I’m seeing increased build area. The residents that I’ve spoken to said the height was the biggest concern and now they’re all larger buildings. I don’t see how the increased height relates to bigger units? We don’t have the information to say if that’s true or not. That’s information I’d want in the future. There are concerns about parking, most people who live in apartment buildings have one or no cars, but we do need to make sure we have parking plans for the area overall. I support this overall but I do have concerns about added density and where that comes from. The PAC, there are two or three buildings that don’t have street walls, they just go straight up. Can staff clarify?
Chapman: All the buildings have a 2.5 metre setback from the street or driveway, so they’re not just straight up.
*There’s a conversation about the plan that both Chapman and Smith are looking at, asking slightly incomplete questions to someone not also looking at the plan*
Stoddard: What is a pocket park?
Chapman: It’s a very small park.
Stoddard: There’s 620 units, with ~450 parking spots for 620 units, and there are families that could have two cars. Has the developer thought about that?
Chapman: On the site there’s also a small surface lot with some parking. The location has excellent access to public transit, so it’s a transit oriented development which would have less parking.
Cleary: Just to help out Stoddard, the Centre Plan no longer requires parking for apartments on the peninsula. *Tech difficulties* Over half of the people on the peninsula commute by walking cycling or transit. Average vehicle ownership is 1.5 vehicles per family, overall. It’s a few years old though. It’s likely that you wouldn’t need parking. You don’t need a car on the peninsula and I hope people move here and get rid of their car.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Councillor Lindell Smith, Chair (District 8)
Councillor Kathryn Morse, Vice Chair (District 10)
Councillor Waye Mason (District 7)
Councillor Shawn Cleary (District 9)
Councillor Iona Stoddard (District 12)
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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