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Bad development

HRM committed to "smart growth" years ago, yet is still involved in stupid development schemes that hurt the environment


Bedford residents are looking down the barrel of two mega-projects that are anti-ecological, anti-community and will do little for culture---unless you consider shopping avant garde. If all goes as planned, the Bedford Basin near the Bedford Highway Sobeys and the western shore of Papermill Lake will be peppered with condos and strip malls.

Amenities and residences aren't the problem, though. I'm all for the hub approach---making communities like Sackville and Bedford as autonomous as possible to minimize commuting and endless highway building. But both these proposals will do great harm to wilderness and water, with little payback for locals.

HRM and Waterfront Development Corporation (a provincial Crown corporation) have been working together since 2007 to plan a 20-hectare development focused on high-end retail and high-tower condos (with over and underground parking) right on the Bedford Basin---literally, on it.

"A small city for 6,500 people is what they're proposing, with shops and a hotel," Mark Currie tells me. He grew up in Bedford and takes his 11-year-old son to explore the beaches, reef and tidal pools. He shot a gorgeous YouTube video of the aquatic life and birds, called "Bedford Waterfront Development." "They say the project's infancy goes back to the mid-'80s, when the Bedford Waterfront Development Corporation proposed a marine park. So how did it become condos?"

Since the early '90s, WDCL has been collecting tipping fees as private companies from across the Maritimes infill the basin with construction rubble. What used to be Crosby's Island, a haven for migratory birds, is now more of a peninsula. "They filled it right to the northern edge," Currie says. "You can walk to it. The only natural shoreline left is the southern edge."

The plan has suffered no ecological scrutiny whatsoever. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans won't touch it, though it's well within their powers to do so. The area is heavily fished for lobsters and is an important habitat for numerous species of fish, seals and whales. But because DFO has looked the other way, no environmental assessment, and no opportunity for genuine public input, has been triggered.

In a public presentation about the project WDCL staff acknowledged that there was no real business case for the project on its own, but they went ahead when they realized there was money in letting companies dump pyrhitic slate---an environmental nightmare--- in freshwater. Its full impacts on seawater remain to be seen, but what is clear is that dumping any kind of rubble onto a living shore is problematic.

"The first confirmed sighting of migratory sandpipers happened here," Currie says. Culturally, pre-contact Mi'kmaq petroglyphs have already been found in the area, yet when Currie asked if he could see the archeological assessment at a public presentation, he got blank stares.

The same can be said of development company United Gulf's new 9.3-hectare project on the western side of Papermill Lake. Plans include a hotel, residential high-towers, low-rise condos and an urban streetscape. The new road will connect to exit 3, where the 102 and Hammonds Plains Road merge, creating a potential traffic nightmare at an already busy juncture.

Resident Terry Choyce is worried about its impact on the land she loves. "I am concerned that the holding ponds which will be dug to hold the road and parking drainage will be inadequate," she says, "and it'll pollute the lake."

This initial project will open the door for a much larger---sprawling, even---housing development along the lake. So much for density. If United Gulf gets the zoning change (from commercial to mixed-use) it wants, construction could start next month.

No one has considered this for protection, yet it is an untouched wilderness, replete with massive hemlock trees. Ironically, as those trees come down HRM will be drafting its Urban Forest Master Plan to "ensure a sustainable future for our urban forest."

There are some positives mentioned in these plans---allusions to green spaces and walkability---but like HRM By Design before them, they are all pie-in-the-sky, with vague half-commitments like "at some point in the future the potential for commuter rail" and "potentially two ferries in the future." These features are imaginary. The infilling and deforestation are real and immediate.

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