Halifax and West Community Council, May 11, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
Halifax and West approved the rezoning required for a proposed subdivision in Timberlea. The development being proposed is for 47 detached homes and 20 townhouses between Elm Grove Avenue and Myra Road.
Although this was just for the rezoning and not for the development agreement itself, the developer from ZZap (sadly pronounced zap, not the more fun zee-zap, which I learned today) did give details on what the subdivision would look like. He touted the benefits of smaller, narrower lots saying it meant houses would be more affordable. Councillor Smith asked for clarification on what affordable meant and the developer said smaller lots have smaller houses, which are cheaper than larger lots with larger houses. He did not mean houses with mortgages, electricity, heat and water costing less than 30 per cent of a household’s gross income, which is usually the definition of affordable.
Councillor Stoddard was extremely concerned about the level of traffic already present in the area and wanted to know if the developer had considered putting lights in to make it safer for pedestrians. The developer said the traffic impact study indicated there was no need for lights. However the city’s traffic studies are massively flawed in methodology due to the limits of the tools the city uses, so it’s entirely possible the traffic study is wrong.
Stoddard then added a subsequent motion to get the city to look at adding pedestrian infrastructure to help people from this new subdivision cross St Margarets Bay Road. Both the rezoning motion and Stoddard’s supplementary motion passed.
Councillor Cleary asked for a report a little over a year ago on how to protect the wilderness area around Williams Lake. The report from staff came back suggesting that most of the land be rezoned urban reserve. Urban reserve zoning is land that is not intended for development under the life cycle of the current municipal plan, which in this case is 2031. It’s not permanent protection of the land. They recommended the rest of the land be zoned for development.
At the end of the meeting, which apparently you can just do at any meeting with a public participation agenda item, three speakers spoke about this plan. They were happy to hear about the changes but wanted the city to take more concrete action, and also upgrade the information the city uses to make decisions. The maps of “areas of environmental significance” were out of date, as were the definitions of environmentally significant areas the city uses. Regardless, this is being sent to council for approval.
Speaking of going to council for approval, the Western Commons Advisory Committee’s request to not have accessible paths in a wilderness area, mainly to protect the wilderness, is going to council. In speaking in favour of the motion Councillor Cuttell said the way the HRM evaluates wilderness has changed since the master plan for the area was written.
And finally Brunello Estates, a development that’s been ongoing since 2001, has been amended for the 13th time to put three apartment towers in what is the planned “city centre” of the development. This motion passed with very little debate.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Smith: Public hearing for Case 22396, rezoning for Elm Grove Avenue and Myra Road in Timberlea. There’s one person registered to speak. But first, staff presentation.
Dean MacDougall: ZZap on behalf of the applicant wants to create a subdivision. The site is vacant today but they want to create a subdivision of 47 detached single family homes and 20 townhouses. The existing zone is a single unit dwelling zone, and urban residential. There was a public meeting, in person, back when that was allowed. There were concerns about stormwater and flooding, which they currently experience, traffic, and lack of park space. Here’s what they’ve changed due to those concerns:
D. MacDougall: There are non-substantive amendments, which are for a changing of the dates of starting and completing the development. Tonight’s decision is only for the rezoning. We recommend making the change from rural to comprehensive development district, which would allow for this proposal.
Smith: Staff is recommending extending the signing of the agreement?
D. MacDougall: Yeah, due to COVID.
Smith: Should we expect this on other agreements?
D. MacDougall: I think so.
Smith: Reducing lot frontage will make it more affordable, where does that analysis come from?
D. MacDougall: We had a similar request in Spryfield, and the less road to construct per unit makes it cheaper for the developer, which makes it cheaper for the buyer. There are studies.
Smith: But there’s no guarantee, that’s just what has happened before?
D. MacDougall: No guarantee.
Cuttell: Besides cost, what other benefits are there or potential benefits? What are the other reasons we would support small lot frontages? How do you ensure they contribute to a good community experience? When we look at building communities it’s not just about density and saving on costs of construction. It’s about creating communities with longevity, that people can thrive and survive in. So what else was considered in smaller lots?
D. MacDougall: We’ve been doing it a lot in the HRM, they’ve done it in Clayton Park and Governor’s Brook and those communities seem to be enjoyed by the residents there. The other benefit is more efficient land use, more people to pay for the services a city provides.
Cuttell: I think if we’re going to make qualitative statements we have something base that on, not just assumptions. As we move more and more to denser communities we need to make sure it’s not just cheaper and denser. I think our long term responsibility is to the residents first and foremost.
Cleary: I’ll just stick to questions of clarification (shade). You mentioned a smaller lot is cheaper, but what is the narrowest lot size you can have in the subdivision bylaw?
