by Jacob Boon
Help may soon be on the way for businesses and residents plagued by downtown construction.
On Tuesday city council asked for staff to develop several new construction mitigation guidelines to ease the downtown development burdens being placed on neighbours. Among other provisions, the new regulations could include improved enforcement provisions and a standardized notification process for construction-related street closures.
“It took us a year to get to this juncture, but I think we’re in a good place,” said councillor Waye Mason. “What we’re seeing is so much construction happening that businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.”
Mason noted that this motion was brought forward by the Transportation Standing Committee on the same day last month that Emma’s Eatery closed. Owner Kim Stacey blamed the closure, in part, on nearby construction impacting business.
Emma’s was a bit of an outlier for a business struggling with nearby construction, given that it wasn’t next to the Nova Centre. Construction on that downtown complex has closed Inkwell's street, worried the Wooden Monkey and forced the The Carleton to crowd-fund.
The potential new requirements would require the installation of temporary accessible sidewalks around downtown constructions sites whenever possible. Right now, regulations allow sidewalks to be closed on local streets so long as signs direct pedestrians to the other side. Not only is that a problem for the visually-impaired, it’s annoying as hell if there’s no crosswalk nearby.
The mitigations would also potentially require plywood or other "hoarding" material to be put up around downtown construction sites instead of chainlink fence. That would act as a buffer for noise, dust and poor aesthetics, while displaying details about the project and contact information for the developer.
The plywood space, city staff notes, could also be used for advertising, right-of-way information or to create opportunities for “artists to contribute to the urban environment.”
The report, as it is, deals with construction activities from private developers and not work carried out by utilities or the HRM. That was a point of contention for councillor Bill Karsten.
“Will this also be binding for Halifax Water? I think that’s a very important piece for staff to consider as we move this forward.”
Jennifer Watts also asked staff about more upfront information regarding potential encroachments and community impact before development proposals are approved. The Peninsula North councillor pointed to the basketball nets at St. Joseph A. McKay school that were cut off by a condominium development as an example of current consultation rules that “totally, totally, totally failed.”
The motion ultimately passed unanimously. Staff will be consulting with local businesses, the construction and development industry and members of the public to prepare the new guidelines, which are still subject to council’s approval. A report will be brought back before May 26, just in time for the summer construction boom.