Halifax's building boom: anything goes

HRM By Design can be ignored with impunity.

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Development issues have come front and centre at city hall, with so much construction in the works that there’s a reported crane shortage in Halifax. And the much-celebrated ship building contract may or may not result in more and better paying jobs for the bulk of the population, but the building industry is anticipating high rents whether pay increases or not, and so we can expect still more apartment and condo projects in the months and years ahead.

The immediate effect of this upturn in the building industry is two-fold. First, city council is being asked repeatedly to simply ignore HRM By Design, the five-year process that involved over 5,000 citizens and millions of dollars. The HRM By Design consensus was basically that the regulatory process around development be streamlined, so long as new projects fit into a set of design and height restrictions. The “streamlining” part of the consensus has been a huge success; city staffer Andy Filmore told council last week that projects now move through the bureaucracy in 60 days, which stands up as among the fastest approvals in the country.

The design and height part of the consensus, however, apparently has been ditched. Last week council allowed a resurrection of the abandoned Twister Sisters project on Hollis Street to move forward to public consultation. Called “Skye Halifax,” the new proposal is, at 48-storeys, more than double the height limit for the site outlined in HRM By Design. City staff recommended against allowing it to proceed, but council rejected that advice. Judging from comments from councillors, it appears they have no desire to adhere to HRM By Design, begging the question why they adopted it in the first place. Perhaps to increase public cynicism.

With Skye moving forward, there’s no logical regulatory reason for the bureaucracy to oppose the joint YMCA-CBC proposal for the corner of Sackville and South Park Streets, which likewise is double the height limits set out in HRM By Design. In this instance, staff supported the proposal, and council happily agreed. A public hearing will be set to hear what will no doubt be ignored opposition to the project, and that will be that. The flood gates have been opened; HRM By Design can be ignored with impunity.

The second effect of the building boom is on the north end. Hydrostone-area residents are resisting what they say is haphazard, unplanned development of mid-rise apartment buildings in the neighbourhood. Some recent projects have been pretty good, but others are among the ugliest in Atlantic Canada. Neighbours want a comprehensive plan for the area, something like HRM By Design was supposed to be for downtown, but if that too is going to be ignored, what’s the point?

The lower north end, too, is reeling from development pressure, as epitomized by the St. Pat’s-Alexander controversy. On June 12, a judge will issue a ruling on the North End Community Health Clinic’s bid to stop developer Joe Metlege from taking over the site.

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