D. MacDougall: 20 feet, 6.1 metres.
Stoddard: People mentioned traffic, did the developer address this concern?
D. MacDougall: No, the cul-de-sac is still proposed and off street parking for visitors.
Stoddard: On St Margarets Bay Road?
D. MacDougall: Sorry, on the new streets.
Stoddard: The developer is going to make sure that sewer system, runoff, etc. is taken care of as part of the agreement?
D. MacDougall: Yes.
Smith: On to the developer.
Connor Wallace, ZZap (PRONOUNCED ZAP, NOT Zee-ZAP AS I’VE BEEN SAYING IN MY HEAD): Here’s the planned layout of the subdivision:
Wallace: Our traffic impact study found there would be no significant impact on traffic (drink!). We predict there will only be 52 trips during peak hours (using extremely flawed methodology which, in fairness, is the best we have in the HRM). We learned this place floods already, so we’re adding stormwater management ponds. There are benefits, more variety in housing choice, sidewalks, smaller lots mean denser housing, wetland protection (this is suspect if they’re developing everything around it, but I’m not a… scientist of the appropriate field to know).
Cuttell: At the intersection of the two streets there’s a part that’s shaded with dots, is that a current wetland?
Wallace: Yes, we’ve applied to alter it in accordance with the Department of Environment, we’ll preserve the wetland in the north though.
Cuttell: Rails to Trails, how does this connect to that?
Wallace: To my knowledge, it’s on the opposite side of St Margarets Bay Road, so it’s not connected. But we will be providing pedestrian access to St Margarets Bay Road.
Cuttell: (Stormwater management question)
Wallace: We’ll manage it in accordance with all appropriate regulatory requirements.
Andrew Forsythe: The lots will be on slabs and elevated above the flood lines.
Stoddard: You talked about pedestrian traffic and the sidewalks, are there going to traffic lights?
Wallace: To my knowledge, part of the analysis from the traffic impact study, the intersections of Myra and St Margarets, and Parkdale and St Margarets, were analyzed and the volumes generated by this development don’t require them.
Stoddard: So no turn lanes or traffic lights?
Morse: Can I get more detail on the wetland and how the water management system overlaps with the natural wetland?
Forsythe: The watercourse right now gets picked up by a storm drain, very little of the water gets to the wetland. If the pipe overflows that’s when it hits the wetland.
Morse: So there is some overflow from the road that will be going into the wetland?
Forsythe: From the watercourse and land upstream from the golf course.
Morse: The reason I’m asking is because in my district salt from the road is killing a wetland, so the issue is that wetlands need protection.
Forsythe: It will usually go into the pipe, only in higher flows will it get into the wetland (like, oh I don’t know, a massive snow melt in the spring full of salt?).
Smith: The black dotted lines are sidewalks?
Smith: Does Elmgrove have sidewalks?
Wallace: I don’t know.
Smith: What is the proposed street width?
Wallace: HRM’s standard, which I think is 16 metres?
Smith: In your presentation you mentioned that this would be more accessible or affordable than R1 lots, what does that mean?
Wallace: The exact price of the homes I don’t know, to my knowledge the current R1 zone has a minimum lot street front of 60 feet, which creates larger lots with larger houses. So by creating smaller lots you get smaller homes which are more affordable than larger homes at larger prices. Townhouses are also cheaper.
Smith: I understand why you use it but we need to be very clear when we use the word affordable. For the future, next step is public hearing.
*Tech issues, back at 7 p.m.*
Adam Travis: A few friends and I did some research into this development, we like there’s the protection of the wetlands, and the sidewalks. We like the smaller lots to reduce sprawl and building in communities instead of developing new ones. The proposed walkway towards the stormwater pond, what’s going to be done to make that a safe crossing for pedestrians?
Smith: The applicant can respond at the end.
Travis: The other question we had about this, we’ve talked about matching existing flows of water in and out of the site. With climate change we’re going to see more rain and more extreme weather, what’s going to be done a facilitate dealing with the more extreme weather in the future? In addition to the small lots, there was mention of sustainable and energy efficiency, has the developer or the applicant mentioned what those would be specifically? (Damn, better questions than some councillors.)
Wallace: We developed the walkway on the lands we’re developing, I think staff can speak more to crossing St Margarets Bay Road. Staff said they might be upgrading parts of the pedestrian infrastructure. With regard to climate change, I’ll refer that to Forsythe.
Forsythe: When we get to the detailed design we use Halifax Water’s specs, which include Halifax Water’s planning for climate change.
Wallace: Energy efficiency and sustainable building, we haven’t gotten to that stage yet. But the new homes that are being constructed are being constructed more efficiently to minimize things like drafts, and more efficient heating, like heat pumps.
