Waste of commercial space

Demand studies from developers could help council build more “complete communities,” says Lorelei Nicoll.



The city should have a better grasp on a neighbourhood’s commercial needs when approving new developments, says the councillor for Cole Harbour–Westphal.

Lorelei Nicoll asked for a staff report this week looking at options for including retail and commercial policy concerns in any significant development proposals and planning amendments brought to city hall. The councillor also requested staff investigate requiring developers to provide their own commercial space demand studies.

“We have traffic impact studies now when it comes to projects,” said Nicoll, during Tuesday’s council meeting. “A market research study could also strike a balance in what the Centre Plan envisions as complete communities.”

The idea sparked some apprehension from Nicoll’s fellow councillors.

“You’d be asking them almost to prove the business case for commercial,” said Bedford–Wentworth's Tim Outhit.

“If you ask me, that’s a risk a private developer should have to worry about themselves,” said David Hendsbee, about the costs of carrying empty office space. “It’s a free marketplace. If they want to build and come, so be it.”

A report last winter from Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. found vacant office rates in Halifax’s urban core were “staggering.”

The glut has been caused—in no small part—by HRM’s decades-long push for industrial park growth, which drained the downtown as companies migrated to cheaper office space in areas like Bayers Lake.

That point wasn’t lost on Dartmouth Centre’s Sam Austin, who noted that commercial demand studies in the ‘60s and ‘70s might have stopped some of the BLIP’s disastrous sprawl.

A national real estate market outlook report by Coldwell Banker found office vacancy rates in central Halifax rose to 17.5 percent last year—well above the country’s 13.3 percent average—and could potentially increase to 20 percent by the end of 2017.

Assessing some of those commercial space issues during the development process, according to Nicoll, could allow council to better predict the future of what HRM’s communities need.

“In the area I represent, just within a radius of maybe half a mile, there are five pizza shops,” said the councillor.

“Are we going to determine whether six are appropriate?” countered Stephen Adams.

Nicoll’s motion passed 14-3, with Hendsbee, Adams and Shawn Cleary voting against.

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