The municipality needs to do a better job protecting north end communities from poor planning choices. That was the central message from the candidates for District 8 during a forum held Tuesday night at Dalhousie University.
Around 60 people attended the presentation from six of the seven candidates for Halifax Peninsula North. Irvine Carvery, Anthony Kawalski, Patrick Murphy, Chris Poole, Lindell Smith and Brenden Sommerhalder (Martin Farrell had a prior engagement) were all largely in agreement that the region’s rapid growth and haphazardly deployed planning regulations are creating havoc on the lives of District 8 residents.
“When the policy doesn’t match what the people want, or the people aren’t able to comprehend the policy, then you have just disasters,” said Smith.
“The bylaws are there for a reason,” said Poole, about HRM's policy to ignore its own land-use regulations.
Sommerhalder stressed that the city’s upcoming Centre Plan needs to be following to the letter, and can’t contain exemptions like the kind that allowed the colossal Nova Centre to be approved.
The Downtown Halifax Business Commission spokesperson agreed with most of the other candidates that council should refrain from spot development approvals—like the 29-storey tower planned for the corner of Quinpool and Robie—and adhere to the municipality’s established land-use bylaws.
Smith challenged that point, though, arguing that inflexible bylaws are what lead to council’s hands being tied on the as-of-right demolitions around Homes Not Hondas.
“You need to be able to change,” said Smith. “We put these rules in place so they’re there, but there are times we need to step outside of that to maintain our communities.”
In order to stop a bad development proposal from altering a neighbourhood, however, a councillor would need to be in tune with their community, work with HRM staff and be able to convince their fellow councillors to vote along with them—none of which are easy tasks.
“You have to have the support of other councillors to make things happen in your neighbourhood,” said former councillor Patrick Murphy, lamenting his own failed efforts to vote against the sale of the Bloomfield Centre. “It still looks the same as when I left.”
“Staff reports don’t come from nowhere,” said Sommerhalder, suggesting he’d be active in shepherding policies through city hall before anything comes to council. “If you’re tuned in and active...you’ll see these intersection points and you can insert yourself as a councillor into these conservations.”
Other promises from Tuesday’s forum included: a percentage of each new development set aside for affordable housing, as suggested by Chris Poole; Anthony Kawalski’s plans for the creation of a “mini council” to report on residents’ concerns to overworked municipal councillors; Sommerhalder’s call for more/smaller community councils; a five-year cooling off period for all senior HRM staff that Irvine Carvery hoped would prevent another exit like Richard Butts’; and Patrick Murphy’s idea of mentorship programs for elementary school children to learn practical skills like plumbing and carpentry.
The full candidates forum was recorded and will air this Friday, September 30 at 4pm on CKDU 88.1FM.