*Public hearing closed*
Stoddard: *Reads the motion for agenda item 10.1.1 as written* I like this idea but have some concerns with traffic. St Margarets Bay Road is a very popular road, and people are avoiding Timberlea Road, I’m worried that there’s no way to help pedestrians cross St Margarets Bay Road, can that be added at some point?
D. MacDougall: The legal aspect is that we can only regulate the lands in the agreement, so for that crosswalk we’d have to evaluate that by the traffic department, and they’d have to do an analysis and see if it’s warranted, and then come to you with a plan for it to get budgeted.
Stoddard: How long would they wait after the houses are complete until they study it?
D. MacDougall: I don’t know, sometimes it’s complaint based, sometimes it’s in the detailed design phase.
Stoddard; There are quite a few families on the street and I can’t emphasize enough how much traffic is on that street right now. There’s going to be a lot more traffic than they say in their report (yes, there will, absolutely).
Smith: The detailed design, can we flag that now?
D. MacDougall: I can look into that, I don’t know the answers to that. My manager just popped up.
Carl Purvis: It’s up to you, if you want to make a motion to do it, that’ll take it to the top of the pile.
Smith: You can put a motion on the floor.
Stoddard: I’m putting a motion on the floor, with the clerk’s help please!
*Smith and Stoddard workshop a motion*
Smith: Is this just added to the main motion as an amendment?
Cleary: Vote after the main motion?
Smith: I’m not sure, we got a lawyer?
Meg MacDougall, lawyer: Main motion, then this one.
Cuttell: A question of process, we’re looking at rezoning, not the development agreement, just rezoning to allow this plan? We know this is being looked at by the department of environment, does approving this rezoning have any impact on how they consider this site? Can we move to not allow the development agreement until the environment piece is done?
D. MacDougall, planner: It’s a part of every development agreement, even as-of-right ones.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Rezoning approved
Cleary: Would a staff report for this have to come back to us and then go to council as a whole?
Smith: (I got lost in his answer.)
M. MacDougal, lawyer: Send it to Regional Council.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Motion to look at connecting the walkway
Smith: On to staff presentation for the 13th amendment to Brunello Estates development agreement.
D. MacDougall, planner: There’s a history to this site that started in 1992. In 1994 there was 3,800 home subdivision approved. In the late 90s there was a new owner and they proposed amendments to the agreement. That development is what we have today. The original agreement laid the groundwork for everything. Most of what’s left is as-of-right, but there are some things that still need substantive amendments. Like the development of the commercial areas and planned town centre. Approximately 520 units have been built. Here’s what they’re proposing:
D. MacDougall: They’re asking to change the side setbacks. We think it’s enough with the design of the building and the golf course right next to it. We got one email about it. We recommend approving it.
Mason: I’m sorry for interrupting, I got the AstraZeneca vaccine today and I’m already really feeling it. I should have been on mute.
Smith: This is just the next phase of a years long development plan?
D. MacDougall: Yes.
Smith: If you were to go back in time and looked at this development in today’s context, how we analyze proposals and look at communities, etc., would it meet what we do today? Or is it reliant on 2001?
D. MacDougall: Yes I think so.
Smith: Motion on the floor?
Stoddard: *Reads the motion for agenda item 13.1.1 as written* I don’t have a problem with this. I’ve gone over it a few times and it seems to be in order.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Smith: Next item, rezoning Williams Lake, is there a presentation? I don’t think so.
Clerk: There is a presentation.
Smith: I forgot.
Leah Perrin: These lands were listed for sale:
Perrin: The community was worried the lands could be developed without concern for the environment. And this committee asked for a report on zoning these as urban reserve. Part of this land would be zoned residential development district, it allows a bunch of residential stuff, as-of-right, and some other stuff, like apartments, by development agreement. The rest of the land would be zoned urban reserve, meaning it can’t be developed until there’s a plan for the area as a whole.
Perrin: Development could negatively affect wilderness in the area, so it would need to be reviewed by council, but as-of-right development would still be allowed. Since a lot of the urban reserve area is now a wilderness park it’s probably not correct for it to still be urban reserve. This isn’t a moratorium on development, planning would require public consultation. You should consider re-designating and rezoning the Shaw Wilderness Park as a park. Questions?
Cleary: *Reads the motion for agenda item 13.1.2 as written* Couple of comments and questions, when I moved this a year ago I didn’t know where staff would come down on the recommendation, and I think staff got it right. In terms of process, anytime we rezone land there has to be community engagement. If we were to start the process today how long would it take? Looking at this and how the motions are crafted, looking at the Green Network Plan and HalifACT, what are the other types of designations that we could consider for lands of environmental significance? What kind of zoning would provide protection for these lands?
Perrin: We’d be considering urban reserve anyway. The types of zone to protect land, the way the regional plan has limited subdivisions in rural areas, is a way of limiting the fragmentation of the landscape. And the charter is specific with what we can do to prohibit development. We would go through the list of things available for the right recommendations.
Morse: Are you considering a type of designation that would be permanent protection of the area?
Perrin: In Purcell’s Cove backland more broadly? We’re limited by the charter in where we can limit development, we can limit but not prohibit. It has to be owned by a government or non-profit with the intent to protect the land (that’s really bleak).
Morse: The Shaw Wildnerness Park has a legal protection already?
Perrin: Yes, it’s the lands east of the wilderness park that would need to be protected.
Morse: Are you looking at the vegetation? I know there’s one or two things that only grow there in Nova Scotia.
Perrin: The existing policy does identify those environmentally significant details.
Smith: We need a motion to extend past 8 p.m. (No you don’t, you really don’t, please?)
Cuttell: I’ll make the motion.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Meeting unenthusiastically extended
Cuttell: The planning tools to protect these areas, what kind of tools are you looking at, and what is the strength of those tools?
Perrin: The recommendation is broad, so we can go away and figure out the best way of doing it. The two broad options are to amend the RDD zone to remove the as-of-right option, and the other option is to apply conservation zoning if we can identify the environmentally significant features.
Cuttell: Because we’re doing this, doesn’t mean there’s a hold. Is there anything we can do in the short term?
Perrin: We don’t have the ability to do that under the Charter, where we would be going and consulting with the property owner, there’s no reason to believe that the property owner wants to destroy the environment, so that’s a good first step.
Cuttell: I like your optimism.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Smith: On to the backcountry trails of the Western Commons.
Cuttell: *Reads the motion for agenda item 13.2.1 as written* This comes from the Western Common Advisory Committee, the master plan has accessible trails but a lot has changed with how we look at wilderness areas. We think it’s worth having a look at what was proposed to see if it’s still what we want. The accessible trails would require a lot of blasting and heavy equipment and that’s not really what a wilderness area’s about.
Cleary: Natural is always better, it’s one of the things I love about the Shaw Wilderness Park. I wholeheartedly support this.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Smith: We’re doing a public participation, there are three speakers signed up first, Kathleen Hall.
Kathleen Hall: I want to thank staff for their work on this (I am extremely lost right now). We need to figure out the planning tools. We’re concerned that any development will affect Williams Lake. We need to take steps to prevent degradation. Thanks to Cleary staff is already looking at this. We want to broaden the definition of environmentally significant to include water and wetland. The information in those maps is from 1997. There are more modern ways to collect this information. We think there should be no development in the area. Some Masters of Planning students created a toolkit and did research on precedent in other jurisdictions. I feel that we have really moved forward with how council has embraced the environment. (Figured it out, this is agenda item 17, public participation, and by I figured it out I mean city councillors answered my panicked emails during the meeting, thank you Mason.)
Clerk: Speaker two was in the meeting, but isn’t in the meeting anymore, move to three?
Martha Leary: I live in Armdale and shop, volunteer and socialize in Spryfield. I wanted to talk about the area of Spryfield that we call the backlands. The municipal planning for Spryfield happens in bits, and the hope is that these bits end up in a coherent community plan. Thank you to the staff for their thoughtful report, and their recommendations for more study and community input. A vision for this part of HRM might consider how the natural infrastructure of the backlands could be the future of our economic prosperity. What if Halifax truly understood the value of the backlands? In the meantime we need reliable protection for our wilderness in the HRM and in Spryfield.
Karen McKendry: I work with the Ecology Action Centre, tonight we’re speaking about an area I’m familiar with personally, I go there weekly. I have contact the landowner a bunch to be there but they’ve never responded. I’m supportive of the recommendations but I’d like to recommend some specific things, there are four sensitive features, and I know it’s HRM standards but it’s kind of dated, I would encourage you to modernize sensitive features to include rare species and ecosystems (whatup endangered wood turtle). I hope you’ll consider that in the future. I also hope you’ll use more current maps, the ones that were used were from 1997. You could have drawn them on, there’s a great map of the wetlands in the area, for example. I’d also like to see regional park zoning, urban reserve is putting things on hold to develop later, not protect forever. You could use regional park zoning for HRM land but it could be used for provincial or federal land or even private land with consent of the owner. They do that at other levels of government.
Cleary: What incentives do you envision? Why would a private landowner do this?
McKendry: Nature trusts bring certainty that the area will remain wild. Society says you’re supposed to be able to make money off your land (damn you capitalism!), so there can be long term tax incentives.
Councillor Lindell Smith, Chair (District 8)
Councillor Kathryn Morse, Vice Chair (District 10)
Councillor Waye Mason (District 7)
Councillor Shawn Cleary (District 9)
Councillor Patty Cuttell (District 11)
